Counseling Today, Online Exclusives

Friend, not foe: Blogging for counselors

By Bethany Bray February 3, 2015

Conduct an Internet search for any mental health topic – i.e., suicidal behavior in teenagers, group therapy for single moms, eating disorders among college students – and you’ll find a wealth of blogs.

The top hits that come up in your search, however, will likely be blogs written by social workers, educators or other helping professionals — not professional counselors.

“Counselors don’t have enough of a voice now online,” declares Tamara Suttle, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in Colorado who presented a session on blogging for counselors at the Blog22014 ACA Conference & Expo in Honolulu. “It’s frustrating to me. Especially [in the area of] social justice and activism, there’s a dearth of counselor voices out there.”

The one exception, says Suttle, are school counselors, who actively share information and news via blogs, social media and other online forums.

A blog – short for web log – is an online journal, usually written in the first person and taking an informal tone. From family vacation anecdotes to industry trends and breakthroughs, it is a medium to share information, commentary and news.

Suttle, an American Counseling Association member, started to blog on her counseling practice’s website in 2009. Within six months, her phone was ringing three times as often with calls from potential clients, she says.

Blogging is a useful tool for counselors – and a medium they shouldn’t be nervous about trying, says Suttle, who also provides training and consulting on blogging and building a private practice for therapists.

For counselor educators, blogging is an ideal way to share information with colleagues and technology-fluent students. Blogging can also be a way for counseling graduate students to distinguish themselves from the crowd and catch the eye of potential employers.

Primarily, blogging is a way to spread a message, whether to raise attention for a social justice or nonprofit cause or to gain visibility for an agency or private practice, Suttle says.

In general, she believes blogging is the perfect platform for counselors to share resources and insights that benefit the entire profession. And in so doing, blogs also increase public visibility for the work that counselors do, Suttle says.

“[Blogging] is the smartest thing I’ve ever done for myself professionally, but also one of the most rewarding things, personally, that I’ve ever done. I had no idea that would be the case,” says Suttle. “If your goal is to change the world and to touch people’s lives, as strange as it sounds, blogging can do that.”

Suttle has been in private practice for more than 20 years; she specializes in working with women in transition and therapy for other therapists. She calls herself a “digital dinosaur” who has never been a fan of technology.

She got over her hesitation with training from Beth Hayden, a Colorado-based consultant and trainer who specializes in social media, blogging and online business marketing.

“Although I was scared [at the beginning] – I had never written for the public before – I was beginning to see that [blogging] was a very smart thing for people in private practice to do to gain visibility,” she says.

“If I can learn [to blog], anybody can learn it,” she says with a laugh. “I was blown away by the difference it made. … It has been what has made my practice.”

Thinking of getting started yourself? Suttle suggests that counselors begin by looking at other blogs to collect ideas, identify a niche and figure out their own style preferences.

 

Among the things Suttle says counselors should keep in mind when blogging:

 

Before you start, lay down “ground rules” for yourself. Will you allow comments on your posts – and accept the possibility of negative comments? Will you share personal information, such as anecdotes from when you were in grad school? Make a decision and stick to it, Suttle says.

Start with a goal, whether it’s to gain more clients, disseminate information, network with other counselors or build trust with your audience. Work backward from there, says Suttle. Decide how the blog will help you reach that goal, and tailor it accordingly.

If you’re trying to gain clients, be aware that mentioning your practice or services too often may turn readers off. Keep the sales pitches to a minimum, Suttle advises.

Be specific. “You may be a generalist in your practice, but if you blog, you need to blog about something very specific,” she says. “Otherwise, you’re forgettable.”

Find something you’re knowledgeable about and interested in but also something to which you can bring a fresh focus. Sticking to a specific topic builds your credibility and can eventually make you a trusted resource for readers who are looking for information on that subject.

Pick a focus that isn’t too broad and that isn’t already covered by a lot of other blogs and online resources, says Suttle. For instance, instead of blogging about adolescent issues in general, narrow your focus to adolescents and self-injury, or adolescents struggling with stepsiblings. For example, Suttle says she knows one blogger who writes solely on counseling long-distance truckers.

