Millennials are known as "the therapy generation" for good reason; millennials and Generation Z engage in therapy and mental health care three times more often than their parents do. The younger generations are leading the future of mental health care, speaking about their experiences and advocating to end the stigma around mental health care.
With so much enthusiasm for therapy, it can seem like millennials are the easiest demographic group of potential clients to reach. However, there are a few important generational lessons to keep in mind when you're speaking with millennial clients and prospective clients, even if you are a millennial yourself! Let's explore these lessons, together:
I understand if this sounds abrupt or intimidating. It was for me, too, when I first learned this fact: we have 10 seconds to capture someone’s attention.
Don’t worry: we’ll talk through best practices here together.
First, the context. Millennials -- and younger generations even more so -- are bombarded with constant stimulation. Images, sounds, media, news, social media apps, work pings, and more... the stimulation is never-ending.
We’ve also been conditioned to scroll. If you haven’t yet seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix, I highly recommend it. Apps are designed to keep us scrolling, engaged, and addicted. It takes something really magnetic to cause us to stop in our tracks and pay attention.
You can be that magnetic. Some things to keep in mind when you are designing your website, intro bio, or content on social media or your blog:
Now that we understand that we have limited time and attention that we’re working with, do not waste your precious 10 seconds on acronyms.
I understand that we have invested years and years of our lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars into our training. Our training is incredibly important in how we show up in the room, and our being able to serve our clients in the best possible -- and most effective -- way.
However, your clients (especially millennials) often do not speak the same language. If you speak, or write, too formally, you will lose them. They want to feel seen, heard, and understood. If they cannot understand what you are saying--why would they believe that you can understand what they will be saying?
I assure you, if your license and training is important to your client, they will keep reading and they will find it. If your license and training does not matter to your client, you will not capture their attention with this information.
I implore you to start with a statement, a narrative, a story… something that is relatable, human, attractive about the problem someone may be feeling when they are seeking your care, and the transformation they may feel on the other side of working together. In as close to words the clients themselves are likely to use as possible.
Millennials expect a fast, easy, and personalized experience when they are beginning a service, treatment, or starting to use a product. Picture what it is like to find and deliver the best pizza in your zip code. That is really simplifying the search process for the right therapist, but unfortunately, it’s the conditioning that younger generations are immersed in.
While this was not always the case, and while the human aspects of therapy continue to be the most healing, in the earliest moments of connecting with a client and encouraging them to move forward, it is in your best interest to make the learning, connection and booking process as seamless as possible.
Millennials and younger generations do not want to get on the phone with you. It makes them anxious (seriously, we at MyWellbeing asked and they said this!). They prefer to email or to text. Phone consultations are still very important to gauge fit between you and your client -- if you can keep the phone time limited to that phone consultation, and can manage booking, scheduling and payment digitally otherwise, you will provide your clients a more pleasant experience that they are more likely to move forward with.
For better or worse, millennials are work-obsessed and they are conditioned to be fast. If they do not hear from you in over 24 hours, especially on a business or working day, they may assume that you are no longer taking new clients, or you are not available. They may continue their search with another provider.
If you are traveling or out of office for a significant period of time, I encourage you to put a bounce back up on your email to explain that you are out of office and to set expectations about when you will return / when the person can expect a response from you. Expectation setting goes a very long way, even if the date is a ways away.
Because we are so steeped in the world of therapy, sometimes, we forget how much we at one point did not know. We forget what our first time was like, or what our first time with a new therapist was like, even if we’d be in therapy 100 times before.
Apply “beginner’s mind” at all times. Over-communicate as often as possible. Outline every single step. It may feel like you are holding your client’s hand, and that may feel uncomfortable. Or you may feel as though you are enabling them.
I encourage you to think about the early stages of meeting and engaging with your clients as a different section of therapy, separated from the work itself. If autonomy is important to you and your clinical style, I encourage you to let your client know that in your first session. Set expectations (that’s beginning to sound familiar, right?). You can change anything you want or need to change as your work evolves.
