Should Therapists Display Their Diplomas and Certificates?

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?

What should be displayed on the wall in a therapist’s office?; photo by favaro JR.

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.

Using decorations and lighting  to make our clients feel welcome and safe; see more about it here;
photo by favaro JR.

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.

The wall of fame – a reminder for us and a message for the clients?;
photo by a2gemma

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.

How many credentials should you display?; photo by nimishgogri

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.

Different people will decide to display different things;
photo by futurowoman
There appeared to be relatively little downside to the display of credentials, as fewer than 10% of the participants in any condition made exclusively negative comments about the display of credentials, and some of these negative comments had more to do with the aesthetic arrangement of the credentials than with the idea of displaying qualifications.
Participants were sensitive to the aestetic aspect of displayed items; photo by favaro JR.

“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:

5 Responses to “Should Therapists Display Their Diplomas and Certificates?”

  1. Interesting article, thanks! Do you, as environmental psychologist (presuming that you are 😉 ), have your psychology diploma’s on your wall? I’m doubting for a while, but I think your diploma convinced me.

  2. It’s funny, but no, my diploma is somewhere in the closet 🙂

    I currently work as a school psychologist and would like to change something about my office, but I’m not sure I’d put my credentials up so fast. My clients are my students and I’m not sure they need proof of my competence that much (the age difference and social roles we have already put us in different positions). I belive that they need something to bring us closer instead of emphasizing the differences between “us” and “them”. Maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe I’m one of those people who’d be more comfortable with something else on the wall.

    But, but.. If I went to a therapist, I’d like to know that they had some specialized psychotherapy training done. A long and intese training, too 🙂

    Anyway, thank you for your comment, it’s much appreciated. Unfortunatly, I don’t speak a bit of dutch, so I’m just guessing what your posts are about (google translator doesn’t work as well as one might expect).

    • Fair point about the distance between student and psychologist.

      You’re welcome! I used to have a English blog, however, I noticed that my main target, the Dutch, didn’t read it. So therefore I switched back to Dutch. In future, I think I will hire some translate bureau to share my thoughts in English either 😉

  3. Great! Looking forward to it 🙂


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