It will happen. Sooner or later someone will evaluate my work and give me an online review. It may be positive, it may be negative, but for sure it will be out there for the world to see.
Individuals seeking therapy are no different than any other consumer. It is certain that they will look online to gather additional information before making a decision. As with any other service or product, a negative review of my business may cause some people to avoid using my services. A positive review may cause others to jump in too quickly.
Here is what you need to know about my practice and online reviews.
As a social worker and an addictions counselor, I do not solicit testimonials or reviews. Making this type of request from a current or former client is clearly prohibited by my professional ethics. Requesting a review could cause problems in the therapeutic relationship. It might cause a client to feel improperly influenced by me or it might create the incorrect impression that the client could influence me or my decisions in their case in a positive manner.
In addition, if someone is a current or former client and posts a review online, suddenly it is clear that they have been involved with my practice as a client. That breaks their confidentiality. If a client chooses to break their own confidentiality they are allowed to do so. Therapists do not have the same privilege. In my role, I must always protect my clients. That means it is always my responsibility to hold confidentiality regardless of what the client chooses to do.
In addition to providing therapy services…
I complete a lot of substance use assessments and evaluations. Individuals who find themselves in the position of needing this type of service are often experiencing stress, fear, and anger. They may be frustrated with themselves about getting into this position and/or they may be aggravated with “the system” for requiring them to complete this type of service. The final recommendations in the report can often cause additional stress and anger. Individuals may or may not be 100% honest during our time together and if there are changes recommended, they may or may not be ready to make those changes. Someone who is upset with the final recommendations may lash out with a negative online review.
What about responding to reviews?
The generally accepted theory these days is business owners should respond to online reviews. It can generate good will and in the case of a negative review, it may assist in repairing the relationship. As a therapist I am not a traditional business owner. Responding to a review would immediately acknowledge that person had been seen in my practice. Once again, it is my ethical responsibility to hold the client’s confidentiality. As a therapist, I am restricted in my ability to respond to positive or negative reviews online compared to other types of businesses. For many reasons, I make it a policy to avoid responding to online reviews in any way.
If a client appreciates the work we have done together and they would like others to know about it, the most supportive action to take would be to refer their friends and acquaintances to my practice. This allows the client’s confidentiality to be protected and still meets their goal of telling others about their great experience.
If a client is upset with the work I have done, the best approach is to say something to me directly. Although it may not change the outcome, it is an assertive way to handle the feelings around the situation.
It is wise to be cautious.
If you choose to write an online review about your experience with my services, it is important to note that you will be sharing your personal information with a lot of people in a very public place. The things you say today may not reflect how you feel at another time. And yet, items posted on the internet never go away. While you may be able to delete or edit a review, you will never know who has already read it. In addition, every item posted on the internet is permanently archived. What if a potential therapist, evaluator, or supervisor reads your review in the future? Anything you write has the potential to impact you. It is always wise to be cautious.
It is important to remember that a review of a service tends to be very personal and the review reflects a moment in time. Someone else’s review may or may not be your experience.
There is no doubt that consumers are influenced by both positive and negative online reviews. If you are seeking services you are in a position to be your own best advocate. Be objective. If you find reviews about the service you are seeking by all means factor that feedback into your decision. Consider speaking with the business owner directly and reviewing their website as additional tools for helping you to make a decision. Don’t let someone else’s positive or negative moment in time be the sole influence on your decision.