Many directories are available online for professionals to list services. Many counselors in private practice create profiles in directories such as the most popular offered by Psychology Today. What about using websites like Yelp.com and Kudzu.com to list one’s services and additionally, provide a forum for ongoing client testimonials? A counselor can create a profile to such a site allowing current and former clients the opportunity to rate the counselor and give feedback. I use sites like TripAdvisor.com when I travel so that I can see ratings for hotels and restaurants. So what is wrong with a consumer logging on to Yelp, Kudzu or another similar site and choosing a potential counselor based on the counselor’s Five Star rating and client feedback? Even though the counselor may not directly solicit the client for a testimonial, it seems like a slippery slope to me and I am not so sure I like the idea, frankly.
Counseling and psychotherapy is a time of discovery for clients. Sometimes the client may have negative feelings toward the counselor as a normal progression toward growth. Other clients may feel compelled to offer a positive statement either during the course of therapy or after termination as a way to endear themselves to the counselor. In fact we could talk about a gazillion ways any comment, positive or negative, can be seen as a part of the therapeutic process. Clients may even comment on current therapeutic content between the counselor and the client on such sites. For instance, what is to be done if a client, after a very intense session, logs onto such a site, looks up the counselor, posts immediate feelings about the counselor and also posts verbatim content from the morning therapy session? Does the counselor then respond openly on this public forum? And if the counselor responds, is the exchange considered part of the therapeutic record open and unprotected for all to see?
Allowing your client or former client to rate you may be fraught with a host of ethical compromises. Some would say though that the client is taking the initiative to reveal the information therefore, it is acceptable. I say that we as professionals have a responsibility to our clients to protect client confidentiality and the possibility of client exploitation. It is our job to understand the potential risks and benefits to our clients when we set up listings in such directories. With the advent of Web 2.0, these are the sorts of issues that counselors may need to address with clients as part of informed consent.
Why am I talking about this? Because it is here, it is happening and clients are commenting about their experiences. I have read some public threads in which the counselor engages in an online dialogue with the client or former client to make amends or to offer suggestions about the client’s concerns and comments. It gives me pause. What do you think? Let’s talk about it.
DeeAnna Merz Nagel is a clinical counselor, teacher, workshop presenter, sat on the ACA Cyber Technology Taskforce, and is co-founder of the Online Therapy Institute.