Note: The following opinion is a lightly-edited excerpt from the new fourth edition of Basics of California Law for LMFTs, LPCCs, and LCSWs. The ban on soliciting testimonials from clients is discussed in one of the book’s new “Room for Debate” segments. To see Emma Jaegle’s counterargument supporting the ban, get the book. For more on what’s in the new edition, which is updated to 2017 state law, click here.
Accountability is a major problem in the mental health professions. Many therapists never bother to truly measure the effectiveness of their work, leaving them overconfident in their skills and unaware of their deficits. It is little wonder that prospective clients don’t trust us to be the sole sources of information about how great we are. They want to hear from others we have worked with.
Unfortunately, they can’t get that information in a way that is helpful or accurate, in part because the ethics codes of most mental health professional associations ban their members from soliciting client testimonials. The few clients who do post their experiences unsolicited often do so out of anger over bad experiences, rather than satisfaction with good ones.
I am in agreement with Emma [Jaegle, who writes in the book in favor of keeping the testimonial ban in place] that the problems of volunteer bias and negativity bias make online reviews of therapists inherently untrustworthy… as they are now. There is a solution to this problem, though, and it’s allowing therapists to ask more clients to share their experiences online.
We’ve all had an experience at a hotel, restaurant, or store where employees were pushy in asking for reviews. If therapists started similarly begging, we would come off as tacky salespeople, and it would alter the power dynamic between therapist and client. But lifting the ban on solicitation of testimonials would not be likely to have this effect, for one key reason: The existing rules against abusing therapist power would remain in place. So asking for an online review could become acceptable, while pressuring for it or demanding it would still be prohibited.
Existing clients can (as they already do) make informed choices about when to value their confidentiality and when to value sharing their experience. Prospective clients clearly hunger for a broader range of information about therapists than just what we use to try to sell ourselves. Our policies should allow them access to the better, broader range of information that client testimonials could provide.