5 Ways to Market like a Psychotherapist

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Psychotherapy, a discipline intended to help people, is actually a form of marketing.

Does that thought make you uncomfortable? Or even seem a little creepy?

American psychiatrist Jerome Frank put it eloquently over forty years ago: psychotherapy is the art of Persuasion and Healing.

A good therapist needs to do more than just teach her clients to have more positive feelings.

She actually needs to sell those feelings, in order to get the results her patients want.

Psychotherapy sells the “good” feelings

In Persuasion and Healing, Frank said:

“[S]uccess in therapy depends in large part on its ability to combat the patient’s demoralization and heighten his hopes of relief. All forms of psychotherapy do this implicitly, regardless of their explicit aims. Progress in therapy, in turn, further shifts the balance toward the ‘welfare emotions’ […] such as love, joy, and pride, so that, with luck, the process becomes self-enhancing.”

So psychotherapists promote these positive or “welfare” emotions.

Why would that be marketing?

Because when your dog pees on your carpet or someone cuts in front of you on the freeway, you need to be sold on why staying cool is more productive than going berserk.

Like any smart marketer, the psychotherapist needs to determine the right time to “sell” the patient on feeling good instead of bad. She needs to be mindful of emotional intelligence literature, which shows that emotional health is dynamic, and that it’s healthy to fluctuate between non-welfare and welfare emotions.

(In other words, as every good copywriter knows, negativity isn’t always a bad thing.)

Psychotherapy sells ideas and attitudes

When you see your psychotherapist, she has to do a lot of persuasive work to convince you that you’ll get over that failed relationship. Your grieving heart has a hard time believing a word of it.

She has to work to persuade you that even though all of your life you were trained to be nice, being assertive is actually okay.

Sometimes marketing propels us to buy stuff, and sometimes it persuades us to adopt ideas and attitudes. The process isn’t actually all that different. And even when we’re selling products, we often need to do the work of selling ideas first.

How to market like a psychotherapist

To market like a psychotherapist, you can start with these five basic steps:

  1. Don’t think in simplistic terms of selling products or services. Find the ideas and attitudes that you are really trying to sell. You’re not manipulating people to buy; you’re presenting them with ideas and attitudes that they can choose to adopt.
  2. Before you can persuade, you have to thoroughly understand your “patient.” With the web at your fingertips, you can conduct your own polls, take Twitter’s pulse, or use web analytics to study your traffic. Thoughtful research helps you to be more empathetic toward your prospects, because you listen to and care about their concerns, questions, and interests.
  3. Be mindful of the professional literature in your field. Psychotherapists go through years of professional training to learn the best-respected theories and modalities. Make an ongoing study of the best research and thinking on persuasion.
  4. Instead of viewing your work as selling or marketing, see it for what it is: a comfortable conversation on a couch, about topics that are important to everyday people.
  5. Share the ideas and attitudes that benefit your customers. Psychotherapists market “welfare” emotions because they want people to lead happier, more effective lives. Learn to market the ideas that you see helping your customers do the same.

About the Author: Melissa Karnaze writes about the intelligence of emotions on Mindful Construct and Twitter.

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Reader Comments (52)

  1. says

    Well I think I’ve officially had my first psychotherapy session and the picture is clearer already! I especially liked the point you made about not feeling as if you’re asking selling something but more like you’re having a comfortable conversation on the couch talking about things that are important to “people”

  2. says

    This is a brilliant article and I am so glad to see it. As a psychotherapist for more than 20 years and a coach teaching other therapists about business for almost half of that, I have run into so many people that need to hear this. Thanks for helping therapists see that marketing is not the enemy and that they have an advantage that other entrepreneurs can learn and use as well.

  3. Sonia Simone says

    I liked that one too. It’s a great way to frame things, much more fun. (And I’ve found it more effective).

  4. says

    When I started out, all I did was to sell and promote products to people. I forgot to put myself in their own shoes and to be more emphatic. Market research will really make or break your campaigns. Just because there’s an ebook for acne doesn’t mean that they really need it. Love this post. Thanks!

  5. says

    A great point, well said! It seems so much more doable and honest to think of a client as someone sitting on the couch across from you, filled with needs that you have the answers for.
    Thanks for the visual.

  6. says

    Love this post, it’s really all about connecting past the sale, past the pitch — which means you’ve got to dig deeper into the minds of your audience. Great resource for all marketers to read!

  7. says

    This is a great reminder to remember the emotional journey your reader will experience as they read your blog. The book How to influence people and make friends by Carnegie touches on this idea as well.

