Educating the general public about mental health via writing and speaking are ethical and effective marketing strategies. They provide helpful information that people can apply in their daily lives. They don't feel like sales pitches, either to you or to your audiences. And, for most mental health professionals, the educational approach feels more natural than direct self-promotion.
In the process of writing and speaking about mental health issues, you will build your reputation as a knowledgeable and trusted expert in your community. This, in turn, increases the number of referrals to your practice. Furthermore, through targeted marketing to specific segments of the population, you will attract the types of clients that you most enjoy working with.
In your writing and speaking, stick with topics that fall within the scope of your education, training, and competence. You need not have conducted original research or written a book on a given topic, but you should be familiar with the theories and research related to the subject area.
A common concern among mental health clinicians is whether it is ethical to give direct tips and advice to people with whom you have no professional relationship - i.e., non-clients who read your articles or attend your talks. My interpretation of the ethics codes is that it is OK to give tips and advice, as long as it is general advice that would apply to most people - similar to what you would find in magazines and self-help books. If you are in doubt, check with the risk manager of your malpractice insurance provider.
It's also a good idea to include disclaimers that any advice you give is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for mental health treatment.
Another ethics concern is how to invite readers and/or audience members to contact you for evaluation or therapy. Mental health professions' ethics codes prohibit direct solicitation of potential clients, particularly those who might be vulnerable to undue influence. Thus, if you're giving a presentation to a community group, and someone asks a question, it would be unethical to tell that person they should contact you to make an appointment.
However, it is ethical to provide the means for people to contact you. This is not the same as direct solicitation, since it places no pressure on anyone. Thus, at your in-person presentations you can leave business cards and handouts (such as fact sheets) containing your contact information at the back of the room for people to pick up if they so choose. In your written pieces, both on paper and online, always include your contact information and link to you your website or blog.
How to choose a topic
What should I write or speak about? is best answered by considering what your target audiences are likely to be interested in. It's not necessary to take a formal survey. You can come up with ideas from the following:
- Common challenges frequently brought up by your clients e.g., child discipline, managing moods, communication skills
- Questions you get asked on a regular basis
- Seasonal issues - back to school, holidays, weather-related coping
- Current events that have major impact on community life - pandemic, catastrophes, employment layoffs, crime
- Life transitions - college, marriage, divorce, parenthood, career challenges, military deployment
Reach your intended audiences
Ideally, whatever you write about or speak about will reach the people whom you want to connect with. Most mental health clinicians in private practice have two primary target audiences: people who may need your services (potential clients) and those who are in a position to refer others to you (current and potential referral sources). Here are some suggestions:
When setting up your article or speech, gear the content to the interest of your audience. For example, let's assume that you are writing a blog post about stress management. If your target audience is parents of toddlers, the scenarios and examples that you provide would be very different than if your target audience is professional athletes.
Repurpose your content. The same content (with a few edits) can be used simultaneously on a blog post, a fact sheet or tips sheet, slide images and handouts in your presentation, a podcast, or a video. That way, different segments of your target audience are more likely to encounter your helpful information. Don't be too concerned about redundancy, because most people won't see or hear all these instances. Those who attend your talk may not see your blog post, and those who pick up your fact sheet in their physician's waiting room may not be aware of your podcast on the same topic.
Get published or featured by others. This helps you reach audiences that you may not otherwise have access to. In addition, being featured in other people's blogs, podcasts, newsletters, books and other publications is tantamount to being endorsed by them. Their audiences may not know you, but if they trust and respect the publisher, they are likely to pay attention to what you have to say.
To find opportunities for publication, first decide on the demographic you want to reach. Be specific. Do you want to reach professionals? businesses? parents? LGBTQ individuals? shift workers?
Next, research online and offline publications and podcasts that people in this demographic are likely to read, listen to, or know about. Approach the publisher or producer with a sample article or outline, explaining how it would be of interest to their audience.
Should I expect to be paid for my writing for others?
In most cases you won't be paid for podcast interviews, guest blog posts, or other unsolicited writing that you offer to others. However, it can lead to future paid work. For example, several years ago, I wrote a brief article for a local magazine without payment, and then was hired on contract to do a regular column for five years, until the magazine was discontinued. The footer of each column listed my credentials and contact information.
Your writing can also lead to paid speaking engagements and consultation opportunities. Suppose, for example, that you write for a local business magazine or blog. An organization that is looking for a keynote speaker, or a business owner who is looking for employee training is likely to think of hiring you, if the content of your writing displays the kind of expertise they're looking for.
At the very least, getting published by others helps boost your Google ranking. The more web pages where your name appears, the more search results will be found on Google when potential clients type your name into the search box. You get an extra boost if those other web pages link to your website.