It's a site in mental health in which one person or company puts up websites and gives themselves unbelievably positive reviews on these sites. Each site claims they have actual client reviews and to be "objective."
In the particular one I'm reviewing, no less than 5 websites ranked a single company "The BEST" or "#1" across the USA! Curiously there is a remarkable similarity in every one of these websites, despite these rankings claiming to be "...based on user feedback and expert reviews."
UPDATE: And when the owner of the winning business was contacted expressing the enormous ethical concerns of engaging in such a practice, every website underwent sudden change. But the "ranking" system favoring THE WINNER" NEVER CHANGED.
Many of these sites showed up overnight. They all sang the same song. Told the same story. Voted identically for the #1. And they changed just as quickly overnight.
This page examines how the most respected couples researcher (John Gottman) compared on these sites. It shows how fraudulent these ratings were, and how quickly they were removed when these deceptive practices were brought to life.
I'll be looking critically at the reviews on the following 5 sites:
Fake Review sites are popping up all over the internet in health care. Here John Oliver explains the rehab "fake review" sites. (from 14:30-15:35)
Notice that all of these sites use the "R.A.T." formula: These sites Rank clinicians (with one clear leader), are Anonymous and ask you to Trust them without providing real objective criteria.
People tend to go to "review" sites for reliable information when in severe distress. When an SEO marketer runs a series of webpages "reviewing" therapists, they should be based on real criterion, and not made up of phony "consumer reviews."
In reality, there should be no "rankings" at all. Respectable sites have given up on ranking one therapist "superior" over another. PsychologyToday.com and GoodTherapy.org simply list therapist's degrees, years of experience, and allow the therapist to talk about themselves and their approaches.
In contrast, Fake Sites (R.A.T.'s) have an agenda. They offer "rankings" ("Good", "Better", "Best", "Outstanding") or numbers (#1 to #10) based upon some vague criterion that can't be proved or disproved.
They often list other "contenders" to make it look fair and objective, but also to quiet the competition. Accepting crumbs, (a little bit of free advertising) they figure, is superior to no advertising. But they also encourage unsuspecting clinicians to put 'badges' on their own sites to enhance the RAT's ranking in the search engines.
It's devious and powerful. These RATs quickly gain traction and show up "Top" in searches...all designed to lead people to believe that THE WINNER is actually superior in some vague way.
As you will read below, once I contacted a repeated WINNER on this series of these RAT websites, expressing ethical concerns, several of these sites abruptly mutated and, the changes were significant. But the ranking system remained.
This first site, Marriage Intensive Network, lists the "Top 50 Marriage Intensive Retreats in 2018." See how they follow the RAT formula of a Fake Website:
Each page has a header and sidebar reminding you that they have ranked the "Top" Sites: A simpler choice than slogging through 50 pages. Words like: "Best Choice" and "Top Pick" are repeatedly used.
No "experts" are identified. No "criterion" is spelled out. No names are associated with who runs the website or how they judge the feedback. The reader has no way of knowing how or if this "user feedback" is actually accumulated and if it is, how they measure this complicated feedback.
We learned that THE WINNER controls it all.
They advertise the following TRUST features seen in RATs:
"We list the top couples counseling retreats in the U.S. based on user feedback and expert reviews. We then rank them accordingly."
"Our ratings & reviews are independently done. No company or intensive can buy their way on our top 50 list."
"Marriage Intensive Network expert reviewers compare marriage intensives in the U.S. for you so you don't have to."
RATs Lie With Impunity. They claim objectivity were none exist. They claim "no one can buy their way in" because someone already has. And they change on a dime, re-writing text again and again.
It's fascinating to watch how a RAT site continues to change their story when a light is shown on their lies. You can always spot a RAT if you look for these RAT features.
For those who don't know him:
Nationally, and on "The West Coast", not so great.
John Gottman, is only able to make it to the #5 rank in the "West Coast" but falls to #8 slot under the National ranking.
The rankings are:
"Best Choice" "Runners Up" "Also Great" and "Also Good." He's labeled the lowest... "Also Good," until the site owner is confronted.
