As we dive deeper into the digital age, copywriting for therapists is taking place more and more in the online space.
But first, a story.
I remember being mystified in my graduate Individual Therapy Skills course. I kept waiting for our professor to give us the magic secret skill that transformed you from ‘good listener’ to ‘good therapist.’
It never came.
Instead, as we unpacked each skill (mirroring, reflections of meaning, paraphrasing, silence), the more it seemed like being a good therapist was synonymous with being a good listener.
To be frank, it was kind of disappointing.
In my arrogant naïveté, I had been hoping to learn some ‘be deeply insightful quick’ kind of skill, a relational hack that would make me a brilliant therapist. You know as well as I do that there is no such hack.
Just patient curiosity and kindness with the occasional dash of challenge.
Often when I talk with therapists about marketing their practice, I recognize a similar longing. We jokingly call it shiny object syndrome.
Therapists jump from one marketing endeavor to the next, searching for the magical marketing hack that will transform their current practice into their dream practice. Ideally, without too much work or money spent.
Copywriting is not the hack you’ve been longing for—but it is the core skill you need to effectively use any marketing strategy you choose.
So in order to market your therapy practice, you’ve got to know how to do a bit of copywriting.
Copywriting for Therapists
I like to imagine you’re looking at me and thinking, “Copywriting? Seriously? What is this, Mad Men? What the hell is copy anyway? And do I really need it? Maybe I should just get really good at networking or Instagram…”
(Total side note: Is it weird that I like to imagine that underneath all your gracious unconditional positive regard, you’re secretly pretty snarky and a little petulant—at least when it comes to marketing?)
You’re not going to get good at social media without good copywriting skills.
And let’s be real, if you wanted to make networking your marketing strategy of choice, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog article.
Copywriting is to marketing, what good reflective listening is to therapy—essential, baseline, and not nearly as complicated as the experts make it sound.
Therapists have the potential to be amazing copywriters, because at the heart of our job is the ability to communicate. You’ve honed your ability to deeply understand people’s heartbreaks and secret longings.
When you can learn how to translate your clinical insight into tangible words—speaking directly to the clients who light you up—then you’ve hit marketing gold.
(By the way, marketing gold = more good fit referrals who are willing, even eager, to pay your full fee AND see you at the hour you’re scared you’ll never fill).
So, let’s jump into my version of Copywriting 101
Tell Me All About It: What Exactly is Copy?
“Copy” is the text used to speak online as well as in print.
But because very few of us have ever taken out ads in the yellow pages recently, I’ll stick with “online” for the purposes of simplicity and modern times!
(In fact, I wonder…. do the yellow pages still exist?)
To put it more concretely, “copy” is the words that we use, with particular consideration to how language is written and spoken in online spaces.
Two things to consider:
- In order to write copy, you need to pull together your “copy building blocks-” the unrefined data you’ve collected about your ideal client:
- who they are
- what they need
- who you are, and
- what you have to offer
- And also, copy differs in some ways to how we normally speak and write.
See, we’re all taught “proper” grammar and syntax—which could be a whole conversation we could have in relation to dominant culture and what it means to privilege certain kinds of language over others, though that is by no means my area of expertise.
The truth is, most of us don’t speak in “proper English.” In fact, I am 100% positive that if you were to run what I say out loud through a transcription service, there would be plenty of pauses and some um’s, and definitely lots of run-on sentences.
(Not to mention fragments…I love to trail off and leave half-finished sentences in my wake.)
It’s also rare and odd to us when people talk in the third person (unless you’re Elmo or The Rock circa 1999.)
And in copy, it’s very much the same.
Because the point of copy is to engage in a dialogue with the reader, we tend to use the first and second person.
So in essence, copy is just your speech, polished up.
And if we’re honest, good copy has some poetry in it.
It has rhythm and a visual cadence that makes it fun to read, both in your head and on the page.
While a picture can be worth a thousand words (and you should definitely have images that highlight your message), most of us don’t have the brand recognition that Apple or Hydroflask do.
Not only that, we’re typically offering something that is more intangible—like depth-oriented long-term psychotherapy.
Because we don’t have that brand recognition, the only way to deliver our message memorably is through our copy.
This is how we can communicate that we know the reader, what they’re struggling with, how they’ve tried to fix it themselves, and how that just hasn’t worked.
And then we also get to communicate that we have a solution for them, and lay out how they can get that solution.
What is Copywriting Anyway?
So while copy is the actual text, copywriting is the process of writing copy.
I like to think that copywriting is when we start to find a way to translate our therapy jargon into empathetic words that connect, using our actual “digital” voice.
In general, there have been standardized ways that we should and shouldn’t write, in whatever “proper” English is.
But like I previously mentioned, most of us don’t speak in “proper English.”
And for most of us, what we like to read isn’t written in “proper English” either.
In fact, some copywriters even suggest that people should write at a 5th grade level to ensure that people actually read what you’re writing.
