Marketing for Therapists: The Problem Private Practices Have Branding Their Local Businesses when their Clients Are Silent | Part 1 of 3


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Branding becomes particularly tricky when you consider how it affects those of you who are local business owners and clinical therapists trying to run private practices in the mental health industry. Most local small businesses build success on a combination of old-fashioned word of mouth and newer online marketing methods. Yet, your clients don’t want to admit to anyone they get treatment. Marketing for therapists is one of the trickiest problems in the branding industry because of this problem.

As a marketing agency specializing in mental health services in Utah, we’re not saying it’s an impossible problem to solve. The problem itself gives you unique solutions we will layout. But to understand the solutions, it is essential first to identify the problem you face in marketing as therapy clinics as clearly as possible.

01. How Modern Branding Works

Legendary branding expert Marty Neumeier says that in the old days, companies would build brands around the creation of products and services. Product placement in the marketplace would attract customers and create a virtuous circle sustaining companies. He explains in his 2019 Talk, The Brand Flip: “Today a company creates customers … The customers build a brand by telling their friends … Brands last longer than customers. Brands are sticky.”

A great example of this, which Neumeier mentions, is Netflix adding a new service model. They thought they had to split their company into two brands, and the world responded with revulsion: “No! You’re not two different brands. You’re one brand. You’re Netflix.” Brands are not built on products or services. They don’t change based on technology. They are more resilient than we thought.

Companies thought they had control of their brand. According to Neumeier’s definition, customers control the brand. They define what a brand is by how they perceive it in their mind, through the vast public perception of what it means to be a customer. It involves word of mouth and how customers talk about the brand in context with the industry on social media.

Think about the famous “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” Ad campaign. What was brilliant about that legendary advertising was that Apple wasn’t so much defining their brand but rather harnessing a public perception that already existed and promoted it.

02. People in Therapy Don’t Want to Talk with Anyone about It

The implications for those of us marketing for private practices in the mental industry may seem obvious now. People visiting with therapists and psychologists are unlikely to talk to others about what they are experiencing.

If local and global brands are built by customers telling their friends and family about their experience working with that company, that is a massive problem for clinical therapists and psychologists. 

How do you build a modern brand in these types of industries? How do you get online reviews on platforms like Google My Business, Yelp, or Facebook? How do you start a conversation on social media as a local business mental health business? Your Clients don’t want to talk about their addiction, depression, or personality disorders?

Shame and Therapy

Imagine you are a new patient of a private practice going to a licensed clinical therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist for the first time. You found a clinic marketing itself on Google. You’ve heard your family members say disparaging things about the field of psychology. Still, you are trying to find help because you are struggling emotionally and tired of feeling emotional pain.

Maybe you were raised in a devoutly religious family. Even if your family is secular, you could have heard messages about being strong and resilient. The idea of telling others that you need help makes you feel weak and filled with shame. At the very least, you know your parents will worry, and you don’t want to put that burden on them.

You don’t tell your friends either, because they have enough problems right now too. That shame makes it difficult to be honest with yourself about what is actually happening to you. When you go to your counseling sessions, you find yourself feeling shy. It’s tough to get the words out, a struggle to tell the therapist precisely what is going on in your life.

The therapist is friendly, but you’re not sure if they genuinely care about you or if they have ulterior motives. You are afraid of what they will decide about you. What if they give you a diagnosis, which untreatable? What if there is no hope? What if there is something seriously wrong with you that is beyond fixing? You’re not even sure if you believe in therapy.

The inherent shame people feel about receiving treatment isn’t about seeing someone that is part of the mental health profession as trusting. It isn’t about whether they believe a licensed clinical therapist or clinical psychologist can help them. People going to treatment have heard messages throughout their life that cause them to cycle into personal shame, believing there is something inherently wrong about themselves. Your client’s ability to trust others, trust a therapist, and trust any local private company or brand cannot be changed until that person breaks that tendency to blame others. That individual must learn to stop falling into a cycle of shame about themselves.

03. Clients May Not Have Strong Relationships in the Early Stages of Treatment


Researcher and shame expert, Brené Brown defines shame as an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” From the moment a person meets with a mental health worker, they are often being treated for issues related to shame.

