Case Study: Websites for Therapists

BackgroundLMFT Website Screenshot

Therapist and custody mediator Alicia Santos-Coy, LMFT, had been practicing for more than 20 years when she decided to develop a website for her private practice.

She wanted to create a site that would meet the needs of her diverse and successful practice, which included child therapy, custody mediation, and therapy for teens, adults, and couples.

Conveying deeply held values

One of the most valuable tools in my toolbox for to helping therapists express complex concepts clearly on their website is the in-depth phone interview.

Alicia and I scheduled a number of phone conversations, most lasting an hour or more, to talk about her practice and her values and approach. During each conversation I transcribed sentences and phrases in her exact words, making it possible to then create content that conveyed her authentic style and voice.

A second key benefit to holding a series of conversations is that it provides an opportunity to get to the core of a therapist’s values.

It’s natural to find it challenging to sum up a complex process, years of experience, or a theoretical orientation in a few snappy phrases. Over the course of an extended conversation with a practitioner, however, often these phrases will come to the surface.

After discussing the custody mediation process in depth, Alicia paused to reflect. “I’m not a pro-dad or pro-mom mediator,” she said. “I’m pro-child.” Perfect headline.

Alicia’s focus as a mediator is uniquely informed by her experience as a child therapist. In fact, it was her experience working directly with children and witnessing the effects of their parents’ choices that inspired her to become a mediator.

The content on her site reflects that, enabling potential clients who are seeking that kind of approach to see that she shares it as well.

Purpose and selection of images

Most websites have at least one image, and many have more. It is common for a therapist to choose to use a pre-designed website template when they create a website. These templates are typically designed with room for quite a few images.

Choosing images for a therapist’s site is uniquely challenging in comparison to other professions. For instance, a dance instructor could include photographs of students during a class, images of related objects (dance shoes, etc.), portraits of individual students, and images from performances. For a therapist, however, including photographs of satisfied clients or actual therapy sessions in progress is typically not an option.

There are a variety of other approaches. One approach is to select images of nature or symbols of “calm.” The results of this approach can vary, however, as what conveys relaxation or relief to one person may not say the same thing to another.

For Alicia’s website, we primarily drew on stock photography images, with an emphasis on people. We reviewed a number of images together in order to identify the final choices for the site.

child on stairsImpact on children
Alicia’s approach to custody mediation prioritizes the impact on the child. So the photos on the site relating to mediation (including the young girl on the stairs pictured here) have the child front and center.

A diverse practice
Images throughout the site reflect the diversity of the families, individuals, and couples who make up Alicia’s client base.

Focused on solutions
Instead of an image emphasizing a legal environment and a win-lose view of custody, we chose an image that symbolically reflected peacefully sharing custody.

Should a therapist include a photograph of him- or herself? It depends. In Alicia’s case, the right choice was to include a hand-drawn logo that represented her practice and appears on her business cards. In other cases, including one or more photos of the therapist can work well.

A peek behind closed doors

Describing the experience of therapy to a potential client is unusually challenging. Every client is different. The experience is intensely personal. The entire experience is confidential, which makes sharing examples and testimonials much harder than in other fields.

When the clients are children, describing the experience of therapy to their parents is uniquely challenging as well. You’re looking for ways to describe a process that the parents will be excluded from. Finding that balance between “letting them in” and “keeping them out” can be tricky.

In this case, sharing a physical description of the types of toys that are available for young clients helps parents create a mental picture:

child playingIf you to come to my office, you’ll see I have a sand tray for children to play with, with more than 500 figures: buildings, animals, structures to build with, bridges, fences, trees.

A straightforward, accessible description of their play is interpreted demystifies the process:

Children can use all those different kinds of things to build a “world” in the sand. As we talk about what they’ve created, it slowly becomes more clear what they’re expressing and resolving in that world.

Explaining your style to adult clients can also be a challenge. It’s extremely common for therapists to want to provide a detailed description of their therapeutic orientation, sometimes including so much jargon that it may overwhelm a potential client.

On the other hand, there is no need to overcompensate and “dumb down” your credentials or your approach (“I help people feel better when they feel sad”).

Although every client is different, as a therapist your style is probably relatively consistent. To draw the types of clients who are likely to be a good fit and to appreciate your style, it helps to give a sense of your approach that enables them to see if you’re what they’re looking for. From Alicia’s site:

I am very direct. The focus of my work with clients is on helping them take control of their ability to overcome the challenges they’re facing.

Alicia’s approach in therapy is direct, and so is the language on her site.

The way that you communicate on your website gives visitors to your site a preview of the way you will communicate with them in person too. Will you talk to them or will you lecture them? Will you use a lot of terms they don’t understand?

Finding clear, accessible ways to describe how you work with clients is hard work. Being grounded in yourself while being able to empathize with your clients at the same time is not just a major challenge of doing therapy — it’s central to being able to communicate about what you do.

When you’re able to convey your deeply held values, include relevant images, and provide potential clients with an accurate peek at what’s in store, you can have a website that truly functions as a fine representation of your practice.

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