The Millennials. If any term drives marketers (and everyone else) bonkers, this is it. This generation, born roughly between 1981 and 2000 are the first generation to live much of their lives on the internet. Their lives are infused with technology much like a bay leaf flavors a sauce; it isn’t always as obvious as an addiction to Snapchat, but technology influences every single wakingmoment of a millennial’s life.
The average therapist on the other hand has an almost innate resistance to technology within their therapy practice. New innovations are viewed with skepticism, occasional outrage and a risk-adverse attitude that often is rationalized by HIPAA or other privacy concerns.

Let’s do a thought experiment:

Imagine patient privacy didn’t exist or need to exist. Imagine if there were no laws or ethics covering patient privacy. Would that change your attitude towards technology in your therapy practice?

There are plenty of Generation X and Baby Boomers who shun ideas such as e-books, instant messages and ordering products online. They yearn for a bygone era, a slower pace of life not infiltrated by technological “gadgets.” The telephone provoked a similar response among the parents of the Greatest Generation. There were fears that letter writing would be obsolete, the home visit would be rendered redundant and that youngsters dancing to that Jazz “music” were courting the very Devil himself. It was madness! How we survived as a society is still one of life’s mysteries.
Sam Phillips of the Memphis Recording Service (later Sun Records,) came along in the early 1950s and then subsequently freaked out the Greatest Generation because their kids were getting involved with this newfangled “rock and roll.” Elvis nearly gave my grandparents a heart attack because, in fact, the Devil had arrived to steal souls through a suggestive hip-shake and a backbeat infused rhythm. TV arrived and we bemoaned the death of radio.
Fast forward to 2016. We still have radio. The AM dial is as popular as ever. The FM dial is popular but it has morphed into online alternatives such as Apple Music and Spotify. We still read books even though many of them are printed on an LCD screen rather than paper. We still write letters, some as emails, some a rare, special occasion letters on paper. We still make phone calls but thankfully fewer of them. We still have people visit us at home, but it’s reserved for people we actually want to spend time with. It’s more special and meaningful.

Technology has improved the routine and made the non-routine much more appreciated. I still love visiting a bookstore, but when I need a particular book in a hurry, I love being able to download it instantly. Buying a book from a bookstore is an experience now rather than a transaction.

The millennial generation has several characteristics:

  • first “connected” generation
  • more ethnically diverse
  • over scheduled
  • helicopter parents
  • overconfident and require excess affirmation
  • impatient and demanding
  • shorter attention span and inability to be bored
  • seek immediate answers and want immediate solutions
  • not tolerant of byzantine processes

What does the millennial therapy client mean for private practice therapists?

Therapists who have traditionally relied upon word-of-mouth marketing for their therapy practice are going to be in trouble within the next five years.

A bold statement, I know, but let me explain.

The decline of word-of-mouth

By word-of-mouth, I referring specifically to practitioner-to-practitioner referrals as well as client-to-client recommendations in an offline setting. Mental health treatment, while it has a lower stigma than it did in the past is still a highly personal endeavor. Millennials, when they first think they might have an issue are going to immediately go to Google. They aren’t going to ask their friends for recommendations (unless it’s on Snapchat, Facebook or in some other online forum.) They’re going to Google their symptoms and wherever that search ultimately leads will determine how they address their problem. This is why inbound marketing for therapists is so critical to the future survival of your behavioral health practice.

Many practitioners claim to have successful practices without relying upon the internet. That may be true. But, it won’t always be true. Look at the death of the record store. Record stores are on life support. The only ones thriving are highly specialized niche shops, for example those dedicated to rare jazz. Ask a millennial the last time they bought a CD.

I was born in 1977, but I consider myself a millennial simply because at my home growing up, we were very early adopters of technology. I got my first computer in 1984. I was seven years old. The last CD I purchased was at least 10 years ago. I don’t even have a CD player anywhere in my house — and that includes my computers! I don’t have a DVD player either. Everything I consume is either through Apple TV or my computer directly. We haven’t watched a cable TV channel in literally years. When I need to solve a problem, for example, how to unclog a dishwasher, I don’t call a repairman or look for an owners manual — I search online. There are no phone books in our house. We don’t keep paper anything unless it’s a government document. I found my doctor online, my dentist, my optometrist.

What this all means is that a millennial seeking behavioral health care will have exhaustively researched their symptoms online before even thinking of calling a therapist.

They won’t have asked their primary care doctor for a recommendation, they’ll turn to companies like iCouch to find a therapist. We know because we are iCouch! We see our statistics and we see them growing exponentially each year. Almost daily, we get inquires from practitioners asking about how they can get more clients. Their traditional marketing methods are no longer filling up their appointment books. I visit their websites and they’re often horribly ineffective. Many of them look like they were designed by someone stuck in 1999. There are even companies, such as Therapy Sites that continue to sell therapist website templates that haven’t changed for years, yet they continue to charge a premium price and provide therapists with a false sense that they are “doing online” effectively. It’s a horrible thing to sell a product to solve a problem when in fact, it misses the boat on the problem completely. A website for a website’s sake is worse than no website at all!

The purpose of a therapist website:

  • Provide a means for new clients to find you
  • Convince them to book a therapy session
  • Make it easy for them to “buy” your product.

Therapist marketing lessons from Dropbox

As an experiment, visit the Dropbox homepage. Within the first 15 seconds see if you can identify:

  • The problem they want to help you solve
  • The benefit to their solution
  • A call to action to sign up for their product

Now visit the a therapist website. Pick any. Here’s a sample one..

Compare that site to Dropbox. If you look at the copyright notice at the bottom, this site is from 2016. Sure, therapy isn’t the same as easy online file storage, but it’s still selling a solution to a problem. Millennials want solutions now. They also want a clear value proposition: how does this solve my problem compared to the alternatives?

The internet isn’t a “brochure,” it’s a real-time dynamic medium that millennials use to find immediate answers to their problems.

Snapchat and online therapy

Millennials value privacy however, they equally value the ability to communicate quickly. Snapchat and their concept of a “disappearing chat” feeds into those values. Millennials aren’t afraid to use technology for intimate communications — including therapy. The behavioral health practitioner that avoids offering online therapy is going see a growing percentage of their business literally die off as millennials become the dominant generation.

What about ethics?

Embracing the online world doesn’t mean you are rejecting ethical considerations. It simply means you need to be more vigilant about maintaining ethics across all of the media on which you have a presence. If you offer online therapy, use a platform that’s HIPAA compliant (such as iCouch.) If you have a website, don’t make untruthful claims. Don’t mislead people. Ensure your own digital life takes security seriously. For example, don’t use Skype for therapy, don’t use online therapy when it’s clinically inappropriate. You still have to be responsible!

The purpose of this article was to illustrate the coming challenges ahead for the mental health therapist. Understanding the Millennial Mindset and how you can adapt to the new paradigm in how people search for and consume mental health care will give you the ability to be ahead of the curve while many of your contemporaries are still relying upon the Yellow Pages while wondering why their phone isn’t ringing.

Published by Brian Dear

Brian is the cofounder and CEO of iCouch, Inc. He has an extensive background in software engineering, inbound marketing and mental health practice management.

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