Last summer, I realized that: 1) I probably wasn’t going to die anytime soon; 2) not only was my death not imminent, my health was fairly stable; and, 3) I was getting bored of twiddling my thumbs. Those factors led me to seek out volunteering opportunities. To my surprise and delight, I was accepted to volunteer despite my leukemia. Today I enjoy my volunteer assignments with both Canadian Blood Services and PALS (thanks to my PAL Jelly, who is remarkably well behaved in unfamiliar settings).
I convinced myself that, if I started volunteering, I might not miss working so much. My love for volunteering has not lessened my desire to work as a psychologist. To clarify, I don’t miss making money, I miss helping people.
I’ve had only one client visit my office so far this year. My client base has trickled to a standstill for two reasons that I can think of: those who know I have leukemia must think I’m dead by now, and those who don’t know I’ve been sick will have trouble locating me on the internet. Or at least I’m assuming they will; I’ve never Googled myself to find out.
What’s the first thing you do when you receive the potential name of a professional for hire, whether it’s a plumber or a financial advisor or a psychologist? You do an internet search, and decide whether you’re willing to give that person a try based on what you can find out. (I guess I shouldn’t speak for you, but I know that’s what I do.) If the professional doesn’t have a website, you may form your opinion based on her marathon time, or her snarky letter to editor of the local newspaper, or her involvement in this or that charity, or whatever else the internet chooses to share with you.
Many psychologists were slow to jump on the social-media bandwagon, perhaps because of the strict rules that govern how we advertise ourselves. We need to honestly represent our credentials–I can’t say I’m a Rhodes scholar if I’m not–and we can’t include any client testimonials. That means no quotes from former clients on how much I helped them through difficult times. Furthermore, when psychologists advertise or use social media in other ways, we must not breech client confidentiality. For example, we cannot befriend our clients on Facebook.
Despite these social-media constraints, more and more psychologists have been creating snazzy, engaging websites in recent years. In order to keep up with the Freuds (bad analogy since Freud was a psychiatrist but let it go, okay?), I too may have to create a website for my practice. Then when people search online for my obituary, they may instead find that, not only am I still alive, I’m open for business.
Once I have my website up and running, I’ll have to figure out how to solicit potential clients. Our ethical guidelines forbid ambulance chasing, which is overly constraining, don’t you think? What’s wrong with showing up at funerals and encouraging people to seek my help? I don’t need any client testimonials to assure you that I’m an excellent grief therapist. Someone has got to help the bereaved, and it might as well be me.