Real Connection Requires Courage: How to Write Great Copy

Nikki Bonsol is awesome. She's a designer and copywriter who REALLY understands what we do, partly because of her experience working in social services. I'll be honest, I've worked with a copywriter before who really didn't get what we do and it was a huge disappointment and financial mistake. I've been a little leary of copywriters for therapists ever since until I "met" Nikki. Nikki gets that we have professional boundaries. She gets that we need to find that balance of professionalism and authenticity in our copy. She models it beautifully and preaches love-based marketing rather than manipulation or fear-based marketing; totally in line with our values, right? Her free About Page Course is getting rave reviews in the Abundance Practice-Builders Facebook Group (join up!). She's also been interviewed on both Practice of the Practice and Selling the Couch. Today she's going to share with us how to connect with our ideal clients with our website copy.   As a copywriter and designer, one of the most common questions I get asked in interviews is “What are the top three mistakes therapists make with their website and how can they fix them?” I usually say some combination of: “Make sure it’s easily scannable”; “Make sure each page has a solid call-to-action at the end”; and, “Make sure you’re using your clients’ language instead of jargon”. But in sitting down to write this article for you, I realized that I’ve been unintentionally glossing over what’s really missing from many people’s websites. The more these so-called “mistakes” roll off my tongue, the more I see that:

  1. these are all superficial improvements therapists can make, and
  2. there’s a deeper issue here that I’ve skipped over because it’s not as easy to fix. The fix often requires a bit of courage…

In many cases, the most significant thing missing from your copy isn’t eye-catching headlines, or a call-to-action. It’s YOU. Now if you’ve been following Allison for a while (or if you’ve dabbled in any current resources about copywriting) you’ve probably heard this before. Conversational copy that exhibits your voice, personality, and values is a trend that’s probably here to stay. The problem for therapists, though, is that writing true-to-you copy usually brings up two blocks:

  1. “Therapy isn’t supposed to be about me, it’s about the client. My website isn’t supposed to be about me…how am I supposed to write about myself?”
  2. “How do I write without compromising my boundaries around self- disclosure?”

I’d love to show you a way to think about copywriting that helps you get around these blocks while still sticking to your integrity. Great copy is made up of three qualities: 3 Qualities of Great Copy for Therapists Quality #1: Great Copy is Full of Empathy Why is this important? Instead of leading with your degrees, certification, and trainings to prove your legitimacy, start with empathy. It’s your empathy that makes the deepest impression on clients, not your education. When your copy makes your clients feel like you really get them, you build credibility, trust and confidence in your skills more than simply listing your credentials ever would. Because you have a unique style and voice, the way you express empathy is different from other therapists. In this way, you can bust through that first block (“My website isn’t supposed to be about me…”) to write copy that’s ALL about your clients, but still has your unique flavor to it. How do you figure out what issues to empathize with? Reflect on your first consultation or session with a client. When you ask, “What brings you here today?” what do they say? (This is where your amazing listening and reflecting skills come in handy!) Reflect your client’s emotions and mood back to them in your copy. Imagine that what you write is having a conversation with your client. Experiment with validating them like you would in a live conversation. Try using their exact wording or paraphrase. Normalize their experience. Be your natural validating self. Quality #2: Great Copy Sounds Like You Why is this important? Think of your business like a great restaurant. (Note: I learned this metaphor from an attorney and business/brand development expert for artists, Jo-Ná Williams, Esq.). People love great restaurants because of the food, but also because of the ambiance. Think of your skills as the metaphorical food people are coming for. Think of your voice, your demeanor, your style as the ambiance of the your figurative restaurant. A restaurant’s website is as much about communicating the ambiance as it is about showcasing their food. If eating there is a luxurious experience, the website will be all about the rich textures and equally rich words. If eating there is a rollicking good time, the website might have photos of staff on rollerskates that complement their boisterous copy. A successful restaurant has a website that’s completely aligned with their ambiance, so no one is surprised when they walk through their front doors. Can you imagine looking up a quiet romantic place to have dinner with your love, then getting to the spot and finding it cramped and noisy? You can bet there’ll be some 1-star reviews on Yelp that night. In the same way, your copy gives potential clients a good feel for your style, so that no one is surprised in their first real session with you. (No surprises means higher percentage of folks following through to work with you!) So, if you’re known for tough love, be compassionately blunt. If you’re all about the mind-body-spirit connection, talk about it. If you and your clients often find yourself cracking up during session, illustrate that. How to discover your own voice and style: If you don’t know what makes you you, start by asking people. (Note: This is an exercise I learned from life & business coach, Marie Forleo). As colleagues, friends, or old clients (if appropriate) how they would describe you as a therapist in three words. Collect their responses and pull out common themes to learn more about how others perceive your style. If you know what your style is, but you’re not sure how to communicate it in writing, try this: I’ve found that my clients usually have an easier time talking to me about their practice, rather than writing about it. If you’re having a hard time reflecting your voice on paper, ask a friend to interview you about your practice. Record the interview and listen back to it later. Pull out phrases from your interview to inspire your writing. When you’re done with a first draft, read it out loud. Note the places that feel awkward to say and change the wording, or the punctuation to make it sounds more like you would say it. Quality #3: Great Copy is Brave Why is this important? Sometimes when our writing scares us, it’s because we’re worried about being vulnerable. But if we want our copy to make that human connection, we may have to be a little brave. As Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection. How to write brave: When I say your content needs to be brave I do not mean to say, “Throw your boundaries aside, this is the 21st Century! You must confess everything about yourself even if it’s inappropriate.” Definitely still check in with your personal boundaries! But also: Be mindful of those times when you’re afraid. Pause. Instead of turning away immediately, ask yourself if being a little braver and being a little more vulnerable might really help your client connect with you and finally seek support for their pain. Being brave in your copy might show up in a few different ways…

  • Maybe it means being brave enough to publish a website in the first place.
  • Maybe it means being brave enough to stick to your niche and not feel like you have to connect with everyone in order to have a successful practice.
  • Maybe it means being brave enough to write a little less formally, to challenge the idea of what a professional sounds and looks like.
  • Maybe it means being brave enough to tell your own story when you’re worried people will criticize you, or if you’re worried that no one will relate.

Being brave ultimately isn’t about you. It’s still about your clients. You know how important a therapeutic relationship is to therapeutic outcomes. Your clients will do much better when they can work with someone that they really connect with. Make it easier for your clients to find you by bravely showing them who you are. How do you want to be brave with your website copy? Let us know in the comments! Nicole (Nikki) Bonsol is a writer- and designer-for-hire that specializes in working with therapists and other healers. She’d love to help you create a website that instantly communicates your essence and welcomes new clients into your practice. Say hello and sign up for her course on writing a true-to-you About Page at!