Today, let's explore something controversial - the benefits of more casual communication in your marketing, up to and including swear words.
Because there's often as assumption that as a professional, swearing is a no no. But there are times it can really help the client feel more connected.
So let's delve into the surprising truth about swearing in marketing as a therapist.
How do you feel about swearing?
Swearing is a controversial subject, so I'll be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this.
In real life, I am a very sweary person. This might surprise you, because I look like butter wouldn't melt in my mouth.
But I think I am a respectful sweary person, I don’t want to eff and jeff if it is likely to upset people around me.
And when I was bringing up my boys, I didn't teach them not to swear because I don't think that is realistic. I taught them that if they swear, they should be mindful of the people around them.
I told them ‘swear with your friends if you like, otherwise be mindful of who is around you. And don't swear in front of me.’
My sweary tutor
I did my TA (Transactional Analysis) training at The Berne Institute. I did the TA 101 and the year long foundation, and I was lucky enough to have Adrienne Lee and Ian Stewart as my tutors.
They were both brilliant, but I just loved the lessons Adrienne took because she told amazing stories to demonstrate her points. She didn't just tell these stories, she’s reenacted them!
I loved it, and those lessons are still firmly in my memory.
In one story she was talking about TA games. She described how an argument with her husband escalated until she raised the stakes by using the F word.
This was hilarious! And a little shocking that a tutor swore.
But I remember it so well precisely because she had sworn. And because she had sworn, it put me at ease. I felt like I could relax a little.
I loved her for swearing! It made her more real, more relatable. More normal even.
How does that feel for you?
I wonder what your reaction might have been if a tutor used the F word in the classroom? Would you have been like me and felt relieved, or maybe you’d feel angry, insulted, that it was unprofessional?
It’s interesting, isn’t it?
I love how words can provoke such powerful responses.
I’ve had therapy in some form or another throughout my life. I first went in my early 20s and last went about a year ago.
With practically all of my past counsellors, if I swore (which to be honest, I did often) I felt like I was naughty for swearing - and I apologised. I think there was an unacknowledged feeling like I should be on my best behaviour, as if visiting a great aunt!
Why is that?
A few years ago, I did a survey about the public perception of counselling. And it was really eye opener.
I produced a webinar to share the results and give suggestions of how to change your marketing to encourage more people to access help. It's still available and you can watch it for free at janetravis.co.uk/webinar
There were a few themes that came up, some might not surprise you like the feeling that they had failed if they needed to go to therapy.
But this might surprise you, because that feeling of failure led to them feeling like going to the therapist was a bit like if they were being sent to the headmistresses office. Like they were small and powerless and going to be told off.
Isn't that awful?
There you are, ready to welcome people in with the 3 core conditions and before you even meet them, they think you will be stern and judgemental. Ouch! Isn't that the polar opposite of what you want?!
Therapy has such a positive effect on people, so I hate that people feel like that! Which is why I keep talking about how important it is to be relatable and form connections with readers.
So think - do your clients swear in front of you?
And if they do, do they apologise?
If they do, it’s probably not something you’ve done. As I said, I’m very sweary, and I welcome swearing in the counselling room because it means the client is comfortable. But still i found clients would usually apologise if a swear word popped out.
(Just to be clear, I took my cue from the client, I’d only swear if they did first.)
How can we help people feel more comfortable coming to therapy?
If clients currently feel like they have to watch their P’s and Q’s when at counselling, how can we help them feel more at ease and open up?
Well, the language we use is powerful, So swearing could be something that makes your potential clients feel more at ease, form a connection. You will feel more relatable.
I love this interview with Stephen Fry about the joy of swearing - and a warning...it contains swearwords.
OMG is she saying I have to swear?
No! Bear with me and you’ll see what I mean!
I did some research and there has been LOADS of studies on the effects of swearing. Here are some things I learned from a study from Radboud university in the Netherlands:
"Swearing has been researched before in various different contexts and findings indicated that swearing generally results in positive effects. An example of this is that swear words can serve as an outlet to release stress and to extra emphasise the swearers’ feelings (Fine & Johnson, 1984)."
It goes on to say…
"Swearing at the work place promotes in-group identification, due to swear words having the effect of creating an informal and more relaxed working place."
They researched swearing behaviour by politicians and found that politicians who use swear words leave a better impression behind than politicians who do not use swear words. The act of swearing makes politicians appear more informal and this informality increases the politicians’ relatability.
Again due to the informality which is associated with swearing, speakers are perceived as more relatable and thus, perceived more positively than non-swearing speakers.
That's so interesting, right?
So, should you swear in your marketing?
As per usual, there is no hard and fast answer here.
I don’t usually swear when I’m working - at least, not on purpose anyway! But when I think about it more, I do use mild sweary language like 'bloody' and 'crap'. I steer away from the major offenders. I don't drop the F-bomb in my marketing as that doesn't feel right to me, but I might well use it in a 1:1 with someone if it feels appropriate.
But I see more and more swearing online because swearing is more acceptable than it used to be. And I see therapists that swear, which can make them come across as more 'normal' and relatable.
But the idea that all swearing is bad is kind of old-fashioned now, and if we are too formal and ‘professional’ it can actually make some people feel anxious and put them off getting therapy.
What if swearing isn't your style?
If swearing isn't your style, thats absolutely fine, don’t force yourself to swear! Really, it's just about being relevant and helping you connect with the right people for you.
Be congruent, be yourself because there will be people that don't want to see/hear swearing, and they will be attracted to you.
You don't have to swear to be relatable. Take a look at what you write currently and ask yourself - is this going to help people connect with me? Is this making me sound relatable?
If not, then practice writing in a less formal way. You can do this by:
- Using slang terms
- Using contractions, which means saying 'won't' rather than 'will not' for example.
- Use story to be more relatable.
- Remove all your psychobabble (not sure what I mean? Check out episode 3 'Drop the psychobabble, get more clients'
But the very best way to make what you write sound more like you is to read it out loud - and I mean out loud. You will easily see what doesn't feel right or sound like you and highlight anything that sounds too formal, so you can change to a more casual style.
Remember, the point of marketing is to connect and using a more casual language can make therapy more accessible for people.
Understanding your clients
It intrigues me that I see therapists on social media using swearing in their posts and Tik Toks.
It can be funny, and therefore shows a sense of humour. And it can make you relatable and approachable. It puts people at ease.
But a caveat: I am not suggesting that you just start swearing like a sailor all over the place, not at all.
What I AM suggesting is that it could be helpful to relax your language when the time is right in order to attract the right client to you.
The trick is understanding your clients and understanding your niche. How do they communicate? What words do they use?
So let’s use the power of language to reduce anxiety in clients and make therapy feel more accessible.
Remember, you can watch the replay of the therapy rebrand webinar for free here --> janetravis.co.uk/webinar
Thank you so much for reading - and if you have therapist friends that would appreciate some extra help and tips around marketing, be a friend and share this blog.
Have a bloody fantastic week