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Woman Smiling

Why I Turned Down a Best of Oakland Award


Recently, I opened an incredible e-mail that led me to believe all of the hard work I’ve put in had paid
off in a humongous way. This is what the e-mail said, verbatim:

“Tina Kopko, Mft has been selected for the 2016 Best of Oakland Awards for Psychotherapist.
For details and more information please view our website:
2016 Best of Oakland Awards - Psychotherapist
If you are unable to view the link above, please copy and paste the following into your web browser:

Best Regards,
Oakland Business Recognition”


WOW!!! Who nominated me?? Was it one of the many incredible, beautiful people I’ve helped over the last 14 years as a psychotherapist, in one of my internships, or in my private practice as a licensed clinician? I practically burst into tears in the middle of the coffeeshop where I sat checking e-mail, after a meeting with a client care manager at a Senior Living Center to talk about offering Grief Recovery workshops there, and before my next appointment. I think the man across the café from me was a little worried about whether I was OK.

My first read through the e-mail led me to believe this was the “Best Of” Awards from Oakland Magazine, a hotly coveted source of recognition in a metropolis growing out of the shadow of it’s neighbor across the Bay. Then I realized those awards had already been announced a few months ago, and it was certainly too early for next year’s nominations. So I got curious.

Curiosity led me to ask “who exactly is nominating me?” So I went to the website provided in the link to “claim” my award. There was no “Oakland Magazine” logo anywhere – shoot. I read through every page of their 5-page website, including terms of use and privacy policies, trying to find out the name of the umbrella corporation. Well, safe to say at this point, it WASN’T Oakland Magazine. The only trademarked name provided throughout was “oaklandlocalawards.org.” Hmmmm, is it really a nonprofit? Because it seems to me their primary purpose is to sell plaques with your name on it as an award winner ($149.99 for a wooden plaque, $199.99 for a crystal award, and $229.98 for a set of both – what a bargain! NOT!!). The problem is, no one who actually knows me was part of the nomination process. They seem to have found my website and have judged my online marketing activity as qualitatively stellar (I wouldn’t have called it stellar, but I do consider myself a bit more active and skilled at marketing than your typical therapist.) My pride and excitement had completely disappeared at this point, and my indignation was growing.

My pride began to fade, it felt a little like being tricked into falling prey to my ego. It would have been soooooooo easy to just go with it, order a plaque, revel in the (fake) kudos. But it would have felt empty sooner or later, even deceptive. As I typed city after city into the URL address, followed by .localawardscenter.org, I realized this was a huge, national marketing program in hundreds of cities across the US.

I had a choice to make: would I 1) use this “fake” award the way it was intended – to influence consumers to hire me by advertising & marketing this award, by buying and hanging a framed version of the award on my waiting room wall? Or 2) would I stand firmly in my values, delete the e-mail and forget all about it. I chose neither. I chose to write a quick article to share my experience, my process of reflection and internal guidance system, so that others might apply this process to their own choice points when lured in by sexy marketing campaigns for deceptive products or services. It turned into a larger metaphor about the deception of marketing, conglomerate media outlets, and using one’s internal guidance system to sort through what’s fake and what’s real in our world.

In a time where businesses propped up by propaganda, lies, and false claims are easily accepted by the general public as successful (well, they wouldn’t have a plaque (or a celebrity endorsement, or a powerful financial backer, or big contract) if they weren’t successful, right?), it would have been super easy for me to rationalize why I should at least download the free press release announcing my award. That way, I don’t get duped into spending money on a sham plaque, but I still get to validate in some tangible way to the public that I’m a great therapist. Easy choice right?

Wrong. This is an important, character-defining choice point. Do I really stand behind my values of authenticity, honesty, humility and trustworthiness? Or do I let the excitement and false pride seduce me into a seemingly harmless “yes” and just go along with it? I mean, what harm are they really doing? They’re just trying to sell an innocuous little plaque to people who are probably really good at what they do (and some that maybe aren’t so good). Here’s the problem – it’s all propped up on egotistical pride and greed. Make money at all costs. Even if it’s based on lies. Who cares?

Each one of us is faced with choices throughout our life, big and small, to abandon our values and take the easy route. But each time we do, we pile on a little more shame, guilt and embarrassment into our subconscious. And we mislead growing numbers of people to believe the hype instead of their own experience and gut instinct. We show people it’s OK to rest on laurels (even if they’re empty and unproven) even if it’s contributing nothing of value to the product or service we provide. “Like lambs to the slaughter” we as a nation have fallen for slick marketing campaigns in the past, only to realize after it was too late that all the sparkle was just covering up a pile of bullshit. It’s the nature of a capitalistic society – do what it takes to sell more, whether it’s valuable, needed, reliable or not.

As I came down off the high of my first read through that e-mail, past feeling scammed, angry, indignant, I finally landed on feeling proud and faithful. I trust that I am a good therapist, whether I have some fake plaque on my wall or not. I trust that my clients are gaining valuable things from our work together, and if they’re not, we’ll discuss that and I’ll give them referrals if needed.  And I trust that eventually, I will be recognized in larger and larger ways, based on the very REAL contribution I am making to the world. The only nominators that matter to me are the people I work with, my mentors, and my colleagues doing this hard, soulful work right alongside me. 

- Tina Kopko, 10/30/16

UPDATE: 6/24/22 - After working my behind off for the last 17 years in this field, I have started to win *actual* awards from my peers.  Oakland Magazine readers voted me as the Best Psychology Practice for 2022!! Next month, I'll be announcing another piece exciting recognition from a well-known, well-read Bay Area media outlet. Thank you for supporting me in expanding my reach beyond the Bay Area in order to serve as many grievers as possible. Thanks for reading! :)

2022 Best of Oakland Winner

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