Scope and ethics of psychologists’ use of client testimonials on professional websites
American Psychological Association
Background: Testimonials are statements on behalf of current or former clients that may comment on the abilities, qualifications, or personal characteristics of a health care provider, or attest to outcomes experienced after receipt of services. Although the use of client testimonials in promotional materials is prohibited by both the Canadian Psychological Association Practice Guidelines and by guidelines or legislation in a majority of provinces, a portion of registered psychologists’ professional websites may still display client testimonials or link to third-party provider rating sites (e.g., RateMDs.com, Yelp.ca). With little oversight by governing bodies, the scope of this practice is unknown. This article examines how often testimonials appear on the websites of Canadian psychologists and group practices, and discusses ethical guidelines and issues surrounding this practice. Method: We examined the professional websites of practicing registered psychologists (N = 433) selected from the provincial directories of five provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec). Results: Of sampled websites, 4.2% included client testimonials, 1.2% explicitly solicited testimonials, and 1.4% included links to external provider rating websites. Of the testimonials displayed on psychologists’ websites, 38.9% contained potentially identifying information. Conclusions: Client testimonials are used by psychologists in Canada despite national guidelines against this practice. Although clients who provide anonymous testimonials are unlikely to be harmed by this practice, there is still a risk of harm occurring. Furthermore, because testimonials represent a highly biased source of information, their use may reflect poorly on the psychology profession.