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(p. 338) The Use of the Media in Marketing a Private Practice 

(p. 338) The Use of the Media in Marketing a Private Practice
(p. 338) The Use of the Media in Marketing a Private Practice

Nancy A. McGarrah

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date: 21 September 2017

The first question mental health professionals in private practice may ask when thinking about this topic is this: “Why should I get involved in media work, and how would this enhance my marketing efforts?” There are many reasons for using media, including helping to educate the general public as well as for marketing your practice. Working with the media provides clinicians the opportunity to help the general public better understand mental health issues. Reporters will often want assistance from clinicians in explaining mental health issues in terms that are user-friendly to the public. For example, topics can include how divorce impacts children, methods to reduce trauma after a school shooting, and more typical concerns such as how to get children ready to go back to school after a break or vacation. Participating in interviews with members of the media can result in providing this information to the public and, if done well, can enhance both the image of the mental health professions and your own practice (McGarrah, Brownawell, & Hill, 2013). Participating in a radio, television, or print media interview can enable you to reach a vast audience, much larger than can be done in most traditional ways. You can be recognized in your community as an expert in the topic, as well as gain wider recognition if the interview is broadcast nationally. Individuals will often call for appointments after seeing a particular interview. Some of these interviews have been seen locally, while others have been seen in far regions of the globe, as news networks frequently distribute stories about mental health to other news outlets.

There are many reasons why mental health professionals would participate in media work, including marketing clinical services for independent practice, overcoming public speaking anxiety and improving public speaking skills, becoming the “face” of their profession in their region, using media to present their own services and programs, gaining exposure and credibility indirectly through media exposure, promoting responsible mental health reporting, and publicizing (p. 339) important research and making it easily understandable to the public. Many enjoy doing something different from the typical work activities of mental health practitioners. Others also comment that they find these experiences to be both fun and professionally rewarding (Kanaris, 2006; Martin, 2005).

Are You An Expert?

In terms of considering a media request, it is important to realize what the definition of an expert in a particular area may be to the reporter. For example, one of my areas of expertise lies in the area of children, families, and forensic issues related to families. I have been asked to comment on a variety of topics, and for some of these I would not consider myself an expert. For example, I have been interviewed regarding mind–body health, swearing habits among children, girls dating older boys, economic stress on families, and maternity leave and new mothers’ stress. Although all of these topics are somehow related to my expertise, I have to determine if I am able to add something valuable to the interview. Doing research ahead of time will often define whether this topic is the right one for you to respond to, or whether you should refer the reporter to someone who is more knowledgeable. For example, I was asked to do an interview regarding fetal alcohol syndrome and referred the reporter to the center in my city that has the most expertise in this area. On another occasion, I was asked to comment on the effect of violent comic books on children. Since I had never seen a violent comic book, I asked the reporter to bring one to the interview. I explained that although I did not know of any research in this area specifically, I would be able to comment on the research about the effects of violence on children. This is the type of broad discussion the reporter wanted for the story.

Pros and Cons of Media Work

There are pros and cons of participating in a media interview. Working with the media can include a wide range of activities, such as a one-time interview, a regular interview on a television or radio program, or an interview for a news magazine or other type of publication. Making time for the interview will disrupt your usual work schedule. Often there is a time crunch for the reporter and you will have to respond quickly to the request for an interview. Even though pressed for time, you must prepare carefully and do your due diligence regarding the ethical aspects. There are many ethical issues when doing any media work, and these will be described in further detail later in this chapter.

How to Get Started

The most important place to begin in doing media work is making contacts and building relationships with different reporters. This most often happens when your name is given to a reporter (p. 340) because of your expertise in a particular area. These referrals can come from different sources, but frequently they can be generated from your state or national professional associations. In my experience, requests have generally come through my state association, where I have gone through media trainings and have become a member of the Public Education Committee’s Speakers Bureau. When a call (or more commonly an email) comes in to the state association main office from a reporter, the staff knows who on the Speakers Bureau may have the best knowledge of that subject area. Several clinicians will usually then be emailed or called to see who is available and interested. Once a practitioner has been interviewed several times by a particular reporter, that reporter will have developed a relationship with that person and will call again when other interviews concerning mental health issues arise.

