Many therapists cringe when they hear the word sales.

We tend to identify as a group of people who don’t manipulate others for our own benefit. People often associate sales with the cliche of buying a used car. The sales associate knows you’re there because you need a car. Their role is to get you to drive off the lot in one.

I recently had a person tell me that therapists are probably some of the biggest sales people on the planet. My first reaction was, “what are you talking about? That’s ridiculous. I know we’re selling a service if someone is paying but how often are we really selling something. And what about therapists that aren’t even in private practice?”

I didn’t actually get a straightforward answer in the moment. So, I was left thinking about it for myself. After a little time really contemplating this paradox it hit me…therapists are actually in a sales mode as much or more than any other professional.

Zig Ziglar, one of the greatest salesman and personal development gurus said, “you will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”

The only way we can help clients get what they want is to ultimately sell them an alternative reality to the one they are stuck in. If the reality they’re in was working they wouldn’t need us.

Initially, this sounds completely contrary to all of our training as professionals. We’re supposed to hold a position of neutrality and exercise a high degree of caution around imposing our worldview onto others.

We’re facilitators and guides without an agenda right?

Ethical salespeople influence people’s decisions by guiding them into purchasing a beneficial product or service. However, an unethical salesperson plays on this vulnerability just to earn money without regard to what the person is truly asking for.

As therapists, we are selling results. There’s no way around this. Whether you’re in private practice or not, you’re being paid to sell the result of mental health. And the result is sometimes quite difficult to achieve.

Our role as salespeople has a very different element of challenge than the cliche used car salesperson. We aren’t just influencing people to buy a car because they have a real need to get from one place to another; we’re actually selling them on the premise that we have enough expertise help to them create a major change that they need in their life.

But that’s only the beginning of what we’re selling as therapists.

Mental health professionals are clearly catalysts for change in a person’s life. We are on the front lines of helping people overcome mental suffering and helping them achieve better relationships, more access to jobs, more abundance, and a healthier experience of life.

Many things we choose to say to our clients is in fact a sales pitch.

It can be almost neutral and coming from a place of compassion, but it’s still a pitch.

Whenever we use a technique or teach a technique that hasn’t been in a client’s worldview or life experience the only way we can impact them is through selling it in an ethical way. We have to have influence them in order to impart change.

Even if you’re a psychoanalyst you’re still influencing. You’re still selling a way of thinking, behaving and processing that’s different than their ordinary reality.

So, why is it important as therapists to recognize that we are selling something just like most professionals in the world?

If we don’t recognize it then we can’t see when we’re “overselling” an intervention. If we slip into “overselling” our intervention to our clients we’re too attached to an expectation that the technique will work. We forget that the therapeutic relationship is actually one of the most healing aspects of the entire encounter.

However, when we are “underselling” in session we will likely impart very little change.

Selling is different than convincing. Effective and ethical selling is the ability to influence another person in an honest way so they can get more of something they want. We all need to be influenced by our mentors, guides, therapists, coaches, teachers, and salespeople.

The positive side of sales is that it can move a person through an impasse so they can get more of what they want and move forward with their life. How can you better influence your clients so they can finally overcome that impasse and live the life that they desire?

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Keith Kurlander

Keith Kurlander is the founder of Higher Practice, a company dedicated to helping therapists achieve their highest potential in private practice. He has two decades of combined experience in business administration, group facilitation, teaching at the undergraduate and graduate level, yoga instruction and as a licensed professional counselor in private practice.