It's worth noting that the "Runner up" "Second" choice is 3x as expensive as the "Best," while "The Runner Up" in third place is twice as expensive as the winner in this retreat contest. A tried and true sales trick.
This review site did grant Drs. John & Julie Gottman #1 in Washington State because according to the website, he has:
"a really good reputation working with couples..."
An undeniable truth.
Like Russian Dolls, Washington State is nestled into "The West Coast" Retreats and again into the Nation. This way, the Kokomo winner shines at every level, while Dr. Gottman falls short. The rankings sit one under the other.
There are also disquieting wording on many State pages that serves as a constant reminder that you can pick someone ranked "good," like the Gottmans' or "The Best" IF you can afford it:
"For residents of X who don’t have the means to fly out to some of the more established retreats across the country, we’ve put together a list of the very best therapy retreats in the state of X below." - Marriage Intensive Network (emphasis added)
If you can't afford the best (which is the "WINNER") you'll have to settle for the rest... seems to be the message.
In contrast to the Gottmans, who muster faint praise, "advertising" his research, and pushing his location, [THE WINNER] was Ranked #1 in the Country because of a "flood of positive consumer feedback":
Since this review has been posted, they have tempered some of their language. But as long as a Ranking system remains, it continues to be deceptive advertising of healthcare services.
They describe their approach to ranking therapists who do retreats this way:
"The Rank My Therapist ranking system are based on an analysis of user reviews. We believe this unbiased approach makes our rankings more useful than simply providing our editors’ personal opinions....With so many intensives to choose from and so many things to consider, RankMyTherapist did the dirty work for you and rated the top intensives based on real customer feedback and reviews. Our reviews cover the very best intensives and bring you our findings. Some companies are not included in our review because quite frankly they were not rated very high by past participants. Here are 10 standout companies that time and time again score unusually high customer satisfaction marks on this site by past couples. (emphasis added) -
"Unbiased, user-generated health professional ratings, evaluations and testimonials and timely mental health resources."
[We take] "active steps to ensure that reviews on our site are true, factual and unbiased..." Rank My Therapist
The leadership at Rank My Therapist dot com is supported by a team of committed administrators, developers, sales and marketing professionals." (emphasis added)
That's big money. Where's it coming from?
The truth is, they hire cheap labor to throw up a fake website. Why are they doing this? Follow the money...
Rank My Therapist ranks only the top 10 Marriage Intensives in the USA and none by state. But the same lucky WINNER continues, with runner-ups #2 & #3 charging many times what [THE WINNER] does.
On this site, however, John Gottman has jumped to the #4 slot! And their main complaint is that it is a group retreat instead of a private therapy retreat. This is an apples to oranges comparison.
"After researching many weekend intensives around the country, we found there is really one retreat that is truly deserving of being called the very best counseling intensive in the U.S. We are confident that our #1 choice, [THE WINNER] based on user feedback and reviews is one of the most effective programs out there. Attendees have rated this intensive in the small, quiet Midwest city of Kokomo, Indiana extremely high. Participants are pleased with the curriculum, and have reported that their marital problems were corrected. The main reason this company outranks almost all other intensives in the country is for starters, they receive a tremendous amount of positive reviews on Rank My Therapist dot com far greater than any other company..." (emphasis added)
Think for a moment what this website is asking us to believe. Perhaps it's possible that they went door-to-door or hired telemarketers. "Did you go to any retreats over the last year?" With who?
Asking:" Were your marital problems corrected?"
How realistic does that sound to you? Can you imagine a roomful of minimum wage workers pouring through "reviews" and judging according to a sheet some guy gave them?
Of course not.
Perhaps it is a flood of emails from one contender to sway the vote?
It turns out to be all a RAT fraud.
These claims disappeared the next day when this writer warned the WINNER of possible ethics violations.
The point is, no one appears to care. YET.
What if it was the surgeon performing on your child?
Or, in the video above, the drug rehab center.
You don't fall for a cheesy TV ad, you do your research online. You look at over 6 websites who all vote one practice "The Best." "Five Star."
It turns out the center isn't objectively evaluated at all. One dubious therapist has set up all of these websites. Nameless. Faceless, even on their own website!
They knows how to engage in fake marketing, so they win every time. Does that sound right to you?
