In the world of psychotherapy, ethical considerations play a pivotal role in maintaining the integrity and trust of the therapeutic relationship. One controversial topic within this realm is whether client testimonials for psychotherapy should be something requested for the purpose of advertising. This question was part of a recent debate I was involved in and I had to really think about what it means to me to continue to decide not to use testimonials in any of my advertising.
How Client Testimonials Help
With a background in digital marketing, the importance of online reviews in supporting the growth of a business is well known to me. Testimonials can be powerful tools for attracting new clients. I am aware of how reviews and testimonials lend kudos and validate a business and I have given reviews for other businesses on that basis. When so much can be manipulated for search engines, genuine client testimonials are one aspect of optimisation that cannot be easily circumvented. ‘People buy from people’ so having reviews speaks volumes about what others in similar positions have found beneficial and supportive about a particular business. Also, these days Google won’t even show a website in the top listings on mobile, if they do not have reviews!
However….. is it ethical?
The ethical implications however, are significant, as highlighted by the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).
The UKCP Code of Ethics explicitly states that psychotherapists should not include testimonials from clients in any form of advertising, as follows;
13. Not make any claims which you cannot demonstrate to be true or include testimonials from clients in any advertising.
This prohibition is grounded in the fundamental principles of confidentiality, privacy, and the protection of the therapeutic relationship. Testimonials, by their nature, may reveal details about a client’s personal experiences, potentially breaching the confidentiality that is crucial to the therapeutic process.
How about anonymous testimonials?
The primary concern surrounding testimonials is the potential compromise of the therapeutic alliance. Psychotherapy relies on a confidential and trusting relationship between therapist and client. When clients are approached to provide testimonials, the power dynamic may shift, creating a situation where clients feel obligated to share positive experiences. This could potentially impact the authenticity of the testimonial, as clients may feel uncomfortable expressing any negative aspects of their therapeutic journey.
Furthermore, the UKCP emphasizes the importance of maintaining professional boundaries. Seeking testimonials may blur these boundaries and create a conflict of interest. The therapeutic process is intended for the benefit of the client, and any actions that might compromise this focus are considered ethically questionable.
So, is an anonymous review any better than none at all? Maybe Google thinks so but while testimonials can be powerful marketing tools, psychotherapists must balance their desire to promote their services with the ethical responsibilities outlined by professional bodies like the UKCP. Adhering to these guidelines ensures that the integrity of the therapeutic process remains intact, fostering an environment of trust and confidentiality that is essential for effective psychotherapy. Ultimately, ethical considerations should guide the decisions of psychotherapists as they navigate the complex terrain of advertising and promotion in their profession.
So this is why I continue to not use any client testimonials in my advertising. If at some point in the near future I do have testimonials listed on my website, they will not be client testimonials for psychotherapy.