Therapists turn to branding as demand drops by 30 percent

It seems that people are spending less time on the therapist’s couch these days, due to economic pressures and the availability of alternative resources. An estimated 30 percent drop in the psychotherapy business in the past decade has sent many shrinks scrambling to find clients by “niche” marketing their services.

As essay in today’s New York Times Magazine tells the story of one such therapist. Opening paragraphs from “The Branding Cure: My So-called Career as a Therapist” appears below

“Since the 1990s, managed care has increasingly limited visits and reimbursements for talk therapy but not for drug treatment; and in 2005 alone, pharmaceutical companies spent $4.2 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising and $7.2 billion on promotion to physicians, nearly twice what they spent on research and development.

‘The According to the A.P.A., therapists had to start paying attention to what the marketplace demanded or we risked our livelihoods. It wasn’t long before I learned that an entirely new specialized industry had cropped up: branding consultants for therapists.

“Nobody wants to buy therapy anymore,” (Casey) Truffo told me. “They want to buy a solution to a problem.” This is something Truffo discovered in her own former private practice of 18 years, during which she saw a shift from people who were unhappy and wanted to understand themselves better to people who would come in “because they wanted someone else or something else to change,” she said. “I’d see fewer and fewer people coming in and saying, ‘I want to change.’ ”

‘From a branding perspective, the fix was simple. At professional-networking events or in newsletters, her pitch went from “I treat people with depression and anxiety” to “Are you having trouble with the difficult people in your life?” Of course, therapy isn’t about changing someone else, but that wasn’t the point. If she could get people in treatment and help them feel better, she explained, why did it matter how she spun her pitch? Her goals seemed valid, but the idea of pitches and branding still made me uncomfortable.”

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