I’m Not a Psychologist, But I Play One on TV

Jeremy Sharp, PhD Uncategorized Leave a Comment

The other day I saw a bumper sticker posted on the door of a physician in my office complex that said, “Ask your doctor if taking medical advice from a commercial is right for you.” This sticker, coupled with Jeremy Haynes’ comment on my previous post, gave me pause. I think we’ve all seen those commercials where an attractive actor/actress is seen crying by a window (often in black and white) until they discover [Insert newest pharmaceutical treatment for depression here] and suddenly have the ability to run through (technicolor) fields of wheat with a smile on their face. Now, let me be clear in saying that I am not discounting the value of medication in treating depression, anxiety, etc. But the sticker did cause me to think a little harder about advertising and its role in mental health services.

I feel torn when it comes to advertising. Part of me hates these commercials because they perpetuate the myth that a pill can solve all problems. We know that medication is most effective when combined with therapy, if at all. These commercials also (I think) lead people to liken therapy to medical services, where they go into the office, state a problem, and receive a solution. I can’t count the number of disappointed looks I’ve seen when I tell clients that therapy can be a lengthy process, especially if they want lasting change, and that they will have to play an active role in that process.

But another part of me really sees the value here, especially since I’ve engaged in more active efforts to promote and build my practice. One such recent effort has been to advertise on Google searches – you know, those little ads on the side of the page with a couple of attention-grabbing headlines and a link? In designing my ads, I read a lot about “action statements” that ideally capture attention (and clicks to my website) quickly. “Therapy That Works!” “Heal yourself now!” “Take Charge of Your Life!”…you get the idea. I rejected these at first, thinking to myself that I wouldn’t succumb to the temptation of making promises that may not be kept and continuing to perpetuate the quick fix. Soon enough, though, I relented (“Start feeling better now!”). I’m still wrestling with whether it was the right choice or not. I think this is what we psychologists call cognitive dissonance. I’m also aware of the parallel process of wanting a quick solution (the perfect ad) to what can be a lengthy process (building my practice).

I think the moral here is that very few things, especially meaningful struggles, have a quick fix. Just like I hope clients recognize that advertised solutions may not be as easy as they seem , I’m recognizing that I will also need to work hard and put in significant effort to build my practice.

There may be other morals here as well, and I’d love to hear others’ takes on advertising and related issues. Or just general thoughts on the post. Until next time,


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