But Rank My Therapist was the kindest review the Gottman's life work got so far.
According to Hire My Health Pro:
"We research every intensive to recommend the best choices. User reviews, especially couples who have reported that their marriage improved after attending the retreat are heavily weighted, and are crucial to helping us finalize our top picks." (emphasis added) Hire My Health Pro
One's an accident, two is a coincidence. Three is...?
They begin by offering the reader a choice of reviews for either the Top-Rated Non-Religious Intensives or the Top-Rated Christian Only Intensives.
When limited to just 10 recommended retreats, Gottman manages to do a bit better.
On Hire My Health Pro, he ranked #4 out of 10 with an 8.84 out of 10 "score."
The concepts they claim to measure might even be a challenge to a master mathematician like Gottman, such as "Post-retreat Long Term Success Probability."
But in the "The Basics" section, things really get interesting.
The Gottman's got credit for living on "a beautiful tropical island."
"That alone..." the review states "...is enough to offer some real therapeutic benefits..."
Orcas Island in Washington State?
A tropical island?
Are they confusing this with the movie "Couples Retreat?"
No, "facts" are not important. Gottman's name is here to lend credibility to this RAT site.
Did you catch that one criteria is "Online Reputation Strength"? Guess who will win that contest? The WINNER who manipulates all 5 of these fake "independent Review" websites...
Treatment Quality Score? What questions were used to gain that from write-ins?
Suitability for Complex Marriage Issues? Who determined that a psychoeducational training SHOULD be suitable? Why are they mixing therapy retreats with psycho-education? What particular complexity are they referring to and how do they know that by someone writing in?
The list goes on and on, and it gets silly even asking. This is not a serious endeavor. It's designed simply to convince hurting couples that this phony website's reviews are trustworthy, and backed by "scientific metrics".
These "metrics" all disappeared after this writer contacted the WINNER.
John Gottman himself, struggled to create scientific metrics in couples therapy just like this.
It took him 40+ years. He is dishonored by even being mentioned in a site like this.
It's all a sham. But it's a sham people are counting on to heal and repair their marriage. Or drug problems. Or to pick an excellent heart surgeon.
In contrast to Gottman, who scores points only for "location, location, location," and his "advertised research", Hire My Health Pro gave the WINNER 9.5 of 10 for actual clinical skill.
Again and again Hire My Health Pro stresses the "objective measure" they use in their evaluation, a Trust element used in every RAT website.
In probably one of the most outrageous of the claims, HMHP argues while "The Gottman Institute advertises a 'research-based approach to relationships,'" the winning reviews have "hard-cold metrics behind them" (italics added).
Again, the blatant lies are incredible, especially after contacting the winner, one day later, these "metrics" simply vanish! All lies.
At a time when credible sites such as GoodTherapy.org and PsychologyToday.com have refused to rank therapists or gather and report on "customer satisfaction metrics" because of the many ethical considerations, these sites shamelessly pretend to do both. But it's always behind an invisible wall with invisible "experts."
" As we mentioned before, the customer satisfaction metric is a key performance indicator that we use to determine whether a retreat measures up to the hype. The WINNER almost always outperforms other intensives in the marketplace including the high-priced ones." (emphasis added)
In addition, all of those "Hard-cold metrics" that ranked Gottman so harshly have disappeared!
The Praise Continues:
[The Winner] Also Runs the Best Christian Retreat...
Good Bible Verses.org provides:
"a list of the five best Christian marriage counseling intensive retreats that have been chosen based on the features of the program, the reported satisfaction of previous clients who had participated, the competency of the therapists, and of course, the overall effectiveness of the retreats for couples." (emphasis added)
They list 5 of the Best Christian marriage retreats, but because Gottman's retreats are "Nonreligious retreats, like most options are nowadays..." he's not ranked.
But on 6/13/18, prior to contacting The Winner, the well-respected Smalley Intensives, a Christian Intensive Retreat run for over 40 years, was soundly trumped by [THE WINNER]!
Now, after I contacting the WINNER on 6/13/18, only THE WINNER is reviewed on goodbibleverses.org.