  8. says

    @Roschelle, The couch is only the beginning. :) Marketing happens all the time between people, because it’s really just persuasive communication. When you see the marketing side of almost every human interaction, then it’s a no-brainer that marketing isn’t evil, simply human.

    @Janet, It’s so great to hear that as a psychotherapist, you appreciate the transparency that Jerome Frank was so dedicated to. In general, I think that the profession can only benefit from more transparency, which as you said carries over nicely to boosting entrepreneur confidence.

    @Shane, I so dig Tyler’s 8 Rules… I’ll have to re-read these together. :)

  9. says

    We wrote about psychology and writing, too:


    But, not as it affects marketing more on the issue of how we process language individually and how our learning style affects us as writers.

    I don’t know, but I don’t like being sold things and it seems so hard for some to simply offer.

  10. says

    Like Janet, I’ve been a psychotherapist a long time and agree that therapy involves selling ideas, which in turn requires skilful use of persuasive language.

    When I branched out and became a consultant, I found that my therapy skills – especially listening, empathising and asking questions – were invaluable when it came to sales meetings. Some of the best feedback I got was from a sales prospect (later client) who told me “It feels like you’re really trying to help me, not just sell something”.

    I know a lot of psychotherapists are resistant to the idea of marketing, and I’m not sure many marketers think of themselves as acting like therapists. But to be really outstanding at either, you need to have your client/customers’ best interests at heart – and make the effort to put yourself in their shoes before you rush in with suggestions.

  11. says

    The moment you decide that you are not selling things to people – you are helping them lead a better life, help them make more money, help them free more time to spend on fun activities – you get so relaxed that you can actually carry out a good conversation with the prospect as opposed to carry the *huge burden* of trying to sell.

    You have hit the nail on the head, Brian!

  12. says

    “Instead of viewing your work as selling or marketing, see it for what it is: a comfortable conversation on a couch, about topics that are important to everyday people.”

    I actually try to write posts with this in mind.

    thanks for sharing.

  13. Sonia Simone says

    @Mark & @Arun, I love that insight. That when you really come at “marketing” with the right mindset, you can relax and quit selling so hard.

    (By the way, Arun, this one was written by a brand-new guest writer, Melissa Karnaze.)

  14. says

    Gonna have to disagree here. Psychotherapists have far more to gain by NOT solving a patients problems than by solving them.

    If they relieve the depression, then they lose a patient. The nature of the game forces them to create a need in the patient. Too often, therapy is used to just rehash things that happened to you when you were younger WITHOUT making any serious attempt to change.

    If we’re talking about psychiatrists, who actually prescribe medication, then they need to SELL the value of the medication. Fortunately for them, this just means writing the patient a prescription and telling them how many to take and how often. They get commission too, by the way.

    Anyway, I’m gonna throw my two cents and say its better to identify your problem and create a plan to fix it. On your own. Or, at the most, download some of Tony Robbins’ stuff and just do what he says. He’s a great motivator and lays out a clear way for people to cure what ails them.

    Tony Robbins for president!

    On slightly related note, I have a (new) internet marketing site that’s based on the theme “Think And Grow Rich.” I’m going through the chapters and using Napoleon Hill’s philosophy to stay motivated, plan, etc.

  15. says

    Great tips for marketers trying to adapt their ideas to reach consumers. I love it tip number 2 understanding your customer, which is something very important and with all of the resources at your fingertips why not take advantage of these sources.

  16. says

    @MillionDollarBlogger, You’re right, many psychotherapists have a lot to gain by not really fixing problems, but by perpetuating and/or confounding them (which may occur consciously or subconsciously), which is why if you re-read Frank’s quote, you’ll see he said, “[S]uccess in therapy…” rather than just “Therapy…”

    Anne Wilson Schaef makes some valid points about the codependency tendency in psychotherapy that you touch upon, in “Beyond Therapy, Beyond Science: A New Model for Healing the Whole Person.”

    No matter how strong this tendency can be though, I have faith that with our rapidly progressing cognitive-affective science (not to mention lots of other sciences that are related), psychotherapy will become more functional and transparent — meaning it will evolve for the better.

    I agree that’s it’s ideal to identify your problem and create a plan to fix it, as much on your own as you can. But you can’t *always* do it alone. (And even the self-help paradigm has its limitations.) Sometimes you need help from your social support system. And sometimes you just need to hire (good) professional help. :)

  17. says

    Psychotherapists have far more to gain by NOT solving a patients problems than by solving them.