After a particular local or national crisis, such as a school shooting or natural disaster, there are many requests for mental health professionals to provide interviews. This is a time when a practitioner who may not otherwise do media work may be brought into the media field to help explain the best way the public can deal with these issues. It is an excellent time to work with the media to help the public find available resources and to explain coping mechanisms after a trauma. The American Psychological Association (APA) produces tips for answering media inquiries following a large crisis or tragedy. The APA Help Center has resources such as “Managing Your Distress in the Aftermath of a School Shooting” and “Helping Your Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting” ( Other professional organizations have similar help centers (,, and

It is also possible to pitch your own ideas for interviews to different media outlets. Reporters often have asked in our media trainings to provide them with ideas for stories. On a slow news day, reporters need to have interesting human-interest stories that can be inserted into programming. Clinicians can frequently pitch stories related to current events in the neighborhood or in their community, public education initiatives through your state or national association, and new research in a particular area. When pitching your own story to a media outlet, the time crunch is usually not as significant, since this would be a story that the media can use whenever appropriate and is not usually time sensitive.

Preparing for and Providing Effective Interviews

When practitioners want to promote their practices through media work, obtaining effective training in interviewing is imperative. This training is frequently available from state and national associations, as well as from other organizations. The APA Office of Public Communications has a training presentation that is available at It is helpful to have mock interviews with a reporter that can be videotaped and then reviewed. When I organize media trainings, reporters are invited to conduct interviews with mental health professionals and to then critique them. Those new to media work should also consider consulting with colleagues who have significant media experience. Their knowledge base will be helpful in learning the best way to approach an interview. The public (p. 341) relations office of your national professional association can be of use in giving specific information about an interview on a particular topic, as well as giving advice for the best way to approach the interview. Resources from the APA can be found at The National Association of Social Workers has media toolkits available (, the Association of Marriage and Family Therapists has media assistance (, and the American Counseling Association provides media information (

Once you have agreed to give an interview to a reporter (or write an article for a publication), the preparation and research stage begins. The topic may not be one that you know much about, but some quick research will usually give a good basis of understanding. It is also a good idea to ask the reporter to provide any research articles or other information on which he or she is basing the interview. In the initial conversation or email with the reporter, ask what specific questions the reporter would like answered during the interview. Reporters typically want some general information that is understandable without professional terminology. Reporters want an approachable spokesperson who can relate to the general public rather than provide an academic discussion of detailed scientific explanations in technical terms.

If you are asked to appear on a television interview, familiarize yourself with the style of the show. Many “talk shows” have a specific angle, and knowing this information in advance is important. This can prevent the feeling of “being ambushed.”

When speaking with the reporter about the upcoming interview, discuss whether this will be a live or recorded media event, as well as what the time commitments are for the interview. Setting up for a media interview can take up to an hour for the reporter and cameraperson. When I do interviews in my office, I will try to have them set up in one room while I do work in another room. I also ask how long the actual interview process will take, so I will know how much of my professional time to block out for the interview. The reporter and cameraperson will then have to take down the set, which can take 15 to 30 minutes. It is helpful to ask the reporter in advance if there will be any editing ability on the clinician’s part after the interview is recorded. Of course, if the interview is live, that will not be a factor. In my experience, I have never been able to edit a recorded interview. However, I have at times been able to see a written interview before press to see if edits are needed.

In terms of the actual interview, professionalism is extremely important. Most interviews either occur in a newsroom studio or in the practitioner’s office. The clinician will learn in media training what to wear for an interview, because certain types of clothing (such as patterned, black, red, beige, or white clothing) do not translate well to a media presentation. When starting the interview, be sure to identify yourself with your professional title and/or credentials and areas of specialization, and state your full name. An example would be, “My name is Mr. John Jones, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who directs the Huntsville Family Services Center, specializing in the assessment and treatment of emotional and behavioral difficulties in children and adolescents.” During the interview, realize that nothing is “off the record,” even if it appears otherwise. Thinking in advance about the three most important points that need to be included in the interview makes the material easier to transmit. Using transitional bridges, such as “the most important point is …” can bring the subject matter back to the significant issues. Pausing before answering each question allows for editing by the media (and for you to think about your response a bit before speaking). If asked a question outside your expertise, it is appropriate to say you don’t know (p. 342) the answer, or you can’t comment on that question. The interviewer may pressure you to make statements that cannot be supported, but you must be careful to only comment accurately and only on topics that are in your areas of expertise. Your job is not to please the interviewer, but to give only information that is within your knowledge and expertise. At the end of the interview, give the reporter your business card. Reporters want a clinician who can calmly and expertly discuss the specialty topic. Clinicians are representing their profession as well as marketing themselves.

