As mental health professionals, our main priority is for our clients to feel better, mentally, physically, etc. That’s the reason we got into this field, right? To provide mental health services to those who may be struggling. But how do we get more clients in the door? How do we prioritize our ethical duties while also marketing for our best, most ideal client? How do we get more reviews?
The line between ethics and marketing can be difficult to manage.
We hear that. We acknowledge that.
And although the counseling, the therapy, is what truly matters, we also need to get clients in the door to counsel. Sometimes, we have to do the work to market our practice.
And sure, we have tons of clients who have come seeking services based on word-of-mouth referrals. There is nothing better than a word-of-mouth referral. Those word-of-mouth referrals are important, because there is no consent involved, no ethical dilemmas. Just one happy client who wants to share the greatness that is you!
But those referrals are not what I’m talking about here…
So what about other ways to get clients in the door? Other marketing strategies?
One way to begin marketing, with ethics in mind of course, is to begin work on the SEO of your therapy website. That’s what we’re here for! SEO is search engine optimization, and it has helped plenty of mental health professionals find their ideal clients through their therapy website. We’d love to make you a part of that list! You can schedule a consultation with a member of the Simplified SEO Consulting team here. (It’s free!)
But, yet again, that’s not what we’re talking about.
A significant way clients get in the door is through positive online reviews.
And, boy, do I mean positive. According to an annual study done by Bright Local, 94% of consumers are more likely to use a business after seeing positive online reviews. And during the past year, Bright Local says that most consumers check online to find business information everyday, with only 7% of people strolling right into a business without checking out any online information. Alternatively, 92% of consumers said that negative reviews would make them less like to use a business. (Yikes!)
Okay, so we’ve gathered that there’s a huge benefit to your therapy practice having positive online reviews. (And, truly, a huge disadvantage to having negative reviews.)
While this sounds like all rainbows and butterflies, it’s not.
As mental health professionals, we have to consider the ethics of these reviews.
Here are a few things that our different Codes of Ethics have to say about reviews, solicitations, whatever you want to call them.
According to the National Association of Social Workers, social workers cannot solicit testimonials or reviews from clients, meaning social workers cannot directly ask for reviews. Here’s the exact wording from the NASW Code of Ethics:
NAWS Code Of Ethics 4.07 Solicitations: (b) Social workers should not engage in solicitation of testimonial endorsements (including solicitation of consent to use a client’s prior statement as a testimonial endorsement) from current clients or from other people who, because of their particular circumstances, are vulnerable to undue influence.
Counselors certified under the American Counseling Association cannot solicit testimonials from current or former clients, either. Here’s the exact information from the ACA Code of Ethics:
ACA Code of Ethics C.3.b. Testimonials. Counselors who use testimonials do not solicit them from current clients, former clients, or any other persons who may be vulnerable to undue influence. Counselors discuss with clients the implications of and obtain permission for the use of any testimonial.
Additionally, counselors certified under the National Board for Certified Counselors cannot solicit testimonials from former or current clients, until two years post-termination. Underneath is the exact wording from the NBCC Code of Ethics:
NBCC Code of Ethics 62. NCCs shall not solicit testimonials from current clients or their families and close friends. Recognizing the possibility of future requests for services, NCCs shall not solicit testimonials from former clients within two years from the date of service termination.
Marriage and Family Therapists
Marriage and Family Therapists are not allowed to exploit clients, but the Code of Ethics do not specifically discuss reviews, solicitations, or testimonials. Here’s the portion discussed:
AAMFT Code of Ethics 3.8 Exploitation. Marriage and family therapists do not engage in the exploitation of clients, students, trainees, supervisees, employees, colleagues, or research subjects.
In conclusion, the different certifying boards do not allow for direct solicitation for reviews of any kind.