All the other Christian contenders (including the Smalley Institute) have utterly disappeared.
"At the top of the list." "[The Winner] is one of the top marriage therapy intensive retreats out there with a very high rate of success for couples in need..." goodbibleverses.org
Does anyone other than me see the hypocrisy of a website called "goodbibleverses.org" blatantly lying to the public, first dissing Dr. Smalley, and then disappearing him entirely ... meanwhile steering hurting Christian couples to only one couples therapist in Kokomo Indiana?
Medium claims to "tap into the brains of the world’s most insightful writers, thinkers, and storytellers to bring you the smartest takes on topics that matter. So whatever your interest, you can always find fresh thinking and unique perspectives." It tries to avoid advertisers, but in these two cases, it failed.
One anonymous article published in Medium in July of 2017 ranked the 5 Best Couples Counseling Retreats in the US.
Guess who won that hands down?
"...When researching top marriage counseling retreats in the U.S. there was only one company that really separated themselves from the rest. [The WINNER] from our research is head and shoulders better than any other counseling retreat in the U.S. They are consistently rated #1 on almost all of the top marriage intensive review sites."
Notice that the Trust feature is borrowed by other "Trusted" review sites...and in February of 2018 another Medium article came out ranking another clear WINNER in the media war for top Christian retreats:
"If you are looking for a couples retreat that gets results, [THE WINNER] is the overall leader in this category. With locations in California and Indiana, [THE WINNER] offer christian counseling in the Indiana location only.
This couples retreat is simply outstanding when it comes to working with the most deeply rooted and often very complicated issues.
They have a superb online reputation..."
Both Medium reviews of [THE WINNER] were anonymous. An important shift because now, new "review" testimonials are claiming superiority based upon the recommendations of the other websites constructed of supposedly "objective" reviews.
A house of cards, and one that is designed to deceive hurting couples looking for guidance to find the best help.
The false Review Site advertising campaign starts like this:
1. You create a "national" website. One product or service is highlighted as "Clearly Superior."
2. You create additional subcategories (state-by-state pages in this case) within the larger website with headers and side headers touting the "Clearly Superior" choice.
3. You select products to compare your "superior" product or service to. This is inferior in price, quality, or some other glaring deficit.
4. Then you create the next "review" site. One site reinforces the information provided in the first one.
5. Finally, after many sites, you, (the person owning the product or service...) begin to claim "superiority" based upon "objective" criterion listed on these various websites.
6. Linking back to "less desirable" other products or services will still drive some traffic to their site. This traffic that the sites generate to competitors is minor but enough so that no one wants to rock the boat and lose the traffic. They may not like the fact that one person shamelessly claims market dominance based upon questionable "objective" criteria, but they can't "prove it."
My own practice, Couples Therapy Inc. is, or rather was enjoying significant amounts of traffic from these review sites, as we rank #8 in Hire My Health Pro and #14 nationwide in Marriage Intensive Network.
For the record, I've never been contacted by any review site asking about client reviews, nor have I paid for referrals from any of them. But I have learned that if you want to keep your ranking, you better stay "hush hush" on any ethical objections. See below:
I used to hold out some now faded hope that the WINNER was not directly responsible for manipulating these websites. I now believe that there is a frantic effort to "tone down" the rhetoric, while still maintaining the necessary "Rank" system that consistently drives hurting couples to the WINNER's site.
Sure, I like to compete in the marketplace, but I care about my worthy competitors as well.
Worthy competitors are couples therapists who work tirelessly to enhance their skills as couples therapists, and recognize that an MFT degree is only the beginning. They know about the many respected approaches to couples therapy, and are proud to tell the potential client all about them, and help them to choose the right one. Even if it's not them.
The work that we do isn't selling widgets. Every couple in pain relies on us as a community of practice to act with unwavering integrity. We have a collective obligation to the public.
Behavioral health professionals must remember that behind every inquiry looking for the "best" couples therapist are real couples in pain with real clinical needs.
Throwing up a bunch of fraudulent "independent Review" websites to mislead hurting couples is wrong.
And unethical in my opinion. We'll see what state boards and professional agencies have to say about it.
