This post is a day later than planned, reasons for which I completely put at the feet of Mr Bob Burns, one of the true honest and interesting characters in the industry and with whom I became engrossed in a two hour Skype conversation. I like Bob’s frankness and it seemed that he shared some of my views when it came to the use and validity of testimonials in the helping and therapy profession.
My motivation for writing about this topic was on the back of a number of posts I read on social media while on holiday where therapists had shared glowing testimonials from their clients. Now, I will say to begin with that there is a time and a place for testimonials. I use them sparingly for training purposes (though I don’t ask for several weeks for reasons which will later become apparent) as it is what potential students certainly look for when researching schools and trainers to learn from, but I have to say, not so much with my therapy work. One of the reasons for this is that I generally don’t need to, my client base is relatively niche (predominantly in the City office) and organically grows through word of mouth. The other reason is that I genuinely question the validity of the process of reaping and sowing things that allude to positive results and unfortunately question some of the therapists doing it on social media.
I don’t want this to become a contentious and provocative post so I will say to give balance that there are times when testimonials can be incredibly useful and insightful just as long as they are looked at objectively. Perhaps the most common testimonial that appears on social media is the before and after photographs of a weight loss client and, these too can help a potential client pick the therapist they feel is best suited to the job of helping them emulate the success on display. This is a decent form of testimonial – to a point. They also cannot tell the whole story that sometimes sudden and dramatic weight loss often is a precursor to even quicker weight gain under the wrong guidance, but hey, at least weight loss snapshots are giving a future client some positive and tangible expectations of success.
My favourite testimonials are when there has been an element of time passing and out of the blue a client contacts you to give you an unexpected update that they have; never been happier, met someone, physically improved, stayed slim, got promoted, not smoked in two years etc and they directly attribute it to you. Even I, touched by an acknowledgement after so much time has passed, will savour those welcome messages and share them with others.
However it is very important that prospective clients do look at someones ‘testimonials’ of success with some objectivity. Generally when confronted with a therapists questions (and carefully phrased ones at that) at the end of a session a client is more likely to say they feel better even if they do not. Not many therapists will admit it but it happens to be true. Due to a placebo effect at work even shit therapists can get outstanding results at the end of a session and for the next day or two afterwards. Not many therapists will admit that either but again, I believe it to be true and especially when therapists are running whistle stop sessions and a rushed urgency throws extra feelings of confusion and being overwhelmed into the mix (I would love to say I had empirical evidence to back it up but it us just a shameless hunch of mine born out of experience – sorry!) – clients will feel different and for some therapists thats enough to get writing.
It was two such testimonials from two operators of varying degrees of experience, with next day hallelujahs being shared with all and sundry that got me thinking. Should positive feedback from a client the very next day be reason enough to share it with others as evidence of success? Let me give a quick example of something that happened in my own practice recently, where premature ‘high fiving’ can quickly bite you in the arse;
I recently had a lovely lady come in to see me as a last resort in helping her overcome a tinnitus problem that had plagued her for thirty years. There was plenty of work that needed doing with her – she had an unhelpful turn of language and field of focus that was undoubtedly exacerbating her problem, but being the old fashioned kind of trainer that practices what he teaches, I used hypnosis and a regression to cause approach to deal with the issue. Well to say it worked a treat would be an understatement! The client felt elated at the end of the session and as I walked back to the office I hallucinated that the spirit of Dave Elman himself was with me every step of the way. I walked into my front door, whistling Eye of the Tiger and immediately reported to the missus that I wished I had recorded the session I just had as a gift for future students and possibly the profession itself in years to come.
Three days later I got an email to say that the noise was back and more aggressive than ever! I was deflated to say the least but even amazing therapists like me need these sobering experiences every now and again to give us a touch of reality. I could have easily got carried away with myself, jumped on Facebook and shared my brilliance far beyond the ears of my half interested missus (she was cooking ‘four different dinners’ and was only half listening anyway) and the ghost of Dave Elman.
Luckily though I didn’t. For some therapists, immediately as they close the door behind the client success or failure has already been determined. But this is not how it should be. Don’t get me wrong, we can only work with what we have in front of us at any time, we can only test, future pace and gauge SUD’s (subjective units of distress) at that moment, but that, nor the next day, should warrant or be classed as a positive testimonial to be immediately shared.
I do believe from personal experiences, such as that which I just shared, that you need to be responsible in sharing cases as proof of eminence too quickly. Bob made the observation yesterday that for some therapists ‘no news is great news’ and they will happily count that too as a win. This simply isn’t the case either.
Using glowing testimonials, especially so soon after working with a client, for me is skating on thin ice as it may make the intention of the therapist a little ambiguous. Sure if a client who was coming to see you for pain control successfully had their foot amputated without any chemical anaesthesia, by all means ring up the local newspaper, but if a stressed or anxious client happens to wake up the next day and feel fantastic, firstly don’t necessarily whiz down to Waitrose and buy a bottle of bubbly and secondly, certainly don’t go shouting it from the rooftops just yet.
Equally, it is also imperative that qualified therapists attending CPD classes and further training courses apply the same level of scrutiny to the results they are seeing harvested in a class environment. I mentor (other therapists as well as former students) these days and sometimes the frustration is tangible when they cannot emulate the success they witness in the classroom and yes that can go for my own students too. I have to explain to them that some of the same psychological principles are at play and actually will generally have a more profound effect in an environment involving demonstrations and teaching. In other words, people who have paid good money, sitting in a room of lots of other people who have paid good money, tend to go along with the proceedings in a very accommodating way.
I was invited to a class recently as a guest where the instructor clearly uses what he was teaching regularly and because he is congruent with that particular technique and other hypnotic techniques, he taught them very well as a result. In contrast last year I attended a class (of some thirty plus students) only to discover that not only had I flushed a big wedge of my money down the karzy and learnt bugger all, it was clear that more than half of the other attendees felt the same. But shamefully when asked at the end of it if I had enjoyed it, like I dick I said yes (as did most of the other grumblers). Its what we stupid people do and what it means is, the former teacher who knew his onions probably only had the same number of positive testimonials as the latter despite being a much better instructor.
Being polite (and terribly british) even when we are not satisfied, we say we are good when we are not or we don’t say anything at all (we’ve all had that heated discussion in a restaurant with our other halves). There are therapists and trainers who would take both as positive testimonials!
Be responsible. Whether you’re a therapist a trainer, or a client looking for the right person to help you. Be objective about how you use and interpret testimonials.
To enjoy Bob Burns as much as I do, enrol on his Pre Convention Class this October by following the link below. You may also wish to enjoy another uncredited trainer Post Convention (referred to only as former teacher) when he teaches his Kinetic Shift Class.
Sod it why not make a weekend of it and book the full convention too!