Shame Brings Denial, But People Will Still Seek Solutions to Complex Human Problems

People starting therapy are likely in a fair amount of denial about their mental health. They know they have some problems. They want some help. They are sitting in your office looking for solutions, willing to give this a try, because what else are they going to do? What else are they going to try?

You’ve likely seen clients raised in religious or right-wing extreme homes taught not to trust liberal elite experts. More progressive families who say they believe in experts, who have the trappings of enlightenment may have their version of denial, preventing them from seeking treatment from trained therapists.

Yet, whatever their excuse, here they are, people in need, people in denial, people with problems they don’t understand sitting in the clinical office looking for solutions to highly complicated problems for complex reasons:

A client’s husband is addicted to pornography, and it’s tearing her marriage apart. They tried meeting with their pastor and tried getting religious guidance, but no prayer or faith seemed to solve the problem. Where else is this couple going to turn?

You’re treating a man’s teenage son who has attempted suicide twice. Although this middle-aged man hates the idea of anyone in his family needing to work with a clinical psychologist, he can’t help but love his child, realizes his kid’s life is in danger, and he realizes he has no other choice.

You’re treating a young adult woman who is highly successful at work as a computer programmer but struggling in her personal life. She’s profoundly insecure and isolated from other people her age. She can’t figure out why she can’t connect with her peers, can’t seem to date, can’t seem to make friends. Her doctor prescribed antidepressants to her since she was a teenager, so she always thought of herself as someone with depression. Her family told her that it was okay to be different. She felt accepted. Yet, she’s starting to have dark fantasies that scare her, wondering if she is okay. Her medical doctor recommended her to your mental health clinic. She shows up in your therapy office, asking for help and answers.

Ultimately, where else are these people going to go? They have no choice but therapy in a local private practice with therapists like you. Whether they believe this process will work or not is irrelevant. People will try things they told themselves they didn’t believe in when they are out of options.

The Rationalizations of First Time Clients

Clients in the beginning stages of psychoanalysis at mental health clinics do not want to admit that they or their family members have a diagnosable disorder. They may not want to believe this is going to be a long-term process at your clinic. They may not feel that their problem is a severe one, thinking they can fix what they are struggling with in a few sessions—They just need a little advice. The client has not fully come to grips with the possibility that the therapy process is usually a long-term one.

The Problems with Cultural Labels in Mental Health

Obviously, when we talk about mental health, we are talking about how we have learned to define ourselves as a culture. Labels like “mental illness,” “disability,” or “disorder” come with a ton of shame in our culture, even though ideally they should not. Whenever we try to reframe how emotional challenges are defined, our culture and human nature thrust shame upon those labels no matter how kind we try to represent them.

Most People Need Mental Health Help

The fact is that most of us need professional guidance with our emotional development at different points in our life. Most people would benefit from counseling from a licensed clinical therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Studies have shown that having a professional trained to talk with us about personal problems helps us understand our decision-making and question our thought processes. We make better choices as a consequence.

Most families have some dysfunction. Many people are not perfectly aware of themselves, needing help analyzing how they became the person they see in adulthood–with the thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns common to their personality. How do we can prevent psychological problems in the future? No matter the diagnosis, the label, what the current DSM or ICD decides how to define mental health dysfunctions, most people need some help.


Until people in therapy have learned to understand shame, they will never develop an ability to trust others. They will not know who their authentic self is. Shame has a significant effect on your private practice, brand, and the mental health industry as a whole.

People starting work with a therapist don’t know who their friends are. Frankly, they may not have many friends at all. If they do have relationships with others, they are likely flimsy associations, superficial and not meaningful in a way that a word-of-mouth referral would mean much to you as a business owner.

Modern Brands Rely on Customer Advocates

As we said initially, modern brands are more and more reliant on customers advocating for them, defining who they are through the common customer perception. This is the fundamental problem for therapy clinics and must be reckoned with: The psychoanalytic process is a long and complex one. It may take months or even a year before a patient has developed enough self-awareness and emotional strength to hear their own diagnosis, let alone tell another family member they are being treated.

Consider How Much Silence Still Exists about Disorders

Even a mental health condition like depression, which is a common diagnosis many people experience in their life, is not easily discussed. Few people would readily admit that they struggle with a mood disorder to a coworker or their employer. What if someone is dealing with a far more challenging to understand diagnosis like borderline personality disorder? Try bringing this up in a job interview.

