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Network Leadership

Two Kinds of Networks That Mental Health Providers Should Join

Jeff Doleweerd
May 24, 2023

Therapists working in the mental health sector have unique challenges from other health providers. They often work in small, local, private practices or non-profits where local advertising and word of mouth historically could drive a successful business. They are increasingly challenged from a growing set of online alternatives, often venture-backed startups, looking to “uberize” counselling. 

So what can these counsellors do to maintain their local business presence? Firstly, they need to be concerned about business oriented issues like marketing and lead generation. They need to understand how to create and manage their online presence so that they can promote their services effectively. 

Participating in an online network is a near instantaneous method to create a trusted online presence. 

A network is a collection of services from different organizations assembled to solve a problem. We cover two types of networks - associations and referral networks. If you are starting out as a therapist, you and your organization should be familiar with these network types, and ideally involved in both. They will increase your credibility locally and drive leads to you and your organization.

1. Associations 

Virtually every health care discipline, whether it is nursing, medicine, dentistry or psychotherapy, has an association that provides services to its members. Associations are membership-focused organizations. Revenue comes from membership fees in exchange for solving sector-wide problems where a collective approach is more effective. Advocacy is best done as a group, for example. Mental health practitioners could be advocating for improved tax treatment on services or better funding for underserved groups. Professional networking is, by definition, a group activity. Organizing regular events both online and in person is a mainstay of trade associations. 

Benefits of Joining a Mental Health Association

Mental health associations and their members can create a mutually beneficial online relationship where their websites link to each other. When these crosslinks lead to other value-added sites that offer relevant information on mental health or counselling, it improves search engine ranking and can direct more potential clients to each site. It’s a natural network that should be leveraged online. Other search engine optimization benefits may include authority backlinks, topic clusters and boosted topical expertise. For a deeper dive into these concepts, read our post about how associations generate referrals for their members.

This partnership benefits both the association and the mental health professional. For the professional, membership in the association confers a level of trust to the public that they meet a minimum standard of education and professionalism. Further, membership often provides many opportunities for professional development along with other perks. Some mental health associations such as the Ontario Association of Mental Health Professionals provide their members with access to certifications, insurance coverage, subscriptions to publications and even discounts for useful products and technology. These benefits add significant value to the practitioners, and encourage greater participation within the association.

The “find a member” Test

If you are thinking of joining an association, take a look at the importance they place on lead generation for their members. Most association websites will feature a “find a member” tool, usually linked directly from the home page. If it is a clumsy interface that confuses the public with irrelevant, outdated results, that’s a sign that you should discuss their goals to improve lead conversion as a key member benefit. However, if the public can easily find a reputable agency based on address and limited other information collected, without scrolling through an alphabetical list, they are doing something right. 

What truly creates trust between the public and an association is when the public can transact a request that goes securely to the receiving member organization. This means the association can demonstrate the value they offer to members, with hard numbers. For the association, analytics demonstrating strong referral volumes to members, will not only maintain, but grow the association membership. 

Here is one example of how a Midwifery Association embeds lead generation within their website, effectively, using Caredove’s embedded search tool. 

2. Referral Networks

Referral networks are all around us, and a well marketed one should be easy to spot. A referral network is a set of services from different organizations, collected by one lead organization, to solve a community health problem. Your imagination is the only limit for what is possible. A few real examples are:

  • Meal & grocery delivery during the pandemic in Ontario (100+ organizations)
  • Transportation to vaccinations in Simcoe (4 organizations)
  • Preschool developmental services across Eastern Ontario (10 organizations)
  • Isolated seniors in New Brunswick (50+ organizations) 

Mental health counselling networks are increasingly common. These networks are a recognition that one agency cannot meet all of the demands in a region alone. The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed this awareness, as a growing number of people across the country reported anxiety and depressive disorders, with limited access to online support. Clients presented with a vast range of issues and required modalities from counsellors with broader knowledge and skill sets than one organization could offer. Is the person looking for individual, group, couples or family counselling? What disorders are treated, and what therapies are offered? Referral networks offer the public a trustworthy solution by providing a single access point to access relevant counselling services from a variety of organizations across a region.

Examples of Counselling Referral Networks

Here are a few examples of counselling referral networks that make it easy for the public to find and book services online. 

  • Connecting Calgary's communities with affordable and barrier-free access to phone or video counselling sessions 

  • Brief phone, video or in-person counselling, provided by more than a hundred counsellors of diverse backgrounds to residents of the Ottawa area 

  • Offering quick access to brief mental health services for individuals, couples and families in Saskatchewan

When organizations market their services together, they communicate a message to the public that they can not accomplish independently. They declare trust in each other. They convey that each network member meets a standard of service delivery that allows them to participate in the network. When a referral network is assembled, they can also present a unified case to the payer (e.g., charitable organization, insurer, government), making the whole network more investible. A network of organizations working together towards a common goal is greater than the sum of its parts.

Therapists working in the mental health sector need to improve their web presence to be able to attract new leads. Look for provincial or state-level associations and local networks that use solid lead generation technology to drive referrals. If no networks exist in the region you serve, it could be the right time to start a conversation with like-minded agencies. Visit our Solutions for Mental Health & Addictions Networks page to learn more about how we help thousands of people access therapy and counselling every week, and book a demo with our team so we can get to know you. Accessing mental health services can be complicated. We help make it simple.

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