Growing a Practice

The Complete Guide to Marketing for Therapists

Headshot of Bryce Warnes
March 10, 2024
August 25, 2023
Bryce Warnes
Content Writer

When you were in graduate school, you probably didn’t take a course called “Marketing for Therapists.”

You were busy learning your profession—developing the knowledge and skills you need to help clients—and that didn’t include starting a newsletter or promoting your business on social media.

But now that you’ve launched your own practice and you have a client list that needs filling, it’s a different story. Marketing is not only essential to making your practice succeed. It’s an important means of helping people find the mental health support they need.

This guide gives you everything you need to get started marketing your therapy practice. Best of all, there’s no tuition to pay.

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What is therapy practice marketing?

A lot of self-employed therapists shy away from marketing their practices early in their careers. If you build it, they will come, right? Not exactly. Here are some common objections.

  • “I don’t need marketing because my client list is full.”
  • “Only giant practices and celebrity therapists with big marketing budgets are successful at marketing.”
  • “If I just focus on practicing my profession well, I won’t need marketing.”
  • “Marketing is too expensive.”
  • “I became a therapist in order to help people, and marketing is all about manipulating them.”

Fair enough, but these objections stem from a lack of awareness about the function of marketing.

  • Even if your client list is full now, there’s no guarantee it will be in the future. Successful marketing helps you minimize the effects of seasonality (e.g. summer slowdown) and other highs and lows on your business.
  • Practices of every type, with any size of marketing budget, can benefit from marketing. It’s a myth that you need to be huge to be successful.
  • Your clients certainly appreciate the effort you put into your clinical work, and hopefully they recommend you to anyone looking for a therapist. But for most practices, word-of-mouth referrals are not enough to keep new clients coming in the door.
  • You can launch your practice’s marketing efforts with two or three hours of work per week on a marketing budget of zero dollars and still see positive results.
  • In the words of Seth Godin, “Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem.”

When you market your therapy practice, you’re helping people who need mental health support find the right therapist. You’re not manipulating them into buying a luxury car or some soon-to-be-obsolete tech gadget. You’re helping to address a genuine need.

Marketing vs. branding vs. advertising

While they’re sometimes used interchangeably, marketing, branding, and advertising are distinct activities.

  • Marketing encompasses everything you do to attract new clients to your practice—whether you’re networking with other therapists to get referrals or placing ads online.
  • Branding is a subset of marketing. It builds awareness of what your practice does and your identity as a therapist. Branding can be as simple as handing someone a business card with your logo on it or as complex as writing and publishing a book.
  • Advertising is just one marketing channel of many. Others include content creation, social media, and your website. To advertise, you typically pay money to share information about your practice, services, or the brand you’re trying to build.

You can market your therapy practice “organically” and build its brand without advertising. For example, through referrals, an email newsletter, or social media.

How to choose your target audience

As marketing maven Katelyn Bourgoin notes, you can’t boil the ocean.

When you narrow down who exactly you’re trying to attract with your marketing, it becomes easier to plan how you’ll budget time and money for it—and easier to get positive results. As Patrick Casale of All Things Private Practice says, “You don’t want to be the Applebees of therapy.” 

Whatever marketing approach you take, always direct it at your ideal client. Your ideal client is the person you are most suited to work with, the one most beneficial to your therapy practice and to you as a therapist.

Think about:

  • Your training. Do you have any specialized training that lets you help a specific subset of clients—like families, teens, or people seeking treatment for particular disorders?
  • Your modalities. Who do the modalities you use serve best?
  • Your location. For instance, if you see most of your clients in person, what types of potential clients live in your community? If your practice is 100% online, will it benefit you to work with clients in the same time zone as yourself?
  • Your lived experience. What has your own mental health journey been? What kind of shared experiences are you uniquely qualified to help people with?
  • Your skills, knowledge, and background. Fluency in a second language, experience providing care to individuals with particular disabilities or physical challenges, or a background as a member of a traditionally underserved community can help you make important choices planning your marketing.

Take a moment and try to remember the best client you’ve ever worked with—one who both benefited from your care and who helped you grow and develop as a therapist. Use that client as a model for the people you want to inspire with your marketing.