The Final Product

Once the interview is completed, ask the reporter when the story will air (or be printed). That way, you can record the interview and carefully observe your performance. It is important to learn from any mistakes you make in interviews. One of the most common problems in interviews is the tendency to hesitate, say “um,” or otherwise disrupt the flow of conversation. Another problem is speaking in sentence fragments. All sentences in the interview should be a complete thought, so that when the reporter edits the interview, the message is still clear. If you can review the finished product before publication or airing, the reporter may be able to correct any problems in the interview. It is helpful to keep a list of all media interviews, including each reporter’s name, contact information, and affiliation. This list of media contacts will be useful when pitching stories in the future.

Ethical Issues in Traditional Media Work

There are numerous ethical pitfalls to be aware of and avoid when doing media work, and these need to be carefully considered before agreeing to provide any interview. Preparing for these challenges and pitfalls should be part of every mental health practitioner’s media training. Reporters frequently ask clinicians if one of their clients could be interviewed to make the story more engaging. Think carefully before agreeing to this, realizing the imbalance of power in the relationship. Always consider the ethics issue of exploitation if a client is asked to participate in any media work. A client who is asked by his or her psychotherapist to participate may feel pressured to do this to please the therapist. I personally have never agreed to have a client interviewed for a story. I had an experience when I did an interview about divorce without referring to any particular families. However, when the story aired, it was imbedded in a story about a particular evaluation that had been completed. The family involved in the evaluation had actually contacted the media and given them my name, but I was not told this by the reporter. Once it aired, viewers might have thought I was specifically referring to the case the reporter was using as the centerpiece of the story. I wrote a letter to the media representative explaining my concerns and displeasure. However, the story had already aired, and there was nothing the outlet did to correct it. Needless to say, I never agreed to work with that reporter again.

(p. 343) Concerns have recently been raised about the appropriateness of clinicians being involved in “reality” television. These programs usually show very limited and edited outtakes from psychotherapy sessions. The network has told clinicians who have considered participating in a program such as this that they would have no control over what is taped and what is aired. This raises many ethical concerns, including limits of confidentiality and misuse of the clinician’s work. Clinicians must insist that clients be given the proper informed consent, as well as help them understand possible adverse consequences for them should they decide to participate.

When doing an interview, reporters will sometimes ask if they can record you doing regular work around the office (referred to by reporters as “B roll” material). When the segment airs on television, you or the reporter are heard discussing the topic, while you are seen sitting at your desk, talking on the telephone, or doing other tasks. It is helpful to discuss with the reporter what kinds of things are going to be discussed during this background information section. It is very important to review the recorded interview so you can make sure the reporter’s comments during this background section are stating accurately what was said during the interview. Reaching an agreement with the reporter about this prior to the interview is important, since trying to address this after the fact is ineffective.

Consider which areas of expertise you are comfortable discussing. Professional codes of ethics (e.g., APA Standard 9.01, Bases for Assessments; American Counseling Association [ACA] Standard E.5.d, Refraining from Diagnosis; National Association of Social Workers [NASW] Standard 4.06, Misrepresentation; and American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists [AAMFT] Standard 3.11, Public Statements) state that clinicians should only offer opinions on information and techniques sufficient to substantiate their findings and provide opinions of the psychological characteristics of individuals only after they have conducted an examination of the individuals adequate to support their statements or conclusions. Therefore, clinicians must stay within the bounds of their data and their knowledge. For example, they cannot make definitive statements regarding any person in the public eye if they have not interviewed or assessed that person. It is helpful to use certain statements when asked about a particular person, such as, “I can’t speak about that particular issue or person, but what we know generally about this kind of situation is …” There is what is called the “Goldwater Rule,” which concerns making public diagnoses of public figures. This rule is named the Goldwater Rule because of the 1964 Goldwater–Johnson election when psychiatrists who had not evaluated him responded to questions about Mr. Goldwater, and the bulk of their responses (which were described in psychiatric terminology) were unfair and derogatory. Goldwater later sued and won a substantial settlement.