In all, I found no fewer than 6 "independent" review sites all agreeing that [THE WINNER] provides superior clinical help to couples. I've reviewed 5 here. And these reviews are next used by [THE WINNER'S] own agency to advertise it's success:
"As a company spokesperson noted, since [THE WINNER] first opened in Kokomo, Indiana, they have earned a well-deserved reputation for being the number one place in the country for marriage retreats. They are now considered by many to be the top destination for marriages that are on the brink of divorce..." (emphasis added)
These tactics may be tolerated in other industries, but in the field of behavioral health, it is appalling.
Therapists are supposed to be above cheap and deceptive lies to "make a buck."
This is not deserved fame. It's bought. The clients have been lied to.
In contrast, let's focus on talking to the public about our clinical skills and about the methods we use. Our skills are earned slowly and by systematic mentorship, training, and supervision. We should carefully and respectfully try to gather feedback from our clients, like we do at Couples Therapy Inc., and ask and list both the good reviews and the bad ones. And talk about the outcomes based upon science.
But this fraud only works if professionals passively stand by, believing, like we did as children, that we'll be recognized and seen by the teacher or the parent, and we'll be ranked and evaluated fairly. But this is not that.
This is simply a blatant attempt to deceives the public.
Whether or not [THE WINNER] has an active role or not, they should make forceful attempts to distance themselves from blatantly false and deceptive advertising. Instead, as time goes on, we see them only attempting to cover their tracks with a more "plausible" con job. Remove all Ranking. Identify yourself as the person who runs these sites. List clinicians alphabetically by state. Stop the "50 Best" or "10 Best" Fraud. Own up to what you did.
Then apologize publicly. And let's move on.
Evidence-based treatment method or approach has been "proven effective." These certifications are objective criteria.
More to the point, these websites claim to be "unbiased" and based upon "real consumer feedback."
But it's all a lie... and when confronted with that lie, these RAT sites removed all reference to "client reviews."
That's a start.
While I was used to companies like Guide Doc using superlatives, they never claimed that it was based upon "objective metrics."
It's an unfortunate fact that most couples therapists today are remarkably uninformed about how to promote their practices. Few recognize the tangled web that lay before them when they try to deceive hurting couples into recognizing their talents as "clearly superior."
It's also possible that someone is running this campaign without [THE WINNER] fully understanding how it is being run.
RAT Review Sites promoting [THE WINNER] and claim the right to judge us with fake standards.
They specifically single [THE WINNER] out for having unique and superior results with [THE WINNER'S] couples therapy clients.
Further, [THE WINNER] is "better" based upon vague, objectively unverified criteria WHICH TURN OUT TO BE TOTALLY PHONY.
Six sites did not poll couples from across the country in order to gather opinions. [THE WINNER] did not rank highest. These sites were put up to mislead hurting couples into believing so, in order to enhance this particular practice.
There are also some Black Hat methods being employed, which Google will eventually catch up with. Then it will be bad, bad, bad for [THE WINNER].
And [THE WINNER] might be quite a skilled clinician. But what if they aren't? What if they only knew the best way to deceive the public?
And there are ethics and laws in each state governing the practice of Marriage and Family Therapy and psychology. These laws not only forbid false advertising, but mandate that those who become aware of such deceptive marketing practices stop them. Even if someone they've hired is doing it on their behalf. When they've learned about it happening, they need to put a stop to it.
And California laws regarding the behavior of clinicians are some of the toughest in the country.
Both clinicians identified as working for this agency were notified of this problem and the response was discouraging.
I was hoping that appropriate action would be taken. Instead, the fake ranking placing the owner and staff in first place or "Excellent" continued and only the hype was softened.
I Now Believe that THE WINNER has Direct Control Over All of These Sites and Has No Intention of Removing These Misleading Rankings that Favor Only Them.
It's flagrantly false advertising and it's wrong. We can do better.
At this point, moving the chess pieces around the board is inadequate.
These deceptive sites need to be taken down. But for now,
DON'T CLICK ON ANY OF THESE LINKS CONTAINED WITHIN THESE SITES.
RATs live off of these links to make money. Let's starve them.
Kathy A. McMahon, Psy.D.
Couples Therapy Inc.com