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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.