What Social Workers Can Learn From Wall Street



Fear and greed is marketing 101. Get any successful salesperson in the world alone in a dark corner, ply with the appropriate amount of alcohol, or gourmet coffee for those teetotalers, and with enough time you will be let in on the three golden truths of sales,



(1) make supplies limited, “act now before it’s too late,”

(2) make people feel special, “you are in the elite club,” and

(3) provide just enough fear, “if you don’t buy this you could be putting yourself or others at risk!”

So, what do we good-hearted social workers have to do with this dark world of capitalism and how dare we be in the corner of a bar with a stranger anyway?

Well, in the world of fast cars and trophy partners our must-have products are models of practice. Not quite so glamorous but just as exciting for those of us who like those kinds of things! Models offered up in a plethora of ways, CEU trainings, certificate programs, yearlong licensure special-O-ramas, and all educational delivery methods in-between.

These clinical trainings are widgets marketed in the same way as all other widgets in a free market economy. Consider how many flyers you get for trainings, how many presenters tout their models of practice over all others. “We are effective and no one else is as effective as we are, only 25 spots available, don’t be left out and don’t hurt your clients by using another model!”

How can we cut through all the sales to weed out the ones that are of value from the ones that are not? To do that let’s take some pointers from Wall Street investors.

Let’s first set aside the main sales tactic claim that different models of practice are more effective than others. Just as food satisfies hunger and water satisfies thirst, mountains of evidence demonstrates that psychotherapy is effective regardless of type. Psychotherapy is, on average, more effective than cardiac-bypass surgery for heart ailments, more effective than fluoride in the water for dental health, more effective than aspirin to reduce the risk of heart attacks.

Setting aside effectiveness, what is most important for social workers in deciding a model is what Wall Street investors call return on investment. In stocks this means how much monetary return there will be for the cost of the investment. In social work our return on investment is called the attrition rate of the model studied. The attrition rate is the number of people that drop out of the model during a study and is a measure of whether clients actually like the model of practice.

Let’s do the math on why the attrition rate matters in determining which training to attend. I recently read a study comparing two models of practice. Both, as can be expected in any fair study of clinical approach vs. clinical approach, were equally effective, but one model had a 14% dropout rate while the other had a staggering 32% dropout rate!!!

Which model is the one to buy for certification or CEUs? …Let’s do that math, people!!

If you have 20 clients scheduled in a week, a 14% dropout rate means that 3 clients will no-show leaving you with 17 clients seen for that week. A 38% dropout rate means 8 clients will no-show leaving 12 clients seen for that week. Going with the first model means you have 5 more client contacts for the week, or 20 more for the month, or 240 more for the year! At $50 an hour you will make $12,000 more per year by choosing the model that has the lowest attrition rate, plus you’re helping more people!!

Moral to the story: Don’t fall for sales tactics! Ask about research attrition rates and chose to be trained in the model clients actually like in order to get the best return on investment.

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J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

Chris holds a PhD and LCSW specializing in clinical individual and family therapy. He is a researcher, educator, practitioner, and supervisor with over 16 years experience. He has published chapters and articles in peer reviewed scientific journals and is an active scholar on the effectiveness of clinical practice.

December 1, 2015


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