7 Things LPCs Should Consider when Marketing Mental Health Services

Posted By: Hayley Twyman Brack Licensure Board Updates,

a therapy client types on a laptop. An overlaid graphic shows a 5 star review.

Pictured above: a therapy client types on a laptop. An overlaid graphic shows a 5 star review.

Whether Licensed Professional Counselors are setting up a private practice or running an agency with a dozen clinicians, marketing is an important task for maintaining a flow of new referrals and keeping caseloads full. When it comes to advertising services, there are many ethical pitfalls that could make marketing sticky. Here are 7 things LPCs should consider when marketing mental health services!

Understand How to Ethically Solicit Reviews
Even good clinicians can receive the occasional bad online review. While it may be tempting to counteract the comment by encouraging others to leave 5-star reviews, according to the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics clinicians may not solicit reviews and testimonials from current or former clients. However, as Roy Higgins points out in his article on ethical review solicitation, clinicians can ask colleagues and coworkers to leave reviews about their professionalism. Even if they do not have a negative review to outweigh, having good reviews from other professionals can positively add to a clinician’s online presence and may be a helpful advertising strategy.

Don’t Comment on Clients’ Comments
When a therapist sees their client outside of the clinical setting, in order to protect confidentiality they typically do not acknowledge a client unless the client acknowledges them first. In cases of comments and ratings online, it can be tempting to reply to the client’s post because the client initiated the contact. However, in replying to the comment (even with a “thanks!”) technically a clinician would be acknowledging that the individual has indeed received services. Therefore, it is best to refrain from commenting publicly on a client’s review.

Know When to Market a “Specialty”
Therapists spend years working towards a graduate degree and many choose to pursue training and education well beyond graduation. After completing training for certifications or specialized services, therapists in Oklahoma must be careful in how they market themselves. According to the LPC Permanent Rules, Oklahoma LPCs may not represent themselves as specialists of any kind unless they have been designated by the Board of Behavioral Health to hold that title. Instead of identifying as a specialist in their area of practice, clinicians may choose to list completed trainings and certifications to reinforce their claims of competency.

Advertise Training and Education Ethically
Along with refraining from advertising any specialty designation without permission from the Board of Behavioral Health, clinicians must be careful to only advertise the highest educational achievement earned that is related to their license. According to both the LPC Permanent Rules and American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, if a counselor holds a PhD they may not advertise or present themselves in a counseling environment as a “doctor” if their doctorate is not from an accredited university or if it is unrelated to mental health. For example, if an LPC holds a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology and a PhD in History, they may not use the designation of “Dr.” or “doctor” in their counseling practice.

Maintain Good Social Media Boundaries
To keep from developing a dual relationship, it is important that clinicians are not friends or mutuals with their clients on their personal social media accounts. In regards to a professional social media page, it is not unlikely, and usually not unethical, that a client may like or follow a clinician’s professional social media account. It is important to keep in mind that though clients may follow a professional social media page, client correspondence should not take place over social media. Instant or direct messaging on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other similar platforms are not HIPAA-compliant forms of communication. Therefore, if a client or potential client reaches out via social media to discuss treatment, scheduling, or anything else related to clinical work, it is important to encourage that person to contact a HIPAA-compliant contact, like an email or telephone number.

Make Ethical Social Media Posts
TikTok, Instagram, and other social media platforms host an array of accounts that aim to destigmatize mental illness and promote treatment. If a clinician chooses to write social media posts about therapy or psychoeducation, it is important to review the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics before posting. According to the ACA, when posting online or speaking on any form of media, a clinician must be careful to only provide statements that are based within the clinician’s area of competence and make it known to followers that social media posts or statements should not be taken as counseling advice.

Don’t Accept Compensation for Referrals
According to the LPC Permanent Rules, an LPC or candidate may not accept any type of payment for referring clients to another professional service. Not only can a clinician not receive payment for referring clients to another mental health clinician; they also cannot receive payment for referring clients to other services, like primary care physicians. When it comes to holiday gift giving and showing appreciation to other professionals, clinicians must also be mindful. For example, in certain circumstances physicians are unable to accept gifts from referral sources. In all circumstances, clinicians may not give gifts in exchange for specific referrals. When in doubt, send a card or nothing at all.
The Oklahoma Counseling Institute is pleased to host Roy Higgins for an upcoming continuing education webinar, HIPAA Best Practices for Mental Health Private Practitioners.