There’s a huge reason for this, our boards want to make sure that the clients are getting the proper care, without any pitfalls. Utilizing reviews with clients’ names can risk the therapeutic relationship. It can also affect the client’s confidentiality, if they are not wanting to share that they even go to therapy, if they don’t want to share it with certain people, etc. Clients have their reasons to maintain confidentiality and we want to respect that. Always.
As ethical mental health professionals, it’s important that we do not risk client confidentiality, nor do we make any clients vulnerable to undue influence that ultimately affects the therapeutic relationship.
So, now that we are on the same page about understanding the legalities, let’s talk about ways to ethically source reviews.
Ethically Sourcing Reviews
Feedback from Group Workshops
If you are someone who coaches therapeutic workshops, feedback from those groups can be great. Receiving feedback anonymously from the whole group at a group workshop does not put any names to the review.
There is no client information shared, and it does not affect the therapeutic relationship. Try this method the next time you have a group workshop, or begin building a group workshop!
Attach Your Social Media Business Accounts to Your Website for Professional Connections to Leave Reviews
We’ve discussed how mental health professionals cannot directly solicit reviews from clients, but this does not include colleagues and/or professional networking relationships in which you do not have a therapeutic relationship to preserve. Many mental health providers we work with instead ask colleagues, friends, referral sources and others to write them reviews. These sources can talk directly about your professional and clinical skills.
So, if you haven’t already, attach your social media sites to your website. Have links to click on with the social media icons (Facebook and Instagram are the most searched for.) This makes it really easy for anyone who visits your website and would like (friends, coworkers, etc) to leave a review on social media to do so.
Google My Business Reviews from Colleagues
As we’ve discussed, soliciting reviews from clients is not ethical. But that doesn’t include colleagues, professional relationships, etc. in which you do not have a therapeutic relationship to preserve. By asking a colleague to write a review, you’re able to get an honest review which helps your credibility both with potential clients and Google, but without any ethical concerns.
If you’ve worked with the Simplified team, you know how much we value Google My Business. Similarly to Facebook, Google has its own review process via Google My Business. This can be a great place for those colleagues, networking relationships, other professionals we’ve discussed, to leave a professional review while building SEO credit with Google.
What to do if a Client does Leave a Review…
Clients can still leave reviews even without our solicitation, and that’s okay! Firstly, it’s a good idea to quickly respond to all reviews… but you want to make sure you are still protective of confidentiality.
So, when responding to reviews from a client: be careful not to confirm or deny they were seen at your practice. There’s usually something general and positive you can say in response. For example saying something like, “Thank you so much for the feedback” acknowledges their response but doesn’t reference if they were your client or not.
Now, remember what I said about the effects of bad reviews? Well, ethically, we have to leave those on the sites that they were posted on. It may seem best to delete a negative review when you have access to do so, but this is considered unethical. Leave that review, respond in a general and positive manner, and let it help you make your practice even better.
If you’ve done these things and can confidently say your reviews are ethical, congrats! You’ve got some ethically sourced reviews!
Okay, let’s summarize.
Firstly, our ethics say that we cannot directly solicit reviews from clients. This is the most important thing to remember when discussing online reviews.
Secondly, if you want to gain positive reviews, ask your group workshops anonymously and within a group. Also, ask your colleagues and professional networking via social media sites and Google My Business!
Lastly, if a client does leave a review, good or bad, do respond. But do not expose client confidentiality. Respond in a positive manner, and let all those reviews help you reflect to make your practice better.
Now, get to getting those reviews!
About The Author
Jewel is currently part of our team as a Mental Health Specialist at Simplified SEO Consulting. She helps private practice owners find their ideal client by optimizing their websites and providing direct support to clients. Jewel loves the gratification when she sees a therapist’s data increasing and their phones buzzing. As a person who values mental health amongst other things, she loves knowing that Simplified’s services help therapists and patients find each other to improve mental health in the world.
Jewel is currently in her Master’s in Social Work program at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare. She also interns every week at a Kansas City psychiatric hospital. When she has the time, she loves to read, volunteer, spend time with friends, and travel.