While I don’t think we need to dumb down our words, I think it’s vital to recognize that often our words are less about us writing to be understood and more about trying unconsciously to prove we know what we’re talking about.
Copywriting, like any form of communication, is best judged by its ability to be understood by our intended audience.
In order to do that, we have to write with the assumption that your audience doesn’t know what you know.
This isn’t in any way talking down at your audience, rather, it’s employing one of your greatest clinical skills: empathy.
Has your dream client gone through the years of schooling to understand clinical terms?
Are they therapists?
Do they have clinical experience?
And even if they are more psychologically savvy than others, they likely need for someone to cut through the bullshit language and speak directly to the heart of the matter.
In copywriting, we have to pay attention to context.
- What is the context in which I'm speaking?
- Who am I in this context?
- Who is my dialogue partner? Who’s the audience?
- What’s the message I'm trying to convey?
For most therapists: what we want to convey is a kind of marketing informed consent—who are we, what we do (and don’t do), and who we work best with.
And let’s be real- if you’re wanting to build a practice where you charge a premium fee and are more selective (ethically, of course) about the clients you choose to work with, then your copy needs to be direct, concise, and clear.
Skilled copywriting allows you to tailor what you want to say in a way that truly resonates with the people who need to hear what you have to say.
In our copy, we want to talk to our audience like we’re calling them by their names (but you know, without actually doing so because HIPAA).
We want to speak in a way that captures their attention to the point that they feel like you wrote that copy just for them. Doing so isn’t just good for your marketing—it’s also good for the therapeutic relationship. You begin to build rapport long before they show up for their intake.
Beyond Websites, When Do Therapists Need Copywriting?
Often, therapists assume that they only need copywriting for their home page on their website.
But friend, your home page is just the beginning.
And actually, the copy there is probably the least significant copy you’ll write. There are endless places where copywriting is an invaluable skill.
Because really, anytime therapists market their practice, they are using copy.
(And yes, that includes awkward networking dates when you’re trying to explain who you love to work with without feeling like you’re engaging in slimy self-promotion).
What Is Marketing? (Other Than the Most Frustrating and Overwhelming Task of Building Your Business)
Look- marketing gets a bad rep.
Even in private practice building circles where we’re all about marketing, sometimes there’s still the undercurrent of judgment that gets wrapped up in ‘ethical concern.’
You know the Facebook threads I'm talking about—not to mention the sidelong glances of peers for people who promote their practice ‘like that’.
For a profession that prides itself on being non-judgmental, therapists spend a lot of time judging how people do and don’t market their practices.
But all of that is obfuscation.
Because at its core, marketing is a relationship between two people: the therapist/business/brand and the client.
I dive way deeper into this in my three-part workshop series, Marketing with Depth (where we dive deep to understand both the logistical and psychological blocks that prevent you from using marketing as a therapeutic tool rather than casting it as an unconscious villain).
But, the long and short of it is anytime that you market your practice, you’re building a relationship with potential clients while also educating the general public about the transformative power of depth psychotherapy.
Okay, so when do therapists need copy?
First, we need copy for offline marketing.
We need to be able to clearly communicate to others who you serve and how you do it, like the elevator pitch of old.
This “spoken” copy is good for:
- Face-to-face networking
- Referrals from colleagues
- In-person workshops, seminars, or trainings.
Then, engaging in a little copywriting for physical print marketing like in:
- Business cards
- Flyers of your 1:1 services, groups you plan to offer, or workshops you lead
- Small bios in books/publications/workshops/keynotes, etc.
But here’s the thing- when we are meeting with other clinicians or publishing in a publication for other therapists, we can speak in clinical jargon.
Because they understand it and can engage. (Not to mention, it’s a way to prove that we are in the ‘know’ and belong to the group).
Often when we’re writing for colleagues, we’re expected to write at a higher level than when we’re writing copy for online marketing.
But here’s the thing. Potential clients don’t have a clue what we’re talking about when we engage in our clinical jargon.
Their eyes will glaze over as soon as you start talking about attachment styles, somatic experiencing, and repetition compulsion. They don’t know if they need DBT, EMDR, or to work with a LCSW or LPC.
What they do know is that they need help and want someone who they can trust to know how to unpack the mess and pain that they carry into the consult room.
And let’s be real, they want that information in easy-to-read, digestible chunks.
Not only do our potential clients not have the benefit of being conversant in our jargon, they also have any number of defenses that are going to seek to prevent them from engaging in therapy in the first place…
Which brings us to using copywriting as an intervention par excellence for online marketing.
Online Marketing for Therapists
The internet is here to stay.
A shocking, provocative statement. I know.
But there are still many therapists who want to pretend that somehow digital marketing is a passing fad.
That maybe someday we’ll go back to just hanging out a shingle and managed care will go the way of the Yellow Pages (aka out of business).
But while there are plenty of ways to build your practice, we really are past the point that you can avoid having an online presence.
