The ethics of using testimonials to help create trust

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Here’s a thorny issue for you! We were asked recently whether it was ‘ok’ to use client testimonials to promote a therapy practice.
There is no definitive right or wrong answer regarding the use of client testimonials, and a lot of it depends on your branch of therapy, who you ask and how you go about asking them.
Client testimonials can obviously be a good marketing tool. If a potential client is feeling nervous about starting a therapy, or is unsure of what to expect, feedback from previous clients can be a useful way to make them feel more at ease and encourage them to choose you.
However, there are a number of questions to consider before deciding whether or not to use testimonials – and how to go about getting them.
Some professional bodies and associations state that testimonials from clients are not to be used for marketing purposes, so do check first. If you are allowed to use them, depending on your type of therapy, it is quite possible that your clients may feel vulnerable, especially if your field is psychotherapy or counselling. It is important to consider who and how you ask, in order to avoid making vulnerable clients feel that they have to provide a review of your services when they’re not completely comfortable doing so.  Indeed, some therapists decide that it is best to not ask for testimonials at all.
If you do decide to use testimonials, options you could consider include:
– providing a satisfaction questionnaire, at the end of treatment, and giving them a box to tick if they are happy for you to use their comments for marketing purposes without identifying them
– sending them a friendly follow up email, asking if they would consider providing feedback
– giving them a form, which they can fill in using their name, initials, or anonymously, and leave in a secure drop box in the reception of your practice in their own time
For clarity, explain how their feedback will be used (e.g. on your website, will you use their name, initials or an anonymous quotation; how long will it be on view), and obtain permission accordingly.
As an example, here is how one practice uses them. As you can see most clients here have chosen to remain anonymous, or initials are used.
If you decide against using testimonials from individuals, you could always consider asking colleagues, business clients or GP surgeries, who have experience with you as a person and how you work. Arguably, this eliminates some ethical concerns as they are less likely to feel vulnerable or under obligation.
What do you think?