Be consistent, publishing new material at least once a month. Set a schedule for yourself, and stick to it. Posting once or twice a week is even better, Suttle says. Readers won’t return to a blog where posts are sporadic or published only once in a blue moon.

Also, the more posts you publish, the more Internet search engines will pick up your blog. Posting frequently bumps your blog up higher on search results pages (i.e., on the first page of google.com search results instead of on the fifth page), according to Suttle.

Write posts that are worth reading. Readers will share posts that are well-written, inspirational, entertaining and informative. “If you’re saying the same thing that everyone else is saying, you’re not memorable,” Suttle says. “[Readers] are going to forget you and not come back [to your blog]. If no one wants to pass on the blog post that you just wrote, you might as well not bother writing it.”Blog1

Aim for a writing style and tone that is “not academic or highbrow but approachable, warm and friendly, but professional,” she advises.

Be willing to test ideas and fail. Blogging is a trial-and-error process to figure out what resonates with your readers and gets your message across. For perfectionists and people pleasers, it can be “a really great way to stretch your edges,” Suttle says.

A good rule of thumb: If your posts are not being visited, shared or commented on, then you need to improve or change tack. Try including open-ended questions in your post or a call for readers to share their experiences via commenting, Suttle suggests. In turn, respond to reader comments with feedback. You don’t want them commenting “into a black hole,” she says.

Those who struggle with writing can still blog. If you’re not a confident writer, have someone else edit your posts before publishing. Trade off with other bloggers or hire a student, suggests Suttle. Also consider that blogging doesn’t have to center on writing. Blogs can be photo- or video-based, and recording your own podcast is another option.

Be mindful of risk management and etiquette:

  • Plagiarism, or using another person’s text or images without permission or proper citation, is a no-no.
  • Remember that a blog is not a forum for therapy. A counselor should not attempt to “treat” or advise readers, either in posts or in comment responses, says Suttle. Also remember not to share specifics from your counseling sessions with clients in your blog. (Refer to the ACA Code of Ethics section on technology and social media for more details.)
  • Be accurate. Don’t post something that’s purely speculation or your own opinion without clearly indicating that. Don’t post items that are poorly researched; cite sources in your posts when appropriate. Similarly, don’t link to sites or blogs that are poorly researched. Think of the professional ramifications for everything you post, Suttle says.
  • If you’re unfamiliar with a topic, don’t try to cover it yourself. Instead, invite a colleague or professional who is an expert or authority in that area to write a guest post for your blog, Suttle suggests. “Don’t be fearful of linking to great resources that know something that you don’t,” she says. “It doesn’t give away your authority but shows the reader that you are generous in sharing the limelight.”
  • Most of all, remember that blogging will open you to criticism, Suttle says. “If you’re going to blog, you really do have to grow a thick skin,” she says. “Not everybody is going to like what you say or be comfortable with it. People will take issue with the position you take or the fact that you forgot to cross a T (or made a grammar mistake).”

 

 

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Read Tamara Suttle’s blog at allthingsprivatepractice.com

 

Read the American Counseling Association blogs at counseling.org/news/blog

 

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For more information

Some posts from Suttle’s blog on the ins and outs of blogging:

 

Advice for reluctant bloggers: allthingsprivatepractice.com/advice-for-reluctant-bloggers/

 

Therapists blogging for business: 15 mistakes you don’t know you’re making: allthingsprivatepractice.com/therapists-blogging-business-15-mistakes-dont-know-youre-making/

 

What’s the difference between blogging and sending newsletters? allthingsprivatepractice.com/whats-the-difference-between-blogging-and-sending-newsletters/

 

“Should I Start a Blog?” a podcast with Suttle by Joe Sanok: practiceofthepractice.com/session33/

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook: facebook.com/CounselingToday

 

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17 Comments

  1. Amy Maricle

    HI Bethany and Tamara!

    I’m a regular on Tamara’s blog and have taken her class and coaching as well. She is so helpful and inspiring. Blogging is definitely a very rewarding part of my private practice and has helped me branch out my art therapy practice. I now offer ways that everyone can use art for creative self-care via classes online and in person. I’m not sure if any of that would have happened if I had not started blogging.

