On the 1st of November my life broke.
It was crispy, autumn day in New York City. I sat on a bench with my friend John, a fellow philosophy graduate student. We had made our way to that bench walking down 4th ave from Union Square and into Washington square park.
I talked about my life. I talked about the stress of getting kicked out of my room in midtown with only a few days notice at the end of October. About how trying to balance my art modeling career and grad school was killing me. About how I was barely eating because of the stress. About my desire to travel from one place to another. About all the things.
And in a completely unassuming and gentle way John asked me, “Why are you running?”
I didn’t understand. “What do you mean?”
And John said, “As you’ve been talking, what kept crossing my mind is – why are you running?”
And something broke. Something surfaced. Something tore through what had been my entire definition of who I believed I was, what I was doing, what I was motivated by. Hours later I had spiraled into complete existential despair.
I had in fact been running, I had been running for a long time. I didn’t know anything else. Earlier that week I had caught myself crossing busy streets thinking, “I wish I would get hit by a car and then I wouldn’t have to do this.”
Thoughts like that had become normal. I had been living for some time unsurprised by persistent death fantasies.
What did I mean by “I wouldn’t have to do this”? The “this” was my life up to that point. Running. Always, endlessly running. I was a high anxiety, overachieving, self-sacrificing, world saving, workaholic. And I was exhausted.
I retreated to my room in Brooklyn and cried for 4 days straight.
“There is no escape when you aren’t running”
I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and neglect. I was sexually abused by my step-father and neglected by my biological mother who knew it was going on.
Up until that exact moment, up until that question on that bench, I had been protecting myself. I was coping the best way I knew how.
But it had become the time. I became ready to open up to myself, to discover who I might be if I didn’t have to run, if I could just be.
To get there, it would mean facing my wreckage from the past. It was absolutely terrifying.
I decided the type of school I needed to be in right then was not grad school, but the school of myself. I wanted to get a phd in me.
I quit grad school and moved back to California. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about recovering from childhood trauma and sexual abuse. I started a twice daily practice of transcendental meditation. I also started the search for a therapist.
I met with 5 therapists before deciding on one. I’m hoping that sharing a bit about where I was coming from during my search for a therapist and how I found the one I did choose will be helpful to therapists working on the way they present themselves online and on their websites.
The Therapists I Didn’t Select
I met with five therapists for a first session before choosing one.
I consulted with my friend’s friend’s mother who recommended two therapists to me that she supervised. I didn’t click with either of them. One of them was cis gendered male and after meeting with him, I decided that I would feel more comfortable with a female therapist.
The other of the two seemed a bit too distant for me yet a little too eager to have our next session. I needed someone who cared more about me than about getting clients.
At that point, I still had a relationship with my mother and I saw a therapist that she had found. That therapist was a student that was just starting to practice seeing clients. I remember her being incredibly nervous. She asked me if she could record the session and I agreed but mostly because I felt that it would be rude and selfish if I didn’t agree. I didn’t choose her because I wasn’t in a position to try a deep therapeutic process with someone with so little experience.
Another therapist I met with was practicing some really odd alternative therapies with brain waves and healing crystals and stuff. It felt too “woo” for me at that time but I was originally drawn to her because she had had experience working specifically with trauma victims.
I Found My Therapist By Searching A Therapist Directory For “Feminist”
The therapist I ended up choosing, I found through an online directory. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which directory. It was pretty awesome because the directory allowed you to do an advanced search by keyword. This feature is how I found my therapist.
I searched that directory for “feminist” and “child abuse” as well as my zip code in California, USA. I started narrowing it down further by viewing the profiles that came up and reading their biographies and what else they had to offer.
Here’s the list of reasons why I was drawn to the therapist I did choose:
- Experience working with sexual abuse and childhood trauma
- Gender identifying female
- Not too old as there may be some references in my story about certain technologies
- Experienced (e.g., not an intern or fresh out of grad school)
- Was a feminist (vital in my mind after having just read Judith Herman’s “Father Daughter Incest”)
- Movement/dance and art therapy in addition to CBT
- The fact that she was also working with children made me feel like she’d be able to help me speak to the child in me
And after I met with her, here are things that stuck out to me after our first session:
- Confident in her training – she knew what she was talking about
- Didn’t pressure me to “pick her”
- Eco friendly (yes, I did notice her trash bin was lined with a biodegradable bag).
