Should a counsellor or psychotherapist have testimonials or reviews?
When looking for a counsellor or psychotherapist we want to know we are not going to waste our hard-earned money or risk telling our innermost secrets to someone untrustworthy, so a useful way is to find out if they have helped others successfully before employing their services. This is the same as looking for someone to do work on our home, buying a new coat or booking a holiday, where we look at reviews to see how they fare through recommendations. As a therapist working to promote my presence since deciding to work privately, I was informed by various organisations and colleagues that reviews or testimonials on directory listings, social media and websites are essential tools. This advice left me feeling rather uncomfortable for various reasons: How could I go about asking people to write about their experiences with me? Would they want to discuss their private lives in a public arena? Is it ethical to request someone provide feedback which may leave them feeling forced to when they would rather not? What if they felt obliged to give positive feedback when they actually did not benefit from the process? (Yes, this does happen on occasion, even to the best or most experienced therapists)
I regularly ask my clients to provide feedback on what they found helpful or unhelpful in the sessions, but only utilise this information for my professional development and meeting client preferences. It did cross my mind to use parts of earlier feedback received or what was written in the thank you cards I had been given…but again is this OK without seeking permission from them or would this leave them feeling exposed? Plus, what one client needs or expects may differ wildly from the next person, so the feedback is subjective to their personal experience.
I decided to research the topic to support or disprove my theory that asking for testimonials would not be the right thing to do. I began by looking into other counsellor’s views in groups I followed which were rather mixed. These ranged from yes, they do use them, put anonymous ones on media platforms, ask clients for written ones as they feel they are more genuine for prospective clients and some never allow them. It was interesting to learn that one of the professional associations (UKCP) explicitly ban their members from using reviews or testimonials to advertise themselves. It is considered a possible abuse of power by the therapist and may be breaking confidentiality and privacy rules. A client may offer a review where their opinion may change upon reflection, or they may later decide they do not want their name on any media platforms and find it stressful to have their review removed. Additionally, as I also wondered…how do we know that anonymous reviews are genuine? I would hope that my professional colleagues would not post reviews to improve their listings, but this does happen in other review sites all the time. Also, what if a competitor or someone with a vendetta decided to post a bad review to ruin someone’s reputation? Aaaargh, there are so many issues to consider.
After much reflection and discussions with fellow counsellors and my supervisor, I have come to the decision not to seek client feedback for any purpose other than improving my practice or to helping me work towards meeting their individual needs. The fact that I am registered with the BACP is enough evidence of my qualifications and ability to work safely, and provides an avenue for any unhappy client to address their issue(s) through appropriate channels. Additionally, the BACP offer details of their professional conduct procedure on their website and provide a register of therapists who have had complaints against them upheld. However, if a client decides to post a review on a listing such a Google or Yell, then I am powerless to prevent this from happening. However, I am happy with this option as I feel that a client ought to have the ability to express their views to others, whether that be online or by word of mouth to their friends, family members or colleagues, which is probably the best type of recommendation I can receive.