Fellow psychologists, counselors and psychotherapists, do you proudly display your diplomas and certificates for your clients to see them? Or do you feel uncomfortable with the idea, believing you should confirm your expertness through your work and that your clients could perceive your self-promotion as undesirable?
As you are aware, there is evidence that many factors, beside specific therapeutic techniques, play important role in psychotherapeutic process. Such factors may be the therapist’s gender and age, impression formation based on the therapist’s appearance or manners, or the environment in which the therapy or counseling occurs.
Devlin and her colleagues (2009) contributed to the research of environmental factors influencing therapeutic process by examining the number of credentials in the therapist’s office and the potential clients’ judgments of a therapist’s competence. According to prior research, when counselors have evidence of specialized training, through the display of diplomas and certificates, their perceived expertness can be enhanced (Heppner & Pew, 1977; Siegel & Sell, 1978, according to Devlin et al. , 2009). The client’s belief in what the therapist can do is very important for forming a client-therapist relationship, which is often considered to be essential in psychotherapy (relationship with the client is important for counselors, too, even though counseling is usually focused on specific problems and goals, and is shorter in duration).
Two credentials; photo by kevinspencer
However, there’s also an idea that too much display of success or accomplishment can backfire (Ashforth & Gibbs, 1990, according to Devlin, 2009), and that self promotion can be perceived as there’s something wrong (successful professionals can afford to be modest, so if you need to promote yourself, what does that mean?). That’s why Devlin and her students used 4 conditions – an image of a room with 2 credentials displayed, the same room with 4 credentials and with as much as 9 credentials, plus a control condition with no credentials. After viewing one of those images, each participant was asked to rate various personal characteristics of the therapist.
Results indicated that displaying diplomas and other indicators of achievement positively impacts people’s judgments of a therapist’s qualifications (e.g., his or her skill, experience, achievement orientation, training, and authoritativeness). A display of such credentials was also positively related to people’s assessment of the energy or dynamism of the therapist (e.g., being active rather than passive, bold rather than timid, forceful rather than forceless). And it appears that even as many as nine-credentials positively impact evaluations of the therapist’s qualifications and energy, rather than being considered excessive.
The inclusion of a control condition revealed that the qualities included in the factor which Devlin named Friendliness (kindness, interest in clients, welcoming, congenial) were negatively impacted when no credentials were displayed, but two credentials didn’t make much difference – there needed to be more than two credentials for a significant positive effect. Authors argued that the display of credentials might be perceived by the viewer (the client) as a kind of self-disclosure, suggesting that the therapist is revealing something of him or herself to the viewer.
“Displaying credentials will not substitute for quality of care, but people do form impressions based on what they see,” Devlin concluded in Connecticut Collage’s news bulletin. “It’s a competitive health care environment, and more attention should be paid to the quality of the physical environment.” So if you were in doubt about displaying credentials out of concern how your clients would see them, just go for it! If you’re also comfortable with seeing them, of course.
The quality of decor in a therapist office matters; photo by fromtherightbank
1. Devlin, A.S., Donovan, S., Nicolov, A., Nold, O., Packard, A. & Zandan, G. (2009). ‘‘Impressive?’’ Credentials, family photographs, and the perception of therapist qualities. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29, 503–512.
2. Connecticut Collage web site/ news: http://www.conncoll.edu/news/5872.cfm