Yelp: Modern Day Revenge

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

It has become quite common for ethical-legal experts in the last couple of years to receive a request for consultation with a therapist who has encountered a negative or toxic review on an online web site, such as Yelp or Health Grades, by a current client or ex-client.

Therapists often respond with shock, dread, and an understandable fear for the future of their reputations and practices, as well as their economic futures, when they see highly negative reviews of themselves on Yelp. One of the biggest mistakes that therapists can make is responding to the negative review with an online rebuttal.

Remember that just because a client has posted a negative review of your service on Yelp, even if that person gives information that identifies himself or herself, this does NOT mean you can respond to the review in any way that compromises the client’s confidentiality, including acknowledging or confirming that this person is or was a client. 

Asking clients to post positive reviews is unethical. However, there are many proactive steps that you can do in response to a negative review on Yelp.

  • Nearly all mental health disciplines have ethics codes that prohibit the solicitation of testimonials from clients. It is the clients’ prerogative to post positive reviews of their therapists.
  • Therapists can solicit testimonials from colleagues and supervisors (although review sites may delete these if they believe the reviewer was not a customer of your service).
  • It is important to note that one negative review among several positive reviews is not likely to have a significant negative effect on your practice. In fact, one negative review next to several positive reviews may inform potential future clients that the varied reviews are authentic and are not simply manufactured by the therapist.

Blessing in Disguise: Potentially, the most positive aspect of getting a negative review on Yelp or similar websites is that it can provide the impetus or inspiration for therapists to create a robust positive online presence, provide quality online content, and develop an effective marketing tool to reach people using online searches to seek out therapy or counseling services.

Creating a robust online presence may include:

  • Posting a modern looking, professionally presented, informative website with helpful & useful clinical information (not just links to professional organizations’ web sites).
  • Incorporating in your website your photo and a short well-produced video featuring you and including both personal and professional introductions of yourself. Your goal is to give potential clients a sense of you, your expertise and the nature and scope of your practice.
  • Providing degree, license, contact information, etc. Of course, include office location unless you exclusively provide telemental health or e-therapy.
  • Creating social media profiles for yourself (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.) and being continuously active on these sites.
  • Posting your own content on online blogs and journals (with, of course, links to your website).
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