And don’t worry about committing to only serving one target audience for your entire career. You can always change your ideal client. Just pick one to start with.

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Develop your voice and tone

The voice and tone you use in marketing communications—everything from TikTok videos to your monthly newsletter—is different from the voice and tone you use during clinic hours with clients, or even talking to people in day-to-day life.

  • Your voice is a pattern unique to the way you communicate, and it’s fairly static. Vocabulary, sentence length and structure, and even punctuation make up your voice, and for the most part they come naturally.
  • Your tone is more fluid than your voice. It changes according to context. It can be formal or informal, light and funny or heavy and serious, brisk and to-the-point or verbose and discursive. And it changes depending on who you’re talking to and the subject you’re discussing.

Brands and marketing agencies develop voice and tone guides to help them address their audiences.

In your case, as a self-employed therapist, you’re partly marketing yourself as an individual in addition to the services you offer. So it makes sense to use a voice that comes naturally and reflects who you are as a person.

 

However, there are a couple of guidelines to follow.

  • Communicate in the first person. When talking about your practice or yourself as a therapist, always use “I.” Referring to yourself in the third person (e.g. “Jane Smith is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 10 years of experience”) can come across as overly formal. It can also make you feel distant and unapproachable. You don’t speak about yourself in the third person in day-to-day life, so why would you use it to communicate to potential clients in your marketing?
  • Refer to potential clients in the second person. The reader is “you.” As in, “Are you looking for a therapist with experience treating bipolar disorder?” not, “For individuals looking for a therapist with experience treating bipolar disorder, I am the right choice.”

As much as possible, talk about the client rather than yourself. A potential client isn’t looking for a list of your credentials and degrees. They want to know how you can help them. Focus on positive results. “I can help you overcome the fears that prevent you from achieving your goals,” rather than, “I have years of experience helping clients overcome fears that prevent them from achieving their goals.”

Finally, avoid any academic language or jargon. Rather than demonstrating your knowledge and intelligence, these give readers the impression you lack communication skills. At worst, it’s intimidating. Stick to straightforward language your ideal client is sure to understand.

Take professional headshots

Potential clients are interested in you as a human being. When they visit your website, social media profile, or directory listing, the first thing they should see is your face.

There’s nothing vain about putting your face front and center in your marketing materials. It helps relieve potential clients’ anxiety about finding a therapist by quite literally putting a human face on your business, and it lets them know—subtly, maybe even on a subconscious level—that you have nothing to hide.

Look online to find a photographer in your area providing headshots at a price you can afford. Good news: In most cases, the cost of professional headshots is tax deductible.

If you can’t find anyone, if you’re in a rush to get your marketing launched, or if you’re on a barebones budget, take your headshots with a phone or digital camera (or have a friend help).

Mental Health Match offers a guide for therapists, Four Ingredients of a Perfect Therapist Photo. It’s incredibly helpful, and includes lots of visual examples. 

Build a website

A website is a must-have marketing asset for your therapy practice. In many cases, it’s the first place potential clients, other clinicians, and the public at large will turn to learn more about you and your practice. Think about it like your digital storefront on the internet.

Your website doesn’t need to be incredibly large and complex, but it should include the following.

  • Your name, credentials, and location
  • Your headshot
  • Information about the particular services you offer
  • Your session rates
  • Whether you see patients in-person, remotely, or both
  • Whether you accept insurance, and any insurance providers you’re credentialed with
  • A contact form prospective clients can use to get in touch

Once you have social media accounts and a newsletter, you can link to them from your website.

DIY vs. hiring a web designer

Popular web hosting services like Wix and Squarespace start at $12 – $15 per month, and give you all the tools you need to launch your website from scratch.

Using pre-made templates, you can put together a simple website—your main page, plus a contact form—over the course of a weekend. The sooner your website is live, the sooner it will start appearing in Google search results.

You can also hire a web designer to create a site for you. The more you’re willing to pay, the more customization you can expect.

Designers in the lower price range, charging around $100 – $300 on Fiverr or Upwork, will typically use Wix or Squarespace to design your site, using either templates included with the service or their own templates they’ve designed to use with clients.

