3 strategies to connect with new clients reeling from the pandemic
This is a guest post from Vicki Lind, MS — a career counselor and marketing coach who helps therapists define and communicate their unique strengths to attract more clients.
We invite you to reflect on the deeper meaning and goal of marketing for a therapist: To effectively communicate how you can guide people through the most crucial issues in their lives.
Dramatic. Critical. Unprecedented. These are the adjectives that describe the last month and how the COVID pandemic has impacted us, our clients, and the world. These first weeks you may have been scrambling to adjust to the most pressing needs. Now, take a few breaths and let’s focus on making the most important changes you can make to survive and even thrive in unexpected ways.
In this article, we will help you:
- Understand how the mindset of potential clients has changed due to the health crisis and an uncertain financial future.
- Adapt your message to resonate with prospective clients during the crisis.
The impact of the crisis on our financial well-being as therapists varies widely. In a poll of 100 Houston therapists, Mental Health Match found that about 60% of therapists are expecting far or slightly fewer clients over the next three months, while 25% are expecting slightly more. Therapists who take insurance are more optimistic about the immediate future.
Client Needs Have Shifted Rapidly
Last week, the New York Times published a piece that begins, “I feel like I’m finally cracking…” that summarizes over 5,000 readers’ feelings about the impact of the COVID19 crisis on their mental health. Not surprisingly, an enormous number of people are suffering from anxiety and loss.
Over the past 30 days, searches on Mental Health Match related to:
- Panic and panic disorders were up 70% over their usual frequency.
- Self-harm or suicidality were up 46%.
- OCD were up 31%.
- Sex / Pornography addiction were up 21%.
Many people have not yet reached out for therapy because they are reeling from the shock. In the coming weeks, we can expect a spike in inquiries, and the language in your profile should be ready to address their new mindset.
3 ways your words can connect with clients in a crisis mindset
To best respond to these acute and emerging needs, we suggest adapting the language on your profiles and website. When a prospective client in the midst of the pandemic reads your materials, it helps to:
- Include warm and welcoming language that creates a connection.
- Provide hope that therapy will help and language about what is possible.
- Emphasize short-term approaches.
Use words of warmth to create connection.
We reviewed profiles on Mental Health Match and found that those with the warmest language received the most inquiries.
Warm language establishes a connection with the prospective client, normalizes what they are feeling, and assures them that you can work together to focus on their strengths and resiliency to meet the unknown.
Review these words of warmth to decide which ones you can add to your own website and online profiles:
- You and I
- We will
- People (instead of clients or patients)
Use words of hope to provide encouragement.
In addition to extending warmth, offer a picture of what clients can hope to achieve as a result of therapy. When people are in crisis they are particularly driven to feel connected, seen, and grounded.
These clients are most drawn to therapists who use language that evokes solid, realistic expectations of therapy. Though everyone might not be able to achieve their external dreams right now, there is an opportunity to build inner resources, courage, and resilience.
Words of hope include:
- Move forward
- That you desire
Emphasize short-term approaches.
During a crisis, people may lose cognitive abilities to make sound decisions and may need help making concrete plans for their immediate futures. Therefore, there is a greater need for short, practical approaches to therapy. Working on underlying or childhood concerns may take a back burner for most new clients.
Words associated with short-term approaches include:
- Create a plan
- Practice skills
- Find solutions
- First step
No matter what approaches you practice as a therapist, be sure to explain how you can effectively help clients cope with the pressing anxiety and uncertainty they are experiencing.
Find inspiration in these examples.
As you think about the changes that you might make, we thought it would be helpful to see some actual examples, comparing wording before the crisis and now. Note that the examples are not specific to the COVID pandemic, so they don’t preclude personal loss and stress not related to the crisis.
Be specific and relevant.
“My clients suffer from anxiety that impacts their sleep, eating, and overall well-being. I use breathing techniques, movement, and other somatic tools so that you can truly enjoy your life.”
“I work best with people who suffer from anxiety that interrupts their sleep and encourages compulsive eating and use of alcohol. To maximize your calm and balance, we’ll work together to explore your barriers to change, integrating breathing techniques and movement.”
Why this works better:
The first example addressed people with more every-day concerns who come to therapy with the hope of achieving a happy life. This therapist adjusted their tone to be consistent with current suffering and unpredictability. They added alcohol issues since it’s on the uptick. Finally, they have also eliminated jargon like “somatic” and added some words of warmth: “we’ll work together.”
“I listen with compassion to my clients’ grief as they struggle to adjust to life transitions: marriage, birth, empty nest, and retirement. Together, we’ll explore both your losses and celebrate the new opportunities ahead.”
“I listen with compassion to my clients’ grief as they struggle to adjust to unexpected major life transitions: loss of a job, increased health risks, or shifting expectations. With greater understanding, we’ll work together to plan practical steps you can take to adjust to new circumstances. We’ll also collaborate to build self-compassion and practice skills for self-care.”
Why this works better:
The struggles now pinpoint those exacerbated by the crisis. Once again, words like “we’ll work together,” “collaborate,” and “plan practical steps” offset anxiety about both the current situation and starting therapy. This language also instills hope that the client can find compassion and care amidst the change.
Create a personal connection.
“I work mostly with first responders and help them address underlying trauma that may affect them on the job, especially underlying childhood trauma and abuse. I can help you find peace and calm.”
“I work with healthcare workers, police, military veterans and anyone who is on the front lines. Together, we can lean into my decades of experience in social service and mindfulness and work together to relieve the effects of trauma and burn out. My focus is driven by my deep appreciation of your service.”
Why this works:
This therapist has expanded their definition of first responders to specifically include healthcare workers or anyone who feels like they are “on the front lines.” They incorporated works of warmth such as “together,” and acknowledged their personal respect for their clients.
Create an action plan to move forward
To create an action plan that meets your specific emotional and financial needs, imagine that you are one of your clients. Now give yourself the advice you would give an overwhelmed client. This advice would likely have these stages:
- Self-care and safety come first. Check-in with yourself to make sure that you have gotten enough rest and food as well as emotional and spiritual support. Take some deep breaths.
- Second, set a realistic and concrete goal. For example, select a time, a quiet location (a walk if your house is brimming with others staying at home) and give yourself 45 minutes to review the ways you describe your practice.
- Third, note ideas for bigger shifts in your practice that may have come up as you read this article and do the briefer changes that we recommend. You may want to journal or begin talking with colleagues and supervisors about how your mission, calling, and financial concerns are pulling you in new directions.
- Start a free trial on Mental Health Match to learn additional tips like these as the pandemic continues to unfold.
In a time of such tremendous tumult, you and your clients will be called upon to separate the important from the trivial and superficial. The most important tool you have to ensure the longevity of your practice is the language you use to describe yourself and your work. Don’t let the therapeutic strengths that make a real difference be obscured by ineffective language on your profile. There are so many people who want and need to find you!