Even if your sole marketing strategy is networking, those clients that your favorite psychiatrists and couples therapists are referring—they’re still going to Google your name.
Potential clients are going to want to do their research and have the sense that you get them and may be the right fit before reaching out.
So, we have a choice. We can let them find whatever they find OR we can cultivate our online presence with conscientious online marketing efforts.
Copywriting for therapists happens when we are marketing online:
- Advertisements—either via therapy directory profiles such as Therapy Den, ZenCare, or Psychology Today or experimenting with Google or Facebook ads
- By the way, your therapy directory profile is a form of advertising!
- Your website, aka your home base—this is where you want to direct people so that they get the sense of who you are, what you offer, and why you’re the right fit for them
- Social media content—including those dancing TikTok videos that you swear you’re never going to make (nevermind the confusing world of hashtags)
- Emails you send—yes, even your response when potential clients first reach out.
Essentially, any time you market your therapy practice, you’re already writing copy.
The real question is how can you polish your copy and move from beginner to pro?
4 Tips to Enhance Your Copy Right Now
If you’re doing your own copywriting, these tips will help keep you focused on your ideal client and their experience.
Remember, copywriting is the process of writing the words that will help you market your private practice, but it is written for your ideal clients, not for you or other clinicians!
1. Cut the Jargon.
What are you trying to say?
Now, think about how you would say it to a brand new client– ideally, someone who has never been to therapy before and hasn’t learned ‘therapy speak’ yet.
And I’m not just talking about alphabet city of acronyms (DBT, LCSW, EMDR, etc), be sure to go through and cut out the words we love to use but function as more in group speak.
You know, like ‘authenticity’ and ‘person-centered,’ and please, please, stop talking about how you will partner with people on their journey towards wholeness and healing.
Dig deeper and use language that would make sense to people who don’t have your training and clinical background.
2. Have a conversation, not an explanation.
Keep your copy conversational.
Too often therapists silence their voice because they’re scared of how potential clients (and let’s be real, their colleagues) will judge them. So instead of speaking authentically, they end up lecturing and pontificating.
In order to successfully write copy that connects with your ideal client, you gotta set aside how you learned to write in grad school and choose to be relational over showing off your expertise.
How? Tap into one of your greatest skills: empathy. Engage in mentalization by imagining what is going on with your ideal client.
Feel into what will bring them to therapy—both what they’re willing to admit out loud on the consult call as well as the deeper, more tightly held reason—the heartbreak it will take several sessions at least before they’re willing to risk sharing it with you.
If you can articulate the heartbreak, you open the door—not only to them being drawn to you, but also to their healing.
3. Focus on the emotion vs the solution.
Look, if they’ve landed on your website or your therapy directory profile, we know that they’re searching for help.
Here’s where so many therapists get tripped up. We want to prove to them that we can help them, so we explain all the ways we help people, rather than showing them how we can help.
So how do you do that?
By engaging in some reflection of feeling.
If you can imagine the heartbreak, you can articulate it. The trick here is to not sugar coat and to not collude with your future client’s defenses.
Instead of talking in generic cliches, NAME the struggle. Name the pain. Name what is breaking their heart.
Don’t pull your punches. Be real. And do what you do best: name the pain.
You and I both know that until we name and acknowledge the pain, there will be no healing.
When you’re willing to take that risk in your copy, you’ll discover far from wounding people, you will connect with them on a deep level, long before you meet face-to-face.
4. Learning to write copy is hard. Get help.
This is a fantastic example of a parallel process.
What is happening for your client is mirrored in what’s happening with you.
With our marketing, we are helping people get help.
Actually, we are helping our ideal clients find the help they desperately need.
But interestingly, we get stuck in the marketing process and end up doing exactly what our clients do:
“I’ll just figure it out. I’ll do this by myself.”
But we know that that shit doesn’t work.
Getting help is scary. It costs something: energy, accountability, vulnerability, money, time.
We come up with plenty of reasons to not pay that cost upfront, and instead pay a much steeper price of trying to muscle through things on our own.
So often we tell potential clients how we know not only how scary it is risking investing in themselves, and how courageous it is that they’re reaching out for help.
But when it comes to ourselves, it can be harder to embrace how important it is to invest and get the help that we need.
I want to help you though—in my copywriting equivalent of a consult call.
I offer The Copy Treatment Plan. It’s a FREE workshop that helps you translate your depth into words that captivate your ideal audience.
In it, you’ll learn how to use your clinical skill to market your private practice without selling out your depth, engaging in slimy marketing techniques, or pretending to be someone you’re not.
At the end, I will open the doors to Attunement Distilled, my paid program that is specifically aimed at teaching you the how behind copywriting.
Why? Because I know that this is the way to grow the therapy practice you long to have- filled with the curious, insightful, depth-oriented clients you love that are willing and able to pay your full fee.
By developing your copywriting muscle and using your clinical insight to help more and more people come to consciousness.
And to help you build the private practice of your dreams.