Therapists: Your Website is Your Waiting Room
Looking for a therapist is terrifying. When a person is in crisis, there are so many things going through their mind.
- “Who is the right therapist?”
- “Will they judge me?”
- “Am I f*cked up?”
- “What if this therapist is more of a nutcase than me?”
- “What are all these terms??? Cognitive-behavioral? Dialectic? Psychoanalytic (is that the Freud thing?)? Solution-focused? I have no idea what I am even reading on this website! Should this make sense to me? Will they talk to me like this when I’m in their office?”
When someone starts looking for help, they go where we all go — to Google. From there, they might stumble upon your Psychology Today profile or they might even find your website.
What do they find when they get there?
Therapists’ Websites Often Look Like This
(I’m going to say now that everything I mention here applies to your Psychology Today ads, too, but for the sake of simplicity, we’re just going to talk about your website).
1. Abounding in credentials
As a therapist, you want your clients to know that you are qualified to help. The best way to do this is to list all of your degrees, certifications, each published article, and every presentation you’ve ever given, right?
This is great for your CV, but does it really reassure the client that you are going to sit and listen to them without judgment, or are you inadvertently saying “I have my act together way more than you?”
It’s a delicate balance. Your site visitor wants to know that you are qualified — but relatable. Simply listing a lot of credentials can often defeat your purpose.
2. Huge lists of diagnoses that amount to “a little bit of everything”
This is another place that can be self-defeating. If you have a Ferrari, do you take it to Midas or to someone who specializes in European sports cars? The same goes for someone who is looking for a therapist for their teen who has an eating disorder.
They don’t want someone who dabbles. They want to know that YOU can help THEM. And often, they don’t know where to start. You have to make it clear.
Your potential clients want to know that they matter — that you don’t see them as a diagnosis, an insurance claim, or that their problem isn’t serious — like it’s just one kind of problem on a huge list.
3. A cacophony of clinical language
The language on our websites resembles what we would put in the case notes, a research paper, or a presentation to our colleagues.
Clients couldn’t care less about their inhibited affect (Did you see what I did there?). They are looking for help because they feel numb. They don’t want to find “satisfactory resolutions to their marital conflict.” They want to save their marriages.
Clients need to know that you understand that.
4. Outdated templates from 2007, whether you bought them in 2007 or not
I went to grad school, too, and I am completely aware that they didn’t even touch on how to run the business side of a practice — particularly the marketing.
So you get out on your own, starting your own practice, and you grab a generic template that is marketed through the journals or counseling organizations and fill it with the best you know how to fill it with. You don’t want to spend a long time thinking about it, because you want to see clients, bring in income, and help people. You place an ad in Psychology Today, enroll with insurance plans, and wait for the calls to come in.
You may even wonder if your website makes a difference at all. It might not. And if you’re following these common tactics, it might even be hurting you.
Your Website is Your Waiting Room, & Waiting Rooms Say a Lot
A Tale of Four Waiting Rooms
When I was pregnant with my first child, my OB/GYN’s office was in a house in a commercial neighborhood. The waiting room decor was thrift shop 1950’s furniture and the room was dim. The guy’s wife was his nurse, and I doubt he paid her. I’d pee into a styrofoam cup. He was the boss — no questions — and he put me through a nightmare.
My second doctor was at an HMO, she was great, but limited on the services she could render me, and that was quite clear by the fact that there wasn’t even a waiting room in most of the building (Pediatrics got one of those with sick kids on one side and well kids on the other).
After that, I went to a higher-end doc — waiting room loaded with stylish boardroom chairs all in a row, advertisements and pamphlets for the latest treatments and drugs all over the place, office managers behind the tinted glass. No time for me…that doc just wanted to sell me something and get me out the door.
The best waiting room that I had belonged to the best doctor I ever had — a daily Mass Catholic whose waiting room was cozy but not fancy. There were a wide variety of magazines and one of those sealed environments with a betta swimming in it (you know…plant feeds the betta and oxygenates the water, betta poop feeds the plant. I could wait there comfortably for a while, and I often would. The appointment always started in his office, each patient got at least an hour, and often more, if he wasn’t done getting the information he needed to properly treat.
Being True to the Real Purpose of Your Site
As therapists, we know that the single biggest factor in our client’s healing process is the therapeutic relationship. Establishing a bond with our client is much more important than whether we are Humanistic, Dialectical, Psychodynamic, Rational-Emotive, eclectic, etc. In fact, most of our paradigms have more in common than they are different — sometimes using different words for the same concepts.
That relationship starts where your client meets you, not necessarily where you meet your client. Take another look at your website (and your Psychology Today profile). Is it working to establish that bond?
I’ll say this another way that I’ll likely expound on later — your website isn’t about you. Your website is about how you can help your client. Any information you put on there should show and explain why you are a good option for the person visiting your site.
Lora Horn is web strategist for mental health practices and non-profits. If you’d like an audit of your website, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.