Many people come to therapy with important questions around PROFESSIONAL identity. These questions may be triggered by a crisis at work i.e., sudden redundancy or a feeling of being unfairly ‘managed out of the business,’ a horrible boss, a difficult colleague…a gradual realisation about being in the wrong job, a burning desire to set up something independently (but with no idea where to start), or even a definite decision for a career change, but little idea of how to get set up in that new career. Some are already in the RIGHT job, but struggle with getting their message and brand ‘out there.’
As therapists, we face this very issue of professional identity right after our training. Many of us work steadily for years towards qualification, then accreditation, without evening thinking about ‘who am I as a therapist’ and ‘how I’m different to any other therapist.’ As a result, clients may find it hard to distinguish between us, especially since we’re often not all that technical and we certainly don’t learn how to ‘do websites and branding’ on our therapy training!
Most accredited Psychotherapy courses demand a minimum age (i.e., 30 years old) to ensure some life experience before embarking on the 4 or 5 years of training – meaning that before we were Psychotherapists, we often had other jobs and other professional identities.
For myself, coming from a business background with a qualitative research brand of my own and many years of experience helping famous brands to understand and refine their unique identities, I now had to make some decisions about myself and my own brand (or brands as the case became). Decisions such as: How do I now split my time? How do I define my professional identity – as a researcher and/or as a therapist? Should I be clear in the research world that I’m also a therapist, and vice versa? Should I give up research, and can I afford to do that? Also, within the therapy world, I had to consider how to combine all of my different therapy strands into one integrative service – without it being confusing for clients! (“so WHAT do you do again?!”)
More recently, to add another string to the bow, I found myself in charge of branding our startup not-for-profit FSIP in 2017, so that it reflected our values and spoke to other therapists interested in cultural exchange and knowledge transfer.
How do you view what you do?
I find it interesting to hear about how people view what they do. For me, work is a part of life. WORK (as we call it) is how and where we generally spend most of our time. For this reason, I always wanted to be in a job that I enjoyed – doing work that had some use in the world, that I could evolve with and could grow old with, as well as a job that would involve interaction with people I admired and who inspired me to be better. I also knew that I had to have a job where I could be independent and exercise my own creativity, challenging myself to constantly find new solutions to problems.
Some see work very differently – it may be about making lots of money and retiring young, keeping work and home life very separate so one doesn’t infiltrate the other, doing the 9 to 5 and then forgetting about it in-between in order to more fully focus on family life. I’ve even spoken to therapists who cannot speak about therapy at all outside of ‘work’ as they find it too stressful, but I’ve spoken to other therapists who love their job so much that they are constantly talking about new theories, creative methods of working, developments in the psychology world, personal breakthroughs during work with clients, and ways of working with their own dreams and symbolic life that they can use to great effect in their client work. One need only to consider Imago Relationship Therapists who use the couples dialogue at home to constantly evolve and better their own relationships.
The ‘separated’ view of work never appealed to me. Personally, I found that the more authentic I became at work and the more my work became an integrated part of my life, the more effective I felt and the more I found myself tapping into inner resources on a more consistent basis, enabling me to become increasingly creative – and happy! I would hate to have a job that I did not look forward to doing every day.
So, I went from a place of worrying about the separation of my various different qualifications, experiences and careers (“I’m too scattered!“), to looking increasingly at how to integrate them – and finding more and more ways to do so! For example, I find more and more research clients wanting to understand the psychology of their customers in order to better cater to their deeper needs, and I find more and more therapy clients wanting to set up their own businesses and learn about marketing, research and branding – the latter being the case particularly once other problems have been resolved. When the therapeutic relationship is strong, therapy itself can evolve over time and the focus can change – from dealing with trauma and its effects, to setting up as a self-employed professional, or from relationship counselling to career coaching (and vice versa).
For those of you who would love to change jobs or start up your own business, this whole issue of professional identity is an important one. If you love what you do, and you’re comfortable with who you are within that (i.e., who you are as a brand), then you’ll be more authentic at work. And if you can be authentic at the place you spend most of your time, then you’ll likely be happier and more at peace in your life.
Going inwards before looking outwards
We hear a lot in marketing about ‘targeting’ ‘finding your niche’ ‘understanding the customer journey’ – essentially, tailoring what you do for a defined and specific customer base. There are thousands of so-called ‘millionaires’ on Facebook showing you the best way to promote your business via social media, often using a ‘one size fits all’ approach to target customer samples.
However, whilst effective targeting, journey mapping, packaging your offer, etc, are all key components of the marketing mix, they come much later on in the brand journey. First of all, it’s important to work from the inside out, really taking the time and energy to explore and uncover who YOU are as the brand first and foremost, before tailoring your marketing efforts to the findings, in a way that suits you and your profession, as well as being reflective of who you truly are.
Of course, the best marketers already know the importance of brand identity – hundreds of thousands of euros are spent every year on big brand market research to continually understand what brands are about and how their personalities evolve year on year… Think of brands like Dove, Ferrero Rocher, Twitter, Coca Cola, Bakers, Apple, Dawn Foods as well as slightly lesser known but nonetheless successful organisations like Busy Bees, MANE and Smooth Radio.
But when individuals ourselves are the brand, we often disregard this crucial step. Many of us launch into marketing, without first doing our branding. We talk about our services, in a way that is separate to ourselves. If we pay marketers to help us, we are encouraged to use methods,channels, networks and language that somehow feel inauthentic.
Effective marketing comes from an authentic place. If you want to start your own business, embark on a new career, or take a professional risk, the most important thing is to be fully comfortable inside your professional skin. To know yourself, your business, your style, your transferable skills, your passions and your goals through and through, and to work through any emotional blocks as early on as possible, so that they don’t trip you up later on. When you truly know your brand (as though it’s a person in itself!), then you’ll know the best way to market it too, and you’ll be able to find the right people to help you. Once your brand identity is solid, it will also (ironically) have a fluidity about it – it will evolve as you evolve over time, and you won’t be afraid of change.
Finding your Professional Identity: A few fun tasks!
Try the following 5 exercises:
- Think of one popular brand. Now, imagine that brand coming to life first as a celebrity, then as a car, then a house and lastly an animal. Each time, picture it among other celebrities, cars, houses and animals. How does it look and interact? Think of why it is that you have those associations. What is it that the brand is communicating about itself? What can you understand about the brand’s personality from this exercise? Note down your findings!
- Next, look at yourself and who you are at work. Who would YOUR BRAND be as a celebrity? As an animal? As a car? As a house? How do these associations fit with what and who you want to be professionally? Which of those associations are you uncomfortable with? Why? What needs to be worked through and changed in order to become the brand you want to be?
- Imagine your favourite brand as a person at a party. Who is it? What sort of a party does that person attend? How does he/she interact with the other people at the party?
- See yourself at your ideal sort of party. What is happening? Where is it? Who is hosting? How do you interact with others? What does all of this say about you and the sort of person/brand you are or would like to be?
- Imagine you’re looking down into your funeral from the spirit world. Somebody reads your eulogy. Who reads it? Imagine they’re talking about what you did in your working life. What do they say about you as a professional? What would you like to achieve in your working life?
- Lastly, write down your values. What in life is important to you, and why? How can you bring these values fully into your working life?