If you don’t have the time or the patience to learn how to use a website editor and create a site yourself, hiring an entry-level designer is not a bad idea. 

In the higher price ranges, approaching $1,000 and more, you can expect a design more customized to your specifications—colors, fonts, images—rather than a template. At this price range, designers may create a logo or wordmark for your business and create branded assets like header images and profile images you can use for your social media accounts.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the practice of designing the content on your website so it ranks highly in Google search results.

For instance, if you want your website to appear at the top of search results when someone googles “family counseling Tampa,” you’d include that phrase—along with a set of related phrases—on your website. 

That’s the most basic model of how SEO works. There are a lot of other factors at play, and if you’re curious about the subject, you can dive into what therapists need to know about SEO.

A freelance SEO consultant can do an audit of your website and provide a list of keywords to help you improve your ranking.

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List your therapy practice in directories

While Psychology Today is the most popular directory for therapists, there are a number of other directories that may help you reach a wider audience.

Some directories are free, others charge monthly or annually to maintain your listing, and still others require a one-time payment. Prices vary widely.

When writing your profile for therapy directories, remember to address your ideal client and use first-person language (“I” and “you”). Some directories also give you the option to upload videos, and this can be a great way to introduce yourself and give prospective clients a better idea of what it would be like to work with you.

Build a referral network

Much like “marketing,” the term “networking” comes with baggage. When you value integrity and openness, the idea of befriending people (or at least making their acquaintances) for business purposes can feel, well, gross.

But the fact is, by networking with other professionals, you’re not just setting up a stream of referrals to help your practice make more money. You’re also helping clients who need your services find you, while potentially solving problems for people in your referral network (“I need to find a therapist for X because I don’t specialize in Y” being one of them.)

In the words of Taylor Moss, LMFT:

As therapists, we come into this profession because we’re interested in stories and we want to help people. Not a lot of us come in thinking about making money or running a business. There’s also a misunderstanding about what networking really means. It’s not about using people—it’s about building community and supporting one another. I call it "making friends for therapists."

Attending local events, online workshops, and conferences can help you meet other therapists able to provide you with referrals. 

You should also consider introducing yourself to professionals outside of therapy who may be in contact with people in need of a therapist, such as community organizers, church leaders, lawyers, and doctors.

Whatever approach you take, be sure to have a description of your ideal client you can share. It gives new contacts a better idea who they should refer to your practice.

While it’s true private practice can be lonely, you can mitigate that by building genuine and authentic connections with other professionals in and out of private practice. — Tacha Fletcher, LCSW

Join a national association

When you join a national association for therapists, you immediately expand your network. The biggest associations are:

Every national association has state chapters. Consider joining your state-level association and running for a leadership position to raise your visibility with your peers. Membership fees vary. However, they’re tax deductible.

Build an audience on social media

After your website and your directory listings, social media is the first place new prospective clients will go to learn about you.

It’s also a powerful means of building a following online. Sharing your expertise on social media helps establish your brand—your practice’s personality—and keep you top-of-mind with potential clients and referral sources.

Even if only a small fraction of your followers ever become clients, keeping your social media up to date and alive with useful content encourages word-of-mouth marketing and reinforces your image as a professional who knows what they’re talking about.

Some guidelines:

  • Maintain a manageable frequency. Even if you only have time to create one well-written post per week, make sure you stick to it. 
  • Like, share, and comment. Using social media isn’t just about posting your own content—use it as a way to connect with other professionals.
  • Joining groups may amplify your message. Joining private groups related to your specialties as a therapist can help you narrow down your audience.
  • Show your face. A prominent headshot is important for building trust.

If you’re not sure what to post, follow this framework from marketer Elena Verna

  1. Choose a theme. It could be seasonal, related to recent events in the news, or simply inspired by your own day-to-day life as a therapist.
  2. Identify a villain or a problem. It doesn’t need to be a person or institution—something as broad as “impostor syndrome” or “lack of boundaries” could be your villain.
  3. Have an angle. Don’t just talk about the problem—talk about solutions, and do it from a specific viewpoint. You may choose a contrarian take, going against the grain of what people expect. Or you may introduce an entirely new framework for understanding the issue.

