Sunday, November 25, 2012

What Brand is Your Therapist: On Commodification of Change

Ever so often a rash of articles appears in popular media about the demise of psychotherapy. I generally treat those articles as just that: a rash that requires some sort of cream. Don't get me wrong, however, because I do think the field as a whole has a significant amount of work to do in remaining relevant, powerful, and important in the human growth, development, and change process. Articles like this aren't helping this nurturing of a strong and relevant field.  People who do "naked therapy" don't help either. I digress...

Illustration by Matt Dorfman. Photograph by Jens Mortensen for The New York Times.
This morning a piece in the New York Times has been making the rounds. What Brand Is Your Therapist: Psychotherapy's Image Problems Pushes Some Therapists to Become Brands is the latest in a history of these sorts of rashes. The author, Lori Gottlieb, bemoans the difficulty of starting a private psychotherapy practice. She writes, "after I completed six years of graduate school and internship training and was about to start my psychotherapy practice [I discovered that] nobody taught me in grad school that psychotherapy, a practice that had sustained itself for more than a century, is losing its customers."

Gottlieb continues on with very tired advice about branding, developing a marketing message, and selling a niche product that customers cannot do without. Bothered by troublesome ethical codes that prevent making promises and money back guarantees? Call yourself a coach and do whatever you please.

What Gottlieb walks away from is a long (and admittedly troubled) history of the psychotheraputic enterprise of human growth, development, and change within the context of a relationship. She encourages the marketing of quick fixes and soundbites that soothe the ego but do little to nurture more complete human beings.

All this is good fodder for future blog posts. What is important here comes from a close friend and colleague of mine. She emailed me the New York Times piece with some background information on Lori Gottlieb.

What Gottlieb doesn't point out in her article is that she is right out of school. She spent six long years earning a masters degree in marriage and family therapy (note: it is generally a two year degree). Gottlieb is, in fact, so right out of school that she is still collecting the post-graduation hours of supervised practice that she is required to have before she can be independently licensed.

Of course she didn't have a thriving private practice. She is just starting out.

I don't know Gottlieb. I don't know her background, her skills, or her qualifications.What I do know is this: I am growing increasingly concerned about the commodification of psychotherapy. Slowly consultants and branding experts, out to make a buck, have been repackaging the psychotheraputic enterprise into a sexy sleek product that--similar to Twinkies--offers little actual value.

What do you think? What is the purpose of psychotherapy? Join in and have a dialogue here on my blog or on Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. I think there are trainees in the UK suffering the same fate, Jason. Training institutes are churning out cohorts of new people who all seem to expect a thriving practice to be waiting for them at the end (in fact, the trainings themselves are often marketed as a 'new career' or 'additional income', which adds to the fantasy).

    What I see happening is that new trainees, disappointed with the fruits of their investment, are turning to marketing and business models in a bid to turn their expensively-obtained qualification into a paying business.