Occasionally a reporter will have heard about a clinician’s case, such as something that was in the news or for which there is public record such as a trial transcript. A reporter may ask about this particular case in the course of a more general interview. At this point, you must say that you cannot say anything beyond what is in the public record and you cannot comment on individual clients without their specific permission to do so.

All mental health professional associations have ethics standards that are applicable to media work (AAMFT Code of Ethics, 2015; ACA Code of Ethics, 2014; APA Ethics Code, 2010, and NASW Code of Ethics, 2008). The first relevant ethics standard is informed consent. All ethics codes have sections regarding the requirement to ensure clear and understandable informed consent for clients (APA Ethics Code Standard 4.02, Discussing the Limits of Confidentiality; NASW (p. 344) Code of Ethics Standard 1.03, Informed Consent; ACA Code of Ethics Standard A.2, Informed Consent in the Counseling Relationship; and AAMFT Code of Ethics Standards 1.2, Informed Consent, and 1.8, Client Autonomy in Decision Making). This is especially important if clients are asked to take part in any media interview. Closely related is the ethics issue of maintaining client’s confidentiality (APA Ethics Code Standard 4.01, Maintaining Confidentiality; NASW Code of Ethics Standard 2.02, Confidentiality; ACA Code of Ethics Standard B.1.c, Respect for Confidentiality; and AAMFT Code of Ethics Standards 2.1, Disclosing Limits of Confidentiality, and 2.4, Confidentiality in Non-Clinical Activities). Because of the special relationship that occurs in psychotherapy, the mental health practitioner must safeguard the client’s confidentiality and make sure the informed consent is thoroughly understood before considering including clients in media work.

Boundaries of competence (APA Code of Ethics Standard 2.01, Boundaries of Competence; NASW Code of Ethics Standards 1.04, Competence, and 4.01, Competence; ACA Code of Ethics Standard C.2.a, Boundaries of Competence; and AAMFT Code of Ethics Standard 3.1, Maintenance of Competency) are critical ethical considerations, especially when clinicians are pushed to comment on topics beyond their expertise. Some ethics codes have sections particularly aimed at media work. See, for example, APA Ethics Code Standards 1.01, Misuse of Psychologists’ Work, and 5.04, Media Presentations; NASW Code of Ethics Standard 4.06, Misrepresentation; ACA Code of Ethics Standard C.6.c, Media Presentations; and AAMFT Code of Ethics Standard 3.11, Public Statements. One key issue mentioned in these standards is the accurate representation of your professional credentials, as well as making sure that your statements are based on your training and experience and the professional literature. Another important issue is the need to be clear that no professional relationship is implied in the public statement. If you become aware of misrepresentations of your statements, you must take steps to correct these.

In using media as a marketing strategy, you are donating your time in exchange for various benefits, including recognition as a local or national expert. It is important to differentiate legitimate media work from advertisements for the psychotherapist. Some “news stories,” upon closer examination, appear to be actual ads for clinicians or testimonials by their clients. This is not the same as traditional media exposure, and it must be identified as an advertisement. Ethics codes require an advertisement to be identified as such. Mental health professionals may not pay for participating in a media interview.

In summary, when working with the media, many ethical quandaries may arise. You may need to consult with an ethics committee or an experienced colleague when ethics issues and concerns arise.

Concluding Thoughts

Working with the media can be an excellent experience for you as a mental health professional and can definitely expand your ability to market your practice. Even when you are asked to speak about someone in the news, you can agree to talk to the media as long as it is clear that comments are based solely on what you have seen or heard in the news and that there is no clinician–client (p. 345) relationship. Educating the public about relevant issues within your clinical expertise can be a valuable public service. Be sure to stick with the information you know through your experience, practice, and other knowledge base and do not get pulled away from this basis for comments. Your message should be simple and succinct, and doing your homework ahead of time will provide clarity about what you want to impart to the audience. Your information should be accurate and you should avoid jargon and complex concepts. All ethics obligations, particularly those discussed in this chapter, must be considered.

Working with the media can be daunting and even frightening, but it can also be a wonderful experience professionally (McGarrah, Martin, Alvord, & Haldeman, 2009). For more information regarding media work, consult with a “media mentor” (a colleague with experience in working with the media) and/or someone in the media psychology division or section of your local or national professional association.


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