Clients are largely conditioned by every other business they interact with in the world. They expect a level of information-sharing, follow up, and step-by-step outlines and guides that are as easy and clear as possible. In the marketing stage of your business, when you are first appearing in client’s searches and meeting clients for the first time, it will help you to lean in to these expectations of business experience as much as you are comfortable doing so. Then, in the first session, set expectations about the nature of the therapy moving forward.
Millennials and prospective clients of younger generations increasingly express preferring that their therapist engage in the work together, at least to offer a reflection periodically.
In your first few sessions, if you intend to primarily listen as a primarily blank slate, I encourage you to at minimum set expectations with your client that that is your style.
While there is so much clinical relevance to a client’s reactions to your patience, containment, and creating space for them to lead, this is an increasingly unusual experience for clients. They will likely wonder to themselves, “Is that what therapy is really like?” “Is there something wrong with me?” or “Is there something wrong with my therapist?”
If you prefer to not share about your style directly, I encourage you to share a few blog posts, articles, or books to help clients familiarize with what therapy is like, what they can expect, and to encourage them to have patience.
Much like complications in the dating world, clients are all too familiar with how many options they have. We want to consistently remind that healing takes time, patience, and connection.
If you are comfortable providing reflection, containing the work in a few intro statements or summaries at the end of sessions, or becoming engaged and involved throughout sessions, lean in to that tendency. Your clients will appreciate hearing from you. Be sure to check-in regularly to create space for clients to share if something is not resonating.
I cannot overstate how important experiences related to one’s identity are to your clients. This has always been true and is especially true for millennial clients and younger, who value things like their identity and their values more than other demographic groups on average.
If your client has shared a particular race, age, gender, or sexual orientation with you, I encourage you to think about everything they are sharing with you through a lens that considers their unique identity aspects, and how the various aspects of their identities influence each other.
Your first instinct may be that something “does not have to do with race.” I assure you: everything has to do with race. Think about your client’s race, and your race, and how the two impact both the individual and your new duo.
I encourage you to engage in consistent self-education around race, gender, sexual orientation, and age to immerse in and understand as much as possible how your own identity dynamics impact you and impact your work, how these identity elements affect your clients, and how you both may be affecting and intertwining with each other.
Sometimes, our knee-jerk reaction is to assume that a client with a hard-earned title and a successful partner can afford $400/session. Other times, we assume that someone who works at a non-profit needs the low-end of our sliding scale.
I encourage you to have an honest conversation with your clients -- prospective and existing -- about fee, as much as possible. Money makes us all uncomfortable but it is fertile ground for connection, humility, empathy, and learning. It is possible that there is additional information that you don’t yet have access to that will inform the best possible path forward for both of you.
Especially if you are in an urban or metropolitan area, career and work identity are increasingly central for millennials. If your client, or prospective client, is talking often about work, work very well may be a central source of stress for them. If they are not talking about work, there may be a painful reason as to why, as well.
When seeking a provider to move forward with, millennials look for a provider who will understand them. They look for providers who understand their unique identity, and within that identity is their professional experience, in all of its highs and lows.
It may be helpful for you to share a little bit about your own professional experience, especially if you’re a career changer who’s worked in roles other than therapist, social worker, or coach.
It may also be helpful for you to mention buckets of careers and industries that you have helped other clients work through. The more that your prospective clients can see themselves in your success stories, the more they will trust that you can help them, too.
Millennials are the future of therapy, and they are looking for a therapeutic experience that respects every part of their identity, and makes it as easy as possible for them and their loved ones to access care. Providing this experience for millennials will help you work with more millennial clients, and be part of a world where mental health care is accessible, anti-racist, adaptable, and made for everyone.
Match with the *right* clients for your practice while growing your professional community.
Alyssa Petersel, Co-Founder and CEO of My Wellbeing and author of Somehow I Am Different, graduated from Northwestern University in 2013 with dual BA degrees in psychology and international studies, graduated summa cum laude from New York University in May 2017 with her Master's in Social Work, and graduated from The Writer's Institute non-fiction program at CUNY Graduate Center in May 2017. A native New Yorker, Alyssa now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.