They’re (sadly) a rite of passage.
The more successful you become, the greater the likelihood you’ll start getting them.
It only takes one person who’s having a bad day (or month, or year, or lifetime).
You don’t even have to do anything “wrong.” You can conduct yourself perfectly in every possible way…but someone is going to decide for reasons of their own to go online and defame you.
They might leave a negative review for your practice on Google.
They might jump onto Facebook and defame your practice right on your own practice Facebook page.
They can even go find a service like the Better Business Bureau and spread negativity about your work there – and, as you’ll find, there’s only so much you can do to counter baseless negative claims even on a service that’s supposedly reputable like the BBB.
So, since negative reviews are basically inevitable if you’re at all committed to growing a successful practice, the real question is:
What Are Your Ethical Options
for Handling the Reality of Negative Reviews?
First, the bad news.
In most states, therapists are disallowed from directly soliciting positive testimonials or reviews.
So, you can’t just contact your existing clients and ask them to leave positive feedback online. This would place your client in an awkward and potentially compromising position completely separate from your work together in the therapeutic alliance.
There is some good news, though.
First off, you are typically able to ask graduated clients to leave positive feedback for you wherever they feel comfortable doing so. They can do this anonymously on most services (by using a pseudonym, for example). When therapy is complete, there is no concern of compromising your relationship by placing this ask on them.
(As with anything ethics-related, be sure to consult your state board for specifics on how these things work in the state where you’re licensed.)
Another option is to ask other professionals for cross-reviews.
They review you based on your character and what they know of you thanks to your relationship as colleagues. (Obviously they should not present themselves as clients in their reviews, but it’s still totally allowable on most review services for people to attest to your character and what you’re like to work with professionally.)
You can do the same for them – leave them some helpful reviews attesting to the quality of their work based on your knowledge of how they operate, the success stories you’ve watched them create, etc.
Your Best Prospective Clients Aren’t Stupid
There’s another key point to keep in mind so you don’t feel totally overwhelmed by a few negative reviews when they crop up.
Your best potential clients are likely savvy, intelligent, hard-working, and successful. Like attracts like, and it’s natural to want to work with great people – people who will actually put what you work on together into practice; people who value what you offer; people who are committed to doing the actual work of positive change.
When a prospective client like this runs across a negative online review, guess what? They are smart enough to read between the lines.
It’s pretty obvious when a negative online review is written by someone with an axe to grind. Few one-star reviews are considered and balanced. So, it’s quite easy for clients you’d actually like to work with to see through the imbalanced one-star craziness.
Focus On Doing Great Work – and Ignore the Haters
In the moment, it’s heartbreaking to receive a negative review that really aims below the belt.
It’s maddening that there are so few avenues of recourse for ethical practice owners to combat defamation online.
And, in fact, the way things are geared, consumers wield by far the majority of the power in terms of online reputation management.
When we received our first one-star review, it hurt. It really did.
I had no idea that services like the Better Business Bureau allowed people who had literally only spoken to us for 20 or 30 minutes to then go and leave a permanent negative review for all to read for the rest of time. It’s unbelievable that this is how things work…but it’s still how things work. As business owners, it’s just one more challenge we have to navigate.
So, when you get a negative review on whichever service (Yelp, Google, Facebook, BBB, etc.) – do what you can, and then move on.
Contest any fake reviews.
Solicit reviews from colleagues and graduated clients.
Do your best work each day in each session.
And go to sleep each night knowing that you do great work and make a big difference in your clients’ lives.
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