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Ethics and Marketing

Written By: Elizabeth - Jan• 13•12

I am both looking forward to, dreading, and half-jokingly suggesting a rename of the upcoming class this semester about ethics.  I think mine is “Professional Issues” but it might as well be called “How to become so scared that you do NOTHING, and let all the untrained, unlicensed, experienceless self-help marketing gurus share unwisdom to the masses who so desperately are wanting help with the area you actually spent $25,000+ to get.)


A family friend taught an ethics course and scared people so badly most wanted to leave the profession before even starting!

This, my friends, is a tragedy.

I’m not talking about what I consider common sense and mainstream psychotherapy ethics.  Things like don’t out your clients to anyone.  Ever.  (Except when harm/death may be involved.)  Or don’t create a dual-relationship, especially one where power is involved (say, being their supervisor and therapist.)

I’m talking about the nonsense that scares therapists from doing what NEEDS TO BE DONE.  Talking.  Engaging.  Speaking out on their area of expertise.

You can BET I’m going to be hot on the class in terms of any issues around marketing.  I do know it wasn’t but the 1970′s when therapists were not allowed to advertise except to have their business address and name in a phone book.  I know a lot of those therapists are the professors still today, teaching these ethics courses.

I’m not going to lie.  If you spend more than five minutes in this land of marketers, you’ll learn a few things quickly, and see some of the gross ethically questionable actions.  My “favorite” nasty ethical problem was a guy who has built a system to prey on those desperate to work from home, using Craiglist, and sells them on some materials marketed directly to those vulnerable people on how they can make millions.  EW!  Purposefully seeking out the vulnerable and selling them snake oil is a “soul-cleansing shower” moment indeed.

But marketing the way I view it is, at its heart, sharing your undying passion and trusting, with some marketing skill, networking, and savvy, and a good dollop of luck, that good will come from your efforts.

And this is, my friends, why I burn myself at both ends doing this work, plus all the other therapyish work I do.  Real people are suffering and with one simple website tweak, or one sage piece of advise you take, pain can be resolved, healing can begin and lives can get better.

It’s ethically serious to market.  To not market ought to be the ethically questionable thing.

Let’s rock 2012!  I survived my first semester and somehow got a 4.0 so here’s hoping to a less intense second semester, before the clients start coming for some healin’ (or, as new therapists pray, for some not-screwing-them-up-more.)

I’d love any crazy advise you’ve been given around marketing and ethics.  Share in the comments below!

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Elizabeth Doherty Thomas is a national speaker, writer, and consultant on therapy marketing online. Her new company is called The Doherty Relationship Institute and is launching soon.

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  1. [...] I mentioned in my previous post about the uneducated garbage out there by marketing savvy people, it’s just horrifying to see dead wrong advice out there, marketed to appear professional. [...]

  2. Jeffrey says:

    One tricky/sticky ethics issue is online reviews.

    Therapists are not “allowed” to solicit reviews from patients because of the obvious privacy concerns. It’s a terrible can of worms. However if you do a Google search for any type of therapist in any major city, the people who rank well have at least a few reviews. The quantity of online reviews is a ranking factor for all local businesses. So it seems there is the catch 22 situation where those therapists who have lesser “ethics” seem to be winning the rankings game on Google. Does anyone else have particular thoughts about this?