- Already comfortable talking to her
- Great active listener
- Offered a sliding scale that fit my budget and my need for deep healing – twice weekly meetings
- Experience with EMDR. Because of the research I was doing, I was really interested in trauma-specific treatments beyond just CBT. After meeting, I felt like I had a good understanding of how it might help me uniquely
How To Apply This To Your Marketing
Insight 1: People Seeking Therapy Are Probably In Crisis
I was searching for a therapist from a pretty delicate, sometimes very dark (flashbacks, ptsd), place. When you put yourself out there online, you have to imagine that your ideal client may be in crisis mode! Even if someone isn’t experiencing a crisis, they are likely on your website due to a specific problem in their life.
Insight 2: People Seeking Therapy All Have Different Ideas About What A Therapist Ought To Be Like
I was in and out of therapy my entire life so had a clear idea of what my therapist ought to be like, what the appropriate boundaries were, etc.
However, some people may come to the search for a therapist with no experience. It is an extremely vulnerable place and the one that is searching knows that they are searching with little knowledge of what to look for or expect.
This is why I recommend a FAQ page that addresses questions and concerns that someone without experience may have and include a FAQ page generator at Empathycopy.
The questions you answer on an FAQ page aren’t too general for those who are new or apprehensive about finding help. They are helpful. And it helps the client understand you care about the challenge of finding a good therapist too.
Insight 3: People Seeking Therapy May Be Interested In Your Modality
Clients that are taking the time to seek out therapy may also be trying out different modalities of healing (meditation, books, art, dance etc). If you have experience with anything or recommendations for complementary therapies, say so.
That said, talking too technically might just lose them. I might have been familiar with EMDR but others might not be. Do you need to mention that you offer EMDR, yes. But it also shouldn’t be the only thing you talk about and avoid the trap of creating educational content instead of sales copy. The people who are seeking out EMDR, for example, would already know a bit about what it is. Skip the educating and sell them on it.
Insight 4: People Seeking Therapy Care About Your Beliefs
Be open about the beliefs that influence your approach. I found my therapist by searching the directory for “child abuse” and “feminist.” Had she not identified herself as a feminist, I would have likely never found her!
Insight 5: People Seeking Therapy Care About Your Gender, Age, And Cultural Background
Things like your age may affect who wants to see you. You’re likely a good judge of whether or not this affects your clients.
When it comes to age, technology is moving quickly and there are many technology and social media culture based issues that might be harder for older therapists to understand.
Insight 6: People Seeking Therapy Need You To Be Clear About All You Do
One thing that really helped me choose my therapist was that she worked with adults and with children as well. The fact that she actively worked with children every week was a huge plus to me since I would be dealing with the effects of trauma from the childhood development stage of my life. I felt like it would make them a better fit for me.
The lesson here is that being clear about all the types of people that you help can help incoming clients get a better understanding of who it is you help in totality. If you see veterans and also people with anxiety, maybe that combination will speak to someone even though they might be separate niches.
For example, what if there was a client who was struggling with anxiety and although they aren’t a veteran themselves, their father was. In their case, you’d be better suited for them because you’d already be familiar with some of what they face in their key life relationship with their father.
Get your experience out there in a way that helps people understand who you help but also what is within your direct scope of understanding.
What Works: Putting Yourself Out There As Who You Are
So here’s the breakdown: 3 referral, 2 online. Based on myself, a sample size of 1, it is slightly more likely you will get clients through referrals than through purely online search. And I think that’s actually true in general.
However, I did end up choosing the therapist that I found online. My thought on this is that I found a good match online because I had a clear idea of the skills and beliefs that I needed a therapist to have and searched the directory specifically for those skills and beliefs. Referrals, although they could end up in a great match, may not be as spot on as someone being able to search a directory or google for specific things and finding you.
This is also a good reason for you to have a niche. If you are known by those that refer clients to you as someone with a certain specialty. Those referring to you will be referring clients that are a better match. Like, “I know a psychotherapist that specializes in addiction” as opposed to, “I know a therapist.”
A question you should be asking yourself is, “what can I do to make sure potential clients have a more clear idea that I could be the right therapist for them?”
Discover what those things are and do them. Although based on my experience alone, I’m hoping the insights from my story above can give you some ideas.
The absolute best way to know how to put yourself out there is through committing yourself to learning and continuing to listen to those that actually matter: your clients. Still, I hope this personal account is of some help.
This article is based on my reflections about my previous therapist-finding-experience back in 2007. After years of great work with them, we terminated. And last year I started therapy again but with another feminist EMDR therapist. How did I find my recent therapist? Through the referral of a therapist.