Are you a psychologist? What are the guidelines governed by the APA when it comes to collecting video testimonials?
What are the guidelines governed by the APA (American Psychological Associations) when it comes to collecting video testimonials?
Navigating the Ethical Guidelines Surrounding Testimonials for Psychologists and Psychology Practices
In this world of online reviews, video testimonials and social proof, most businesses can – and should – solicit customer experiences for their use in marketing and advertising their business. But, for mental health professionals, there are some restrictions and certain approaches can be considered unethical and are not permissible.
So, how can a psychology practice garner testimonials to promote their business without violating the APA Ethics Code?
According to the American Psychological Associations (APA) Ethics Code, the answer falls under the section addressing Ethical Standards for Advertising and Other Public Statements.
APA guidelines are in place to protect patient confidentiality and ensure ethical standards are met by psychologists. §5.05 states that psychologists do not solicit testimonials from current therapy clients/patients or other persons who because of their particular circumstances are vulnerable to undue influence.
Before we explore what you can do to obtain testimonials, let’s visit the APA Ethics Code applicable to testimonials and public information to understand the formal guidelines and limitations.
- 5.01 Avoidance of False or Deceptive Statements
(a) Public statements include but are not limited to paid or unpaid advertising, product endorsements, grant applications, licensing applications, other credentialing applications, brochures, printed matter, directory listings, personal resumes or curricula vitae, or comments for use in media such as print or electronic transmission, statements in legal proceedings, lectures and public oral presentations, and published materials. Psychologists do not knowingly make public statements that are false, deceptive, or fraudulent concerning their research, practice, or other work activities or those of persons or organizations with which they are affiliated. (b) Psychologists do not make false, deceptive, or fraudulent statements concerning (1) their training, experience, or competence; (2) their academic degrees; (3) their credentials; (4) their institutional or association affiliations; (5) their services; (6) the scientific or clinical basis for, or results or degree of success of, their services; (7) their fees; or (8) their publications or research findings. (c) Psychologists claim degrees as credentials for their health services only if those degrees (1) were earned from a regionally accredited educational institution or (2) were the basis for psychology licensure by the state in which they practice.
- 5.02 Statements by Others
(a) Psychologists who engage others to create or place public statements that promote their professional practice, products, or activities retain professional responsibility for such statements. (b) Psychologists do not compensate employees of press, radio, television, or other communication media in return for publicity in a news item. (c) A paid advertisement relating to psychologists’ activities must be identified or clearly recognizable as such.
- 5.05 Testimonials
Psychologists do not solicit testimonials from current therapy clients/patients or other persons who because of their particular circumstances are vulnerable to undue influence.
- 5.06 In-Person Solicitation
Psychologists do not engage, directly or through agents, in uninvited in-person solicitation of business from actual or potential therapy clients/patients or other persons who because of their particular circumstances are vulnerable to undue influence. However, this prohibition does not preclude (1) attempting to implement appropriate collateral contacts for the purpose of benefiting an already engaged therapy client/patient or (2) providing disaster or community outreach services.
Further, the following represents parameters to follow in every case of patient/client protection and confidentiality:
- Informed Consent and Confidentiality: Testimonials in psychology must adhere to strict rules regarding informed consent and client confidentiality. Prior to collecting testimonials, psychologists must obtain informed consent from clients, explaining how their testimonials will be used and ensuring their confidentiality and privacy will be protected.
- Protection of Client Welfare: The well-being and welfare of clients must be a psychologist’s primary concern. Testimonials should not exploit or harm clients in any way. Psychologists should exercise caution and ensure that testimonials do not reveal sensitive or personally identifiable information without proper consent.
- Avoidance of Coercion or Pressure: Psychologists must avoid any form of solicitation, coercion, pressure, or undue influence when collecting testimonials. Clients should feel free to provide testimonials voluntarily and without feeling obligated to do so.
- Anonymous or Pseudonymous Testimonials: It is recommended to use anonymous or pseudonymous testimonials in psychology to protect client privacy. This helps ensure that clients’ identities are not disclosed without their explicit consent.
- Avoidance of Misleading Claims: Testimonials should not contain misleading or exaggerated claims regarding psychological treatment or outcomes. Psychologists must present testimonials in a way that accurately represents clients’ experiences without making unsupported or false claims.
- Ethical Use of Testimonials: Psychologists must use testimonials in an ethical manner. This includes avoiding testimonials that create unjustified expectations, misrepresent the effectiveness of treatment, or endorse unproven or questionable interventions.