    No, they don’t.

    Firstly, you’d have to be a seriously unethical and incompetent therapist to approach your work with that attitude.

    Secondly, you’d have to be a pretty dumb marketer. Ever heard of positive word-of-mouth or professional reputation?

  18. says

    As a psychologist who also coaches/mentors other mental health professionals on how to start and market a private practice businesses, this post is refreshing and insightful. Much of therapy is marketing and lots of marketing is psychology.

    While many psychotherapists dismiss the need to market, they are often shocked to learn that good marketers, just like good therapists, have lots in common in terms of wanting to better understand human behavior and help others improve their lives.

  19. Sonia Simone says

    Mark makes excellent points. It might be in my short-term interest to only give people mediocre marketing advice, so I could keep selling them ever more expensive programs. But both ethically and to preserve my reputation, it makes much more sense for me to “graduate” my customers and give them everything they need so they won’t need me any more.

  20. says

    Try living with a psychiatrist Dad. He could make us kids do anything!

    When studying marketing at university, I always found the psychology-meets-marketing (read: consumer behaviour) subjects fascinating. It really is amazing how marketing techniques (even the subtle ones, or rather, especially the subtle ones) can influence the buying decision, change buying behaviour and alter perception.

  21. says

    @Chad, Carrie, Susan, and Sami… Yeah, psychology really is hard to separate from other “fields” or “disciplines,” because it’s the human imprint.

    When I found Copyblogger almost a year ago, even though I was wary of anything marketingesque, I was all over the psychological topics — which I now see anything business-related as being drenched in, and especially anything web-based… because interactions are recorded, which in some cases makes for more accurate analysis.

    (Just think about how much information you have access to by reading a forum discussion or following blog comments — not of the content itself, but in how people say what they say, and what they are really trying to say.)

    I really like how Susan sums it up: “Much of therapy is marketing and lots of marketing is psychology.”

    @Sonia & Mark, I agree that it’s ethical, in your integrity, and in the best interests of your professional reputation to fix problems and help people “graduate” rather than depend on you forever.

    But I’ve also seen the dark side of the therapist-client relationship (which any profession has). It’s that therapists *can* (and many do) keep clients dependent on them without helping them to “graduate” — whether or not they are aware of this process.

    They gain more sessions, and many other “gains” that come with the codependent relationship… but this point that MillionDollarBlogger brought up is beyond the scope of the article, and actually off-topic. (It’s something I’ll be exploring on Mindful Construct in the future.)

    Which is why the article focuses on *success* in therapy. And is modeled after an ethical and good psychotherapist. :)

  22. says

    Melissa, I really liked this article. I have dealt with a few small marketing firms recently, and I find that a focus on “sales” or moving a product seems to be a major block for many individuals. This, I feel is, especially true with regard to internet marketing, as many (though I have certainly not dealt with a representative sample) individuals working within the e-commerce area are very focused on how a banner add will direct individuals toward more purchases. I feel, and I may be wrong, that there is still a prevailing paradigm that the marketing of ideas has already been done somewhere along the line through commercials. Thus the purpose of digital marketing, to many, is only to offer a more efficient method of purchase, instead of being a forum by which to engage people and “sell the idea.”

  23. says

    Really like this analogy, especially that comment on knowing your ‘patient’. It is essential to know who you want to attract and how this can be done and the tips you prpvide on doing this are useful. Thanks for your advice Melissa.

  24. says


    But I’ve also seen the dark side of the therapist-client relationship (which any profession has). It’s that therapists *can* (and many do) keep clients dependent on them without helping them to “graduate” — whether or not they are aware of this process.

    Yes, I’ve seen this too, and it’s appalling.

    My objection to MillionDollarBlogger’s comment is that he sees this as “the nature of the game”, rather than the nature of incompetent therapists or misguided elements of the therapy profession.

    Thanks for a great article.

  25. says

    @Sami – Psychology meets marketing. Now that is interesting. I have too study more on this. Perhaps if online marketeers try to study more on the consumer motivations of man, then they might end up with the web’s most powerful marketing system ever.

  26. says

    @Andrew, interesting observation about a bulk of internet marketing just going off of the same corporate principles, but with the promise of “better technology.” I remember reading somewhere that people are getting so sick of the old practices, that they’ll look away from dry ad banners as fast as they’ll switch the channel or TiVo a commercial. A “forum by which to engage people and ‘sell the idea’” is more efficient, and healthier for society too.

