The other day I had a meeting with one of the APA divisions about giving a training on our Numerapy model of practice coaching. It's our special framework for helping early stage counselors launch their practice.
At the end of the meeting one of the hosts asked me, "Does your training cover issues of diversity and race?"
I was a little struck. Our Numerapy model doesn't cover diversity and race. Which is a little embarrassing, because I recently published a book about multicultural therapy.
I've been thinking a lot about this question ever since. The basic answer is our Numerapy model is focused on numbers and metrics, and not so much the social layer of therapy. So while we might use our Time to Full Calculator to see why you're not getting full, we're not looking at diversity.
But I'm uncomfortable with that answer, because, well, diversity matters. So I've been thinking a lot about diversity and marketing counseling practices. Here are my initial thoughts.
The data on marketing a practice as a person of color
Part of what we do in our coaching program is to dispel myths with data. And there are a TON of myths in the field about marketing. When I look at our data, well, I have to say we don't have a lot of data on minorities in our program.
I think that sounds bad, but I don't think it actually is bad. We just haven't worked with that many therapists. We've fully launched 3 practices with our method (meaning they're fully autonomous now), we have 1 we're in the late stages of working with, and we have 3 more in our current cohort.
All in all we've worked with 7 practices. So while we've given tons of trainings, and several rounds of other programs, the actual number of practices we've launched is pretty small. Additionally, all our coachees have been white people.
I suspect that, as we gain momentum, we'll have more minorities enter our full coaching program and we'll encounter issues with systemic racism much more frequently.
However, we do have my data.
I'm a black man in Arkansas, and not in an area like Little Rock with a large black population. I live in Northwest Arkansas which is something like 95% white 5% other (It's also fairly liberal).
So what does my data say?
What my data says about marketing my counseling practice as a minority
When I compared my marketing numbers to my white coachees and my business partner Paul Peterson, our numbers are the same.
Why is that? I work in a predominately white area and my marketing brings in as many clients as my white peers. You'd think I'd have less clients reaching out to me.
I decided to ask the next potential client who called, "how did you find me? Through a referral? Google? Something else?" The potential client, who sounded like a white male with a deep southern accent said, "Well I did a google search, and I saw all of your reviews. So I called you."
Something clicked. I'd heard that line a gain and again, "I saw your reviews so I called you."
A large part of my marketing strategy is to have a google profile and get as many reviews as possible. Very often people call me saying, "I saw your reviews. I wanted to book with you."
The reviews are the online way of having a friend recommend a counselor.
This is really important because that's one of the three ways clients find a counselor.
My experience marketing my counseling practice as a minority
About two years ago I wanted to see a therapist. I wanted a black female because I felt we'd shared similar experiences. As I'm writing this I'm also realizing I wanted a black female because I used to have a black female boss I really liked. I think I unconsciously wanted her to be my therapist. She really helped me out in a hard spot.
What actually ended up happening was I saw a white male for a few sessions because he came recommended from another therapist. He wasn't a good fit. Then I saw a white female because one of my black male friends recommended her. She wasn't a good fit. Then I saw another white female, because a friend was seeing her, that ended after 30 minutes. Then I found, through Psychology Today, a black female who looked amazing! But she was booked with a waiting list. She gave me a list of 10 black clinicians, some were males some were females, I emailed them all. None of them got back to me.
In the end I ended up with a Latina female who's been great.
I think many clients are like me. We want someone who will be able to help us, but finding someone we know can help is a hard problem to solve. So instead we solve a simpler problem. We try to find someone who 1) looks like they've lived a life similar to ours, 2) fits some projection we have, or 3) comes highly recommended.
I think some would call that systemic racism. I don't think it is. I think it's normal to pick a therapist this way.
But, I will tell you where I think systemic racism impacts me the most.
How systemic racism impacts marketing my counseling practice as a minority
I think the place where systemic racism impacts my practice the most is in client generated referrals.
I have struggled to get word of mouth referrals. Almost all of my referrals come from people finding me on google.
Now I know that most therapists overestimate how many clients they get from word of mouth, which creates a false narrative about how easy it is to start a practice. Still, I can't help but feel that my word of mouth is worse than others because I'm black.
The way I think about it is a white client might see a white therapists who's mediocre. If you asked them they'll say something like, "well, they were nice, but we just ended up talking about stuff. I don't feel like we ever really dug into things. We're probably better friends than client-therapist." But they might still refer a friend to that therapist.
Now flip it. If a white client saw me and they had a mediocre experience with me, would they refer to me?
Heck, if they had a good experience with me would they refer, say, their aging mother to me?
I don't think this happens as much with my white colleagues. I can think of several white colleges who do couples therapy and I'm pretty sure after the couples therapy is over, the couple says, "can you see my mother/daughter/friend?"
I think this is also a problem when it comes to affiliates, or other therapists referring to me. When my colleagues call me asking me to see a client they don't say "hey Jordan, I know you specialize in couples. Can you take one more?" Rather they say "Hey, I've got a black male teenager."
I guess what I'm saying is:
I think white therapists are more likely get word of mouth referrals, even if they do a mediocre job.
I think white clients who benefit from therapy are less likely to refer to me because I'm black.
I experience my white colleagues referring clients to me based on race, not based on my competence or specializations.
That's how I think systemic racism impacts me.
Why it's important to talk about marketing a counseling practice as a minority
So those are my thoughts.
When we look at our (limited) metrics, I do as well as my white peers in terms of online traffic.
Clients pick therapists because of client projections, having similar life experiences, or the therapist coming highly recommended.
I think I don't have as many word of mouth referrals because I'm a black man in a mostly white area.
I'm very much aware that this is all filtered through my personal experience as a black man. I'm okay with that. The conversation has to start somewhere because these thoughts are running through peoples minds, both clients and clinicians. The only way we make a better world is talking about, and then dealing with racism and diversity issues head on.
Jordan (the counselor)
If you liked this post, I have a new book out. It's all practical skill building exercises for working with diverse peoples.
You can pick up a copy on Amazon.
Jordan Harris, Ph.D., LMFT-S, LPC-S received his Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Louisiana Monroe. He is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Arkansas, USA. In his clinical work he enjoys working with couples. He also runs a blog on deliberate practice for therapists and counselors at Jordanthecounselor.com