- Professional Competence and Expertise: Psychologists must ensure that testimonials accurately reflect their professional competence and expertise. Testimonials should not make claims that go beyond the psychologist’s scope of practice or falsely imply credentials or qualifications that the psychologist does not possess.
- Advertising Standards and Guidelines: Testimonials in psychology should comply with relevant advertising standards and guidelines. Psychologists should review and adhere to the APA’s guidelines on advertising and ensure that testimonials do not violate any ethical or legal standards.
Psychologists are encouraged to consult the APA’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct for detailed guidance on the appropriate collection and use of testimonials. It is crucial to work within these limitations to maintain professional ethics, protect client well-being, and promote trust and credibility within the field of psychology.
What can you do to procure and use testimonials?
Given that psychologists and psychology practices cannot solicit testimonials, here’s what you can do:
Ask for testimonials from people other than your patients/clients. Begin with your colleagues who understand your practice and can speak responsibly to your approach, vouching for your expertise without compromising patient/client confidentiality.
Collect and post your own testimonials. You are already being graded on other sites such as Yelp, HealthGrades.com, wellness.com and other professional sources. Site the source, date, and links to the original review.
Attach your social media business accounts to your professional website for professional connections to leave reviews.
Inspire an unsolicited review. Providing exceptional service will often produce unsolicited reviews. People want to share their positive experiences with others.
Gather feedback from workshops. In a workshop setting, you can gather feedback attributed to a group, instead of any individual. This group can be comprised of patients/clients, colleagues, friends, students, so the patient confidentiality issue is removed.
Collect clippings from the media (including print, video, and online sources) that include impressions of your work.
Ambiguities and What They Mean for You
The rules and guidelines of the APA Ethics Code are clear. But, almost as important as what’s in the Ethics Code is what isn’t. What if a patient/client wants to give a review? Are there ways to garner testimonials while operating within the guidelines?
We see several circumstances under which testimonials can be derived because the Ethics Code does not speak to instances where:
- A psychologist who has received express approval by a patient/client without solicitation for speaking about case studies, treatments, therapies, experiences of a patient/client
- An unsolicited patient who learns about a testimonial opportunity through means other than their psychologist who might choose to participate in giving a testimonial, and to what extent they can comment on their own treatment/therapy
- An unsolicited opportunity for a patient to give their testimony, experience, or recommendation for a psychologist’s practice
We draw the conclusion that the absence of guidelines in these circumstances translates to their being no restrictions or guidelines.
If a patient/client learns of a channel to provide feedback, reviews and video testimonials, there seems to be no preclusion for them to do so. In the abovementioned suggestions, there’s nothing to stop your patients/clients from also giving a review where it might read “Colleague reviews” with a QR code or link to a video testimonial company you’ve retained.
When working with SHARE.ONE, we provide consent forms, obtain verbal consent on the video itself, and include language such as “giving this testimonial of my free will…” and should consider using language that the interviewee is under no duress, pressure, or influence to give such testimonial.
Asking former patients/clients for testimonials
According to The Practice Institute, behavioral health consultants, in a piece written in 20212, provide this view of asking former clients in the behavioral health sect:
The ethics codes of counselors specifically states that former clients should not be asked for testimonials for two years after termination of services.
The ethics codes of psychologists, social workers and MFTs do not specifically prohibit asking for testimonials from former clients, but they do note that professionals need to avoid exploiting anyone who may be vulnerable to undue influence.
Consider that sometimes clients return after 5, 10 or more years. Asking former clients to give testimonials can contaminate the therapeutic relationship that you established with them. Thus, it is best to assume that “once a client, always a client” and to never to ask former clients for testimonials.
We’re in an age of social proof. There are ways that psychologists’ practices can obtain this while still operating within the APA Ethics Code. But strict adherence to the Ethics Code is strongly recommended.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal or ethical advice. All practitioners are responsible for understanding the legal and ethical guidelines that apply to their situation.
Relevant Mental Health Professionals’ Ethics Codes
Psychologists do not solicit testimonials from cur-rent therapy clients/patients or other persons who because of their particular circumstances are vulnerable to undue influence.
(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 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.
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 do not engage in the exploitation of clients, students, trainees, supervisees, employees, colleagues, or research subjects.
Top Questions to Ask During a Testimonial
Download the worksheet that guides you to create the best questions to ask during a testimonial interview.