As a mental health professional in today’s digital age, you’ve most likely prepared yourself for the possibility of receiving a negative online review. They can appear on your social media page, website, or Yelp profile—anywhere people might review your services. You might even have received one already.
Negative reviews of therapy services aren’t uncommon. Yet they may not always be truthful. If a current or former client has left negative comments, you may feel betrayed, confused, or worried. You may wonder whether the review will harm the success of your business and how to respond to the review, especially if it’s less than factual.
Why Writing a Rebuttal May Make Things Worse
If you receive an online review that criticizes you or your practice, your first instinct may be to respond to the post and correct any accusations or inaccuracies. But in most cases, responding directly to the review is not the best course of action. Since your response effectively confirms that you’ve worked with the client, you could easily violate their right to confidentiality—and HIPAA laws—simply by responding.
You might find it helpful to share a standardized message on your online profiles. Consider saying something like, “In order to protect confidentiality, I’m not able to reply to public reviews.” You could also offer alternatives for people who want to leave a negative review. For example, you may encourage unsatisfied individuals to call or email you so you can try to resolve any complaints.
Even if you can respond without violating HIPAA legislation, try to avoid a hasty, impulsive reply or one that shows your frustration. Your response could further upset a client who truly feels wronged. They may continue to post negative comments or replies. If you know who left the review and you feel comfortable doing so, you might consider reaching out to them through email or phone. This might not be appropriate in all cases though, so you may want to seek advice from a colleague or legal advisor first.
When Does a Bad Review Become Defamation?
A negative review may be considered defamation if it is used solely to make personal attacks on you. For example, an individual may attack your religion, gender, or ethnicity. These reviews might have nothing to do with your private practice or the therapy you provide.
You may also be able to get a review removed if it is blatantly and objectively false. For example, someone you don’t recognize might claim you “ruined their marriage” even though you only see children and adolescents in your practice. You could likely prove that the claim was false because you do not offer marriage counseling.
If a review says something truly appalling or false, you may fear it will hurt the success of your practice. If a negative reviewer persists, you might consider taking legal action against them. But legally pursuing even defamatory reviews may not help. This may cost a lot of money, and your efforts might not succeed. If they do, it’s possible the negative publicity could be even worse than the negative review.
But if you do keep getting defamatory reviews from a particular reviewer, consider talking to the webmaster. Ask them to help you determine if the reviewer is legitimate or a troll. They may not be able to actually give you any information, but they may be able to help prevent trolls from leaving fake reviews.
Keeping Criticism in Perspective
Receiving negative reviews can cause significant distress. You might begin to doubt your capabilities as a therapist or fear you’re doing more harm than good. It’s also common to worry about negative reviews harming your livelihood by making people think twice before reaching out to you for help. This might contribute to anxiety about your future success as a therapist.
If you’ve received a bad review or two, try not to feel too concerned. In general, a few negative reviews won’t harm your practice’s success, especially if you have other positive reviews to balance them out. You may wish to work with your own therapist to explore any negative emotions the reviews bring up for you. Talking to a colleague or supervisor about the problem can also help.
When multiple negative reviews mention some of the same complaints, you might want to consider whether there is some truth to the reviews. Say, for example, that multiple reviewers have pointed out that your cancellation policy is unclear and they were charged for missed appointments when they thought they’d cancelled in time. It may help to revise your cancellation policy to fix this problem.
If a few people have said their sessions felt rushed or you seemed distracted, ask yourself if there have been times when you’ve felt less than present. Consider how you might set aside time to clear your mind or ground yourself before a session so that you can offer the most support to the people you’re working with.
Protecting Your Practice
You can also take steps on your own to protect your practice.
While it’s a violation of ethics codes to ask therapy clients to leave positive reviews, you can ask your colleagues and supervisors to review your business. Colleagues can review your professional abilities by mentioning your research, any articles or books you’ve written, and other ways you’ve contributed to the mental health field.
You could consider offering an optional internet-based survey after treatment is finished. This way clients can anonymously let you know if there’s any way you can improve your therapy services and grow as a therapist. Giving your clients a chance to respond privately can make it less likely they’ll leave a negative review publicly, especially if they know their voice will be heard.
Tell clients in their first session that you value feedback. Encourage them to reach out to you with any difficulties or disappointments that come up during the therapy process. Letting them know you will listen to what they have to say can help foster a strong therapeutic relationship. Being open about disagreements can help prevent resentment from interfering with treatment.
Negative reviews are rarely pleasant to receive. If these reviews have caused you emotional distress, consider reaching out to a therapist trained in supporting other mental health professionals. But try to remember that a negative review or two usually won’t cause any lasting harm to your private practice so long as you continue to provide compassionate, ethical care.
- Chamberlin, J. (2014). One-star therapy? Monitor on Psychology, 45(4). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/04/therapy
- Reinhardt, R. (2015, April 30). Ethical pitfalls of online testimonials and reviews. Counseling Today. Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2015/04/ethical-pitfalls-of-online-testimonials-and-reviews
- Wallin, P. (2016, March 9). Ethical ways for psychologists to counteract negative reviews online. The National Psychologist. Retrieved from https://nationalpsychologist.com/2016/03/ethical-ways-for-psychologists-to-counteract-negative-reviews-online/103210.html
- Zur, O. (n.d.). Modern day digital revenge: Responding to the emerging problem of online negative reviews by disgruntled or discontent psychotherapy clients on Yelp.com, Angie’s List, or other review sites. Zur Institute. Retrieved from https://www.zurinstitute.com/clinical-updates/negative-online-reviews