Therapists 2014: The Intersection between Clinician, Business Savvy & Personal BrandIn October 2009, I wrote my first piece in a series for Psych Central on the changing landscape of therapists online. Psychotherapists Unmasked on the Internet reflected upon a conversation I’d had with my psychiatrist father five years prior, who gave me an earful around the ethics of having my picture up on my website.

What he didn’t realize at that time was that websites were becoming an important marketing tool in our profession and that a move toward therapist demystification was occurring. A hearty discussion among many in our field around how to navigate it all was under way.

“TPG” spoke of concerns about his or her therapist cultivating an “online presence:”

I could care less whether my psychotherapist puts his (or her, as the case may be) picture up on the Internet, on his website. But I do think I would start to feel queasy if it felt like he had a full caseload and was spending more time blogging, Twittering, and promoting his practice than he was thinking and studying in his non-session “prep” time about my work as his client, and about the 25 or 30 other people he was seeing…I would hope my therapist would spend far more time doing professional reading than blogging….Yes. Marketing is important. But doing the best possible work with one’s clients is far more important, and there are only so many hours in the day to allocate. Priorities, priorities…

By March 2010, the followup, Therapists, Social Networking and Blogging, Oh My! explored the “therapist new world order” where the online life of therapists was burgeoning. Many were still concerned about the boundaries between therapist and client in a world of connection, friending, sharing and liking. In May 2010, I dug a little deeper: Therapists, Why Are You Using Social Networking?

“MargyBargy” shared a pitfall:

When appearing without a pseudonym on Facebook I found myself being stalked by one ex-client and approached by others who recognized my name. I couldn’t just ignore these people whom I knew, let alone block them, some were quite vulnerable – individual messages had to be sent to explain why I couldn’t be their friend. It became work all over again. Although surprised and flattered at how much better known my name was than I’d supposed, I deactivated that account and haven’t returned.

In the October 2011 piece, Therapists Busting Out Online, Where Are We Now?, the comfort level with an “online presence” had clearly risen. Therapists were “busting out” everywhere with websites, blogging, product creation/selling and for a few, affiliate marketing activities.

Melanie Gorman from YourTango.com said:

…The Dept of Labor predicts an 18% rise in the employment of counselors through 2018. My prediction is that the majority of them will get clients, develop their niches, author books, workshops, hold seminars, educate readers & direct our profession all through online means.
If we look back on this post in 8 years, I think we’ll see that the divide between those who make it through the recession and those who don’t will come down to one thing: knowing that even though we’re therapists, we’re also in business. We’re in the business of helping people; but first and foremost, we’re in business…

In 2014, even more therapists appear to feel empowered to market their practices and to create helping products offering education to people far outside the walls of their therapy offices. Some have worked hard to brand themselves, creating a number of income streams and because of the platform they’ve built, are sought after media therapists. Affiliate marketing relationships are becoming more common, to help promote therapist-created products and the products of other related professionals.

There are a growing number of those who have created businesses out of helping therapists boost their business savvy. I asked a few standouts to share their thoughts.

Kelly Higden, LMFT and Miranda Palmer, LMFT are therapists turned business coaches (and have a new blog on Psych Central called Private Practice Kickstart), who enthusiastically inspire therapists to shine.

Miranda on what holds therapists back:

Even as therapists become more business savvy, they experience healthy fear about putting themselves out into the world. While therapists do take time to explore ethics of each thing they launch into the world, the biggest fear is often feedback from colleagues. We’ve seen therapists consistently get negative feedback from colleagues when they take their business seriously… Unfortunately, this fear is often not related to law, ethics, or professional conduct- but based on social pressure for therapists to keep continuing to perpetuate a system that clearly hasn’t worked for the profession. Masters in Psychology and Social Worker continue to be the first and second worst paid Master’s degrees in the United States.

I resonate with this. Being one of the earlier therapists to put myself out there, develop a strong online presence and to create and sell educational tools to a worldwide audience, I had periods of feeling vulnerable to the possibility of criticism by my peers. But ultimately, my online presence has helped me to have a successful fee-for-service practice ever since my internship period. Additionally, I’ve developed a steadily growing source of passive income via my helping tools and products of others via affiliate marketing (see Therapist Scoop on LoveAndLifeToolbox.com for more on that).

Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW is a therapist who has personally branded herself along a multitude of channels. Julie has a psychotherapy practice, does workshops and seminars, offers online coaching via phone or Skype, educates therapists about having a successful private practice (her Private Practice Toolbox is also here on Psych Central), has done media interviews, wrote a book called The Burnout Cure: An Emotional Survival Guide for Overwhelmed Women, and makes and sells music via her website. She’s really gone for it.

Julie on therapist online:

I hear many therapists say that social media posting or blogging is draining and feels like drudgery. For me, content creation and social media engagement aren’t a chore, but are joyful parts of my life. Therapists who find online presence building to be difficult or “not worth it” don’t understand the incredible power they have to make a difference for other human beings. Social media is a lot like therapy — it’s about having conversation with real people, sharing helpful information, and making a difference in their lives. Once therapists “get” that online engagement is just putting their relationship skills to work in a different way and with a potential global audience, I see the lightbulb turn on and they get energized instead of drained…

On her inspiration:

…about 8 years ago I felt a pull in my heart toward the media and social media. I was filled with a desire to learn everything I could about technology, social media, online presence. This was right about the time we went into a recession. My online presence and media presence is the only reason I have been able to build a thriving fee-for-service clinic. Content creation, media interviews, and leaning in to social media have allowed me to connect in powerful ways to build trust and credibility with my community and beyond…

At the end of the day, for me it’s still about helping others, being at peace with wearing clinical and business hats, conducting myself online in a way that stays in my ethical wheelhouse and maintaining life balance. (Nothin’ to it, right?)

What is it for you? How do you feel about our ever-changing landscape?