If you are a therapist who is new to the field, take the time to explore your options, whether it's non-profit or agency work, or private practice. Your first job may not be what you expected and that's okay. There's something clinically valuable to learn from every setting. Regardless of where you end up, start building your online presence, whether this is a social media page, a blog, or a podcast.Tracy Vadakumchery, LMHC

TikTok and other video platforms

Video, especially short-form formats like TikTok and Instagram Reels, is an incredibly powerful platform for reaching a wide audience.

TikTok is its own beast, with its own conventions, best practices, and trends. Most of them carry over to similar platforms like Snapchat or Instagram Reels. To dip your toes, learn about these 13 mental health professionals making waves on TikTok.

Start a newsletter

Social media platforms rise and fall in popularity. For instance, after Elon Musk bought Twitter and rebranded it as X, it saw a mass exodus of users. And new up-and-comers like Instagram Threads may see spikes in popularity that wane over time.

But newsletters last. Email shows no signs of giving up the ghost. Maintaining an email list and sending out monthly or weekly newsletters keeps you top-of-mind with an audience interested in what you have to say.

Your newsletters don’t need to be 10,000 word essays. In fact, it’s better they’re not. A few paragraphs is enough to make up a newsletter, keeping readers interested and sharing valuable information.

You can expand upon a social media post, provide a round-up of interesting articles and news, or simply share short reflections based on your experiences as a therapist. Feel free to experiment, and encourage subscribers to respond to you if they read something that really resonates.

MailChimp is the go-to for free email newsletters, while Convertkit offers more advanced marketing tools for creators.

Substack is another option. It lets you publish your content on a gated blog, while emailing posts to different tiers of subscribers. If your newsletter is a runaway hit, you may want to use Substack to offer paid subscriptions.

Host events in your community

Hosting events in your community is a great way to expand your referral network and build up the reputation of your practice. 

Even if you don’t have permanent office space of your own, there are many options—from community halls to coworking spaces—for short-term rentals.

Some event ideas:

  • A wine and cheese networking event for local therapists
  • Workshops on mental health in the workplace for local business owners
  • Talks and presentations by local therapists on their subjects of choice
  • Workshops and presentations geared towards specific underserved communities

Use your social media presence and newsletter to advertise your events, and don’t be afraid to reach out to community leaders and local organizations personally.

Experiment with paid ads

Paid advertising on Google, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn can be tricky. 

The more competition there is, the more expensive it is to run them.

For instance: If you want to advertise telehealth postpartum therapy for new moms on Google, but there are 35 other therapy practices trying to do the same, it will take a sizable investment to make an impact.

On the other hand, there may not be any competition at all for the search term “therapist chippewa falls wisconsin”—in which case, the cost of advertising would be considerably cheaper.

Advertising on Google is measured in cost per click (CPC). Each time someone from your target audience clicks your ad, you’re charged a fee. Depending on the search terms you’re targeting, the CPC can range from $1 to $10 and more. And that’s just for a click—there’s no guarantee the person visiting your website will become a new client. 

Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms follow a similar payment structure.

For a crash course, check out this introduction to Google ads for mental health. If your practice is just getting off the ground and your marketing budget is small, buying Google ads may be unrealistic—but understanding how they work now can help you plan marketing campaigns in the future, especially if you’re interested in growing your solo practice into a group practice.

Track what works and correct course as needed

Marketing is an ongoing process. Your marketing strategy is never going to be perfect, because it isn’t static—you’ll always have to adapt it depending on your needs, what potential clients are looking for, and how well particular strategies have worked in the past.

The simplest way to measure the effects of your marketing is to ask new clients and contacts how they learned about your practice. Keep a spreadsheet categorizing each individual according to their marketing channel. 

In time, you’ll be able to see what’s working, what isn’t, and what can be improved.

Marketing is an investment in your practice. And like all investments, it needs to be carefully tracked. Check our article on how to create a marketing budget for your therapy practice.

This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult their own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post.

Bryce Warnes is a West Coast writer specializing in small business finances.‍

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