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Sell the Sizzle.

The market for psychotherapy is rigorously competitive. There is an overabundance of well-qualified and experienced clinicians out there—just like you—eager to treat those seeking help to resolve the difficult psychological, social, and emotional issues in their lives. As such, and in order to do well, it’s imperative for clinical social workers in private practice to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

There are many fairly common ways of doing this, including boosting search engine optimization so your website ranks high in queries for therapy, developing a niche, setting unconventional pricing, etc. These are undeniably effective techniques. I would argue however, that an even more valuable strategy for capturing people’s attention, is compelling messaging.

Therapy is a very intimate experience, and thus, people yearn to feel a connection with their therapist. In fact, when asked about selecting a therapist, many people note that a sense of connection is just as important, if not more important, than a therapist’s training and experience. As with Henri Tajfel’s social identity theory, where individuals conflate their sense of who they are based on membership in a particular group, people tend to give significant consideration to a therapist’s brand in much the same way. So, in other words, people often select a therapist—at least in part— consistent with a brand image that reflects desired personality traits and emotional compatibility.


With this in mind, it is beneficial to create messaging (on your website, social media platforms, and in marketing materials) that inspires or cultivates a connection with potential clients, as opposed to just cataloging the services you offer. People don’t want to invest in therapy; they want to invest in a resolution to an issue. That is to say, people are seduced more by the prospect of a desired outcome than by the mention of the

product or service itself. A message that illustrates the benefits of a service in a vivid, colorful, and evocative way will usually resonate better and be more impactful than a dispatch that simply describes the service. For instance, instead of noting that you specialize in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder, articulate fundamental aspects of the issue to be resolved. Do you need help controlling your unwanted thoughts and the urge to repeat behaviors or rituals time and again? Are these thoughts making it difficult for you to get things done and do things you enjoy? Create a message that speaks to people and you will no doubt shine amongst the competition.

Emotion and identity play a meaningful role in most people’s decision to select a product or service, so it’s crucial that your marketing materials (and your brand) reflect that. Remember, the key to standing out in a crowded field of equally-skilled therapists, is compelling and relatable messaging. As the saying goes, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak”.


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