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Simple Ways to Be Ethically Squishy Online

Written By: Elizabeth - Jul• 10•12

While I don’t tend to focus on the ethics of being online, I do want to share a few of the ways therapists make me cringe.  In no particular order:

Ethics of Therapists Being Online

Years of expertise.  Starting your expertise from undergraduate years, or worse, from the time you “first started helping friends in elementary school.”  I know it’s hard to be young, but don’t add more years that aren’t really actually years of therapy, unless you were in a real therapy (not skills based or personal care attendant) role…which you can’t be in until you’ve got the right credentials?!

Use of Expert.  Using the word expert when you can count on one hand the number of years of experience you have.  Sure, you may be more of an expert than an average person, but how do you think you compare to someone with 30 years of experience who may not actually like the term expert, or who does use it?  I think there are many ways to be an expert by demonstrating it, not self-labeling with such a powerful word.  (In other fields it’s easier to say you’re an expert because there are often easy measures.)  The people I know who ARE experts by every measure, often roll their eyes at the word.  Be aware of its hierarchical nature and if you’ve always felt it’s a bit ishy, then I encourage you to rethink demonstrating competence without using the word.  :)  And yes, “ishy” is a word in the Elizabeth dictionary.

Mixing up “featured in” with putting an ad in something.  Featured in should be that you’ve written an article or been quoted in something.  Putting an ad out somewhere means something entirely different!  A local chiropractor that I used to see and I’m watching as the economy tanks and they get more and more desperate.  They have now taken to going to a local university to give their “educational talks” on how they can cure every known ailment under the sun… and the way they write their advertisement, it appears that the University is actually asking them to come as guest speakers.  NO!  They are plugging their self interest and happen to be renting a room.  It is however, just fine to say “see our advertisements in…” with the logos of where you advertise.  It lets people know you are out there, actively working to build your reputation, and where you advertise tells the reader what you value by where you put your money.

Using “I’m the #1….”  No.  You aren’t.  And I’m the daughter of a very famous, well loved, highly sought after marriage therapist, and he would NEVER, ever use the terms “I’m the #1″ anything, even if thousands of his fans would say he is.  Leave the “#1″ stuff to companies who compare sales and revenue dollars or to banks. ;-)

Relying on your alphabet soup after your name to make it seem like you have expertise.  Unless you spell out exactly what you do, in lay terms, I don’t think you’re helping the reader get a sense of what exactly you know for their presenting issue.  (Also tough for me is when someone has a Ph.D. in a TOTALLY different field like math, then went back to get a masters in some form of psychotherapy, but they can say they’re a Dr.  I guess go back to your ethical guidelines.)  And yes, I’m excited to get all my fancy letters, and no, I am not going to spell out every darn thing to make it seem like I’m more of an expert…it’s an easy temptation!  After graduating I could be an MS, MFT.  Taking the national MFT exam I could then be MS, MFT, LAMFT.  A bit long and “Trying really hard” in my book.

 Being an Institute or Academy when you aren’t.   This could be its own blog post, but for many of you who aren’t aware, I’ll give you a $400 marketing trick.  Put the word academy or institute in your business name, and your reputation instantly goes up….potentially.    I have a lot of hilarious ways to mock this and create my own institute, but in any event, just be aware it’s slippery.  Most of us think of institutes and academies as non-profits, with board of directors, who fundraise, get grants, etc.  But you can be a solo entrepreneur, for profit, and use those names.  (My favorite?  Creating the Institute of Awesomeness… only therapists who self-describe as awesome can join.)  Words have power and meaning so chose wisely if you’re going for either word.  And no, I am not saying if you use those words you ARE unethical.  I’m simply saying it gets slippery, if customers trust and buy more from you for no other reason than you use the fancy words “institute” or “academy” because they believe it means something different.

I know there are many more but I’ll end here.  If you’ve got a strong case of Common Sense, it’s actually not too hard to be ethical online.  It’s when you want to puff yourself up that you can get into trouble.

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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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