Did you know that it used to be illegal for professionals to promote themselves through advertising and marketing? This changed in 1977 when the U.S. Supreme Court (Bates v. State Bar of Arizona) ruled that banning such activities violated the right to free speech.
The court ruling was just the first step. It took several years for professional associations and licensing boards to define guidelines and parameters for marketing. Among mental health professionals, it has taken even longer to shake the assumption that any type of self-promotion is undignified or crass. This may partly be due to the fact that business skills have not been taught in most advanced degree programs in mental health, leaving graduates confused about the ethics, the cost and the goals of marketing.
Here are some common misconceptions about marketing:
1. Marketing is unprofessional
FACT: Some types of marketing do come across as pushy or devious, but there are many other options that will enhance your professional image
2. Marketing is too self-serving and will turn people off
FACT: If done correctly, marketing does not focus on you, but addresses the needs of people who might need your help. When they read or hear something from you that is relevant to their own lives, they will be more apt to welcome additional information, rather than to be annoyed by your marketing messages.
3. Marketing is unethical
FACT: None of the ethics codes of psychologists, social workers, counselors, or marriage & family therapists state that marketing is unethical. The ethics codes do speak to issues such as protecting clients’ privacy and not misrepresenting your competence. However, it is quite easy to market yourself within these parameters. Thus, not only is marketing ethical for mental health professionals; . The public is already confused about how mental health treatment works, and what type of psychotherapist to choose. If you do not market yourself effectively, people may not know about you, and may instead turn to unlicensed and untrained self-proclaimed “therapists” who are ineffective – or even worse, who could cause harm
4. Marketing requires a big budget
FACT: You do not have to spend a lot of money to market yourself. As you will see in the next few pages, there are plenty of free and low-cost options.
5. Marketing takes too much time
FACT: Marketing does require investment of your time, especially at the beginning of a marketing campaign. Once you get rolling, though, the time required will diminish. Keep in mind that marketing is an ongoing process. Your goals and strategies may change; but to stay ahead of the curve you will need to build marketing activities into your work schedule.
6. Only extroverts can succeed at marketing
FACT: Some marketing strategies, such as attending networking events, are easier for extroverts. But as a mental health clinician you can focus on public education and selective individual contacts, which are well within the comfort zone of introverts.
More info on marketing your practice...
“If you build it, they will come" is a risky proposition. You may be a highly skilled clinician. But if people who need your services don't know you exist, you may not generate enough income to stay in business. And that would be a loss for your community as well as for you.
These days, when people have ready access to a multitude of resources, effective marketing is essential in order to differentiate yourself from the competition.
You'll find several posts on this blog, with ethical marketing tips and strategies for mental health professionals.
Note: This blog post is adapted from my chapter in Walfish, S. , Zimmerman, J. & Barnett, J. (In press) The handbook of private practice. New York: Oxford University Press.