    @Mark, okay, I see more where you are coming from. I really appreciate your sharing your perspective of having practiced psychotherapy for a long time.

    It was a pleasant surprise for me to see psychotherapists/therapists feel validated by this article, since Frank’s quote deconstructs (not in a bad or mean way), and people in general aren’t comfortable when something they are fluid in or identify with gets deconstructed. But then again, I have to remember that Copyblogger readers are sharp, and not afraid to deconstruct for the right reasons! :p

    @Liane, I think that the “corporate” style (for lack of a better word) marketing *is* focused on consumer motivations — but just how to *manipulate* them, by tapping into the consumer’s fear or anger, often with cheap shots like sex appeal. If internet marketers (or any marketers) study the person as more complex than something that can be goaded into doing what *they* want (a topic which is explored here a lot), then it becomes win-win for everyone, because real needs are being identified and met.

    Thanks for all the kind words everyone!

  27. says

    LOL Mark, didn’t know you were a psychotherapist. I’m sure you’re one of the good ones.

    The problem isn’t unique to therapists. I’d argue that it extends to anyone in the medical profession and even those in the financial professions. This article just happened to be about psychotherapists.

    When I saw the response to my comment I got excited and wrote my own “How to market like a psychotherapist” article. Its not very flattering. But look on the bright side, at least you inspired some creativity!

    Check it out here: http://www.vipinternetmarketing.com/5-steps-to-marketing-like-a-psychotherapist/

  28. says

    I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of psychotherapist as “sales guy” but – being an occasional sales guy – I can certainly see where the two overlap.

    Has anyone here applied dice therapy theory to marketing?

    Now THAT could be interesting!

  29. says

    Great article. I relish the democracy of content marketing and the shift from manipulating and cajoling audiences into accepting whatever it is we are trying to “sell.” Delivering interesting content that encourages folks to decide what is relevant or important to them creates good business principals.

  30. says

    @Alex, I haven’t heard of dice theory before, but did a quick search and it sounds interesting. Have you already noticed some parallels with marketing?

    @Billie, same here. If I didn’t find Copyblogger and all the great content marketing models referenced here… I’d still be a fresh college graduate scared out of my wits to go anywhere near marketing myself in any way (and I would still see the act as selling my Soul to the Devil).

    But with this healthy alternative, there’s democracy like you say, integrity, empathy, and excellent models to fashion your own career out what you love to do. Almost makes me emotional thinking about how empowering that is.

  31. says


    The problem isn’t unique to therapists. I’d argue that it extends to anyone in the medical profession and even those in the financial professions. This article just happened to be about psychotherapists.

    Agreed these people all face a similar challenge: Do I go for short-term gain by trying to keep hold of clients as long as possible? Or do I look at the big picture and build my reputation and business by helping them as much as I can – including helping them to move on when they are ready?

    Which isn’t quite the same as saying they “have far more to gain by NOT solving a patients problems than by solving them”.

  32. says

    Good article, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)

    When doing business one must understand that you are “planting” not “hunting”

    Just by changing that thought will help relationships overall

  33. says

    Marketing is not the enemy in psych…but it sure is dishonest when people are sold the soft sell about the events, emotions of their entire lives are reduced to a simple con game…(but please…believe in your product all you psychtheropist…lest you feel guilty) Not to worry…It all come out in the end… : )

  34. says

    Just read your post — the content remains relevant over time, so kudos to you on that!

    In my experience as an organizational and consumer psychologist, there are a few additional approaches that can also benefit how your market:
    1. It’s as much about the questions you ask as the answers you provide. A good question demonstrates interest, focus on what really matters, and a desire to engage.
    2. Explore connections that are not obvious. Sometimes this is to explore the assumptions behind the answer to questions posed or to thoughtfully connect disparate ideas and ask how this reflects the other person’s experience.
    3. Restate and integrate what you have heard. Much as you have done at a few junctures as others comment on your post, the key is to convey that you have heard the key messages of others and take them to the next level with you.

    Sometimes the best compliment from a client or prospective client, is that I’ve asked them questions or engaged them in a dialogue that got them to think completely differently about a subject. And that is a great foundation for building a ongoing relationship. Or the engage a reading audience as you have done with your post!

    Hopefully these ideas can benefit consultants, clients and bloggers alike.

    • says

      Marc, excellent nuances of the therapeutic exchange that translate well into marketing! They could easily be expanded upon in a separate article. :) Thanks for sharing with us!

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