    Thanks Tamara!

    Amy

    Reply
  2. Dorlee

    Hi Bethany and Tamara,

    Thanks for an excellent article on both the benefits of blogging for mental health professionals, as well as on blogging “how to’s.”

    Like you, we are all newbies when we first start (ed) out with social media. And as we do, practice and observe, we learn and grow.

    Social media is truly a two-way street. The more you give and are involved, the more you are likely to benefit in terms of friendships, knowledge and potential clients, consulting or employment opportunities.

    Reply
    1. Tamara Suttle

      Hi, Dorlee! Thanks for dropping in! I’m just now finding the comments here and appreciate you taking time to leave yours.

      You, of course, are the Social Worker’s guru when it comes to blogging. You’ve really mastered the art of building a community around your work and supporting your followers in the process. I’m always happy to learn from you, girl!

  3. Kat Love

    Hey Bethany and Tamara!

    Really appreciate this article. It has useful advice for any blogger and some great tips for counselors in particular. I would love to see more counselors blogging and raising their voices and I hope this article will inspire them.

    – Kat

    Reply
  4. Daniel

    Bethany and Tamara,
    Thanks for this article. I’d like to yell “PREACH!!” as loud as I can across the internet on this one. My wife is a therapist and I’m a web designer. Her website had very little traffic at all and I encouraged her to start blogging. Soon after she began, not only did her traffic go way up, but she learned a lot about the types of clients she wanted to attract. She found her voice through the process and narrowed her approach. Another outcome of her blog was that it gave some authority to her practice, and many clients came to her just because they enjoyed her website more than others they had seen. Win Win!

    Reply
    1. Tamara Suttle

      Hi, Daniel! I think we’ve exchanged emails in the past. Thanks for dropping in here. Just wnted to add that the phone calls from prospective clients started tripling every month for a while about 3 months after I started blogging (on a weekly basis). I have no doubt your wife’s business did the same!

  5. Dustin Johnson, LPC

    I agree wholeheartedly. Blogging is a good way to share your hard-earned and much-needed knowledge with the world. It is not easy, but I find it helpful in organizing my thoughts about mental health and treatment issues. Also, a significant number of my clients tell me that they called me because they liked what I had to say online. I also find it interesting to go back and read what I wrote a few years ago.

    Tamara is a great resource for us out in Colorado. I seem to keep running into her .

    Reply
    1. Tamara Suttle

      Thank you, Dustin! Counseling Today doesn’t have a good way for us to track when new comments come in so I’m just now finding these today. I appreciate your kind words and hope you’ll introduce yourself to me when we next find ourselves in the same room face to face! I look forward to meeting you!

  6. Teresawilson

    Nice Blog! I have bookmarked your blog to refer back to it each time I write my blog. This is the first time I have ever

    commented on someone’s blog. It has taken me out of my comfort zone. Growth!

    Reply
  7. Clarrissa Valon

    Hello;
    I have no idea where to turn to but I found your blog and thought that maybe you could give me some advice.
    My daughter is a teacher and a most talented person of so very many subjects on top of it is a very creative person, to say the least. Due to a downsizing at the University, she lost her job and is now like a fish out of water. She now is thinking of going into business herself but is totally unable to decide what subject she should choose. She is like in a trauma or shock.
    My so very important question is:” How could I help her, to whom can I turn?” How can her mind be unscrambled and bring back the confidence she always had but needs it right now to progress? How to choose a counselor and most importantly the right one who really could help her?
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Sincerely
    Clarissa

    Reply
    1. ogheneyeguono

      I am glad that your daughter is a teacher Clarissa.When I needed advice i read a book that i bought called ”You Are The Key To My Heart” and it gave me some really good advice.Especially since there is a chapter on teachers in the book that gives them good advice and praises them for what they have done.The title of the chapter is Teachers-You Are The Key To My Heart.If you would like to buy it go to amazon.com.

      THANK YOU

  8. Neha Anand

    Hi,
    I am a counsellor and advance life coach. I have given several talk on live television shows and have a keen interest in writing blogs. Let me know how can I post a blog on this platform.
    Thanks n regards !

    Reply

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