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Beware of Shady Mental Health Marketing

For my second blog post I had intended on writing about Systems Theory; the foundational theory that Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) use that encourages an awareness and inclusion of the many roles and experiences that influence individuals and relationships.

I am currently at the 42nd Annual Winter Symposium ( and yesterday I attended a session about Ethics in Internet Marketing. The talk was focused more toward large agency and program administrators than people in private practice; however I find ethics interesting and am always looking for new marketing ideas. I learned about "Black Hat Marketing" techniques that many addiction treatment centers fall prey to. As my clients know I see myself as not only their therapist, but their advocate as well, and so as an advocate I decided to postpone my post on Systems Theory in order to share the knowledge.

What is Black Hat Marketing?

When I first started opening my practice I became painfully aware of how much I didn't know about business operations, specifically in marketing. I taught myself (and to be honest, am still teaching myself) about marketing strategies, my online presence, and networking events. Possibly the most important tool in online marketing is SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, which allows a website to be found using search engines. For example, my primary SEO is "Marriage Counseling in Littleton" because I felt these key words would be most likely to connect my potential clients with my site.

Unfortunately many companies use shady SEO practices to increase the chances that a potential client will land on their company website as opposed to the company or organization that would be the most help to the client. What scared me the most was that even when a potential client searches for a specific, legitimate treatment center the contact information they find may be for a completely different company.

For example, the man leading this presentation was the Founder of the Jaywalker Lodge in Carbondale, CO (

This is what I find on Google after searching for "Jaywalker Lodge."

The first two links (one Sponsored Ad and one legitimate hit) will take you to the official Jay Walker Lodge website, however the Sponsored Ad contact number is not correct (notice the correct 970 number on the right).

But say you want to compare a few different treatment programs to see which would be the best for you or someone you care about. You scroll down to see what else you can find.

Directly underneath the actual Jay Walker website is The contact information for Jay Walker Lodge provided by is not a Jay Walker phone number.

Instead these numbers will direct you to someone, probably in a cubicle, trying to get the caller to enroll in a program completely unrelated to what you were searching.

There are other shady tactics these sites use: fake bios of company founders, invisible text on their site to increase the likelihood that you will find them in a search, or buying domain names that are one letter off from what people are likely to search.

How Can I Protect Myself and My Family?

Do your research. Find out where a program gets their funding and learn about their code of ethics. Ask someone who has gone through the program personally for contact information and when you call ask a lot of questions; if the person on the other end hesitates to give you concrete information about the program's location, cost, average stay: hang up.

This sort of cheap marketing tactics make me angry (righteous anger, as I discuss with many clients). I believe mental health is a special field because as providers we are charged with meeting people at their worst and helping them find peace, healing, and happiness. In contrast, these companies prey on people experiencing addiction to make money.

If you have questions about finding inpatient recovery services, ask a therapist you trust to help you find a program that will work for you.

More information on Black Hat Marketing

(1) This is not an endorsement for any treatment center. If you are searching for a treatment center please talk with a mental health professional you trust for recommendations.

The posts provided here are intended to provide psychoeducation, resources, and support for current clients, potential clients, or anyone seeking information about mental health. These posts are not a suitable replacement for mental health services including medication, therapy, counseling, or crisis managment. If you are seeking help for any mental health or relationship struggle, please contact a mental health professional you trust.

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