Sharing your mental health story and expecting understanding from others without judgment or misunderstanding is not a luxury most people have in their day-to-day life. Even if someone is going through a standard, typical, difficult life situation, like a divorce or losing a loved one, people will often meet misunderstanding and shame-inducing reactions. Employers often expect their staff to persevere when encountering personal or family crises as if nothing is occurring, as if nothing affects them.

Unrealistic Expectation of Trying to be Emotionally Sturdy without Assistance

We are required in our society to be independently resilient. Needing mental health services can feel like an admission of weakness, which is unfortunate because most people would benefit significantly from consistent psychoanalysis, group therapy, and support groups.

04. Systemic Societal Problems

Much of the public’s problem with the mental health system is fear-based. Many people do not trust therapists due to a lack of understanding about how the psychoanalytical process works in an actual clinic. All they know is what they’ve seen in movies and television shows, and lot of that information is outdated or inaccurate. For example, rarely do clients lay down on a sofa when talking to their counselor.

Against the odds, a lot of good individual therapists in our communities are doing valiant work, succeeding at helping people. But these successes are rarely recognized because when people recover, they aren’t likely to tell others.

Our nation does not value the mental health industry. For some reason, we tend to mistreat the people offering the most critical services in our society, whether it be teachers, farmers, nurses, firefighters, police, or in this case, mental health workers. Shame and a lack of public knowledge are likely at the root of this miss-valuation.

05. Online Review Platforms Have a HIPAA Problem

On top of the big problems I have highlighted regarding shame, silence, and mental health stigma, there is another critical problem to mention about branding local therapists: Every one of these companies is bound by HIPAA standards. Mental health clinics are just some of many small local companies affected by this problem. Any company that must comply with HIPAA or has client confidentiality cannot reply to customer reviews.

These practitioners cannot legally or morally publicly recognize someone as a client, even if that individual leaves a positive online review for their business.

Although suitable for protecting client privacy, this standard significantly limits how these local companies can respond to online reviews. It gives them even fewer options of replying to negative reviews. It can occasionally occur in sensitive situations, where a customer may use a platform to damage a business owner’s reputation who has reported them to authorities for committing crimes or abuse. There is no way for a HIPAA-compliant professional to work with the online platform to dispute the review, have it removed, or defend their reputation. When you consider the fact that these professionals are dealing with family abuse issues and deeply sensitive personal matters, the problems of online reviews become evident.

It’s equally challenging for small businesses to ask clients for public comments on online platforms in a manner that follows HIPAA compliance. The nature of the relationship between a therapist and the client is inherently private. Asking a customer to promote their brand through an online review feels like a violation of trust and a conflict of interest.

Additionally, the sales process is much longer than in other industries. Typically, we advise businesses to ask clients for reviews or testimonials when they’ve finished their service, or at least they’ve completed an essential phase of the service. You should have earned the right to ask your customer for a review. But, at what point does that happen for clinical counselors?

If you work in this industry, you will readily admit that you feel conflicted about this. On the one hand, you recognize the importance of protecting your clients and their privacy. On the other hand, you also have a business to run.

You also see the public stigma around mental health and would like to change it. Wouldn’t it be better if more people would be more open about going to therapy?

If the mental health community does not slowly dismantle the stigma around what they do for their clients, more and more people will continue in the dysfunction of shame and emotional illness. So, it does serve the community’s best interest at large to start talking to your clients about becoming more open about their journey to recovery. But you can’t precisely pressure your patients to be public about something so private. What do you do?

06. Finding Answers to this Difficult Marketing Problem for Therapists

Does all this marketing talk make you feel uncomfortable? Consider the fact that building a brand, any brand, makes many entrepreneurs feel vulnerable. Marketing is by its nature an exposing act. Building a local mental health company exposes its owner to scrutiny and public awareness. The goal of marketing to make a brand known, and that includes its owner. This is an important fact you must face head-on.

If it scares you to consider the marketing process and being known publicly, you are not alone. These problems growing your local business cannot be ignored. You face promoting a therapy clinic brand is essential to solving these difficulties. Admitting you work as a counselor, promoting that fact, and building a brand in your community can be frightening. If you feel some shame there, that is understandable.

There is good news. There are ways to ethically promote a local private practice. We’ll help you find answers. 


FIND OUT the Solutions to Marketing for Therapists in Part 2 of 3 in our Series