Responds Thoughtfully to Complaints About Contest

Earlier this week, a colleague brought my attention to a contest that was being run on The contest invited participants to compete for six months of free weekly therapy sessions with the therapist of their choice. Participants entered the contest by posting a public comment sharing the following information:

  • What are the obstacles currently preventing you from being able to receive or afford therapy?
  • Why do you want to go to therapy and what issues are you facing or problems are you experiencing?
  • How would you like to benefit from therapy and what are you hoping to achieve?

Top entries were going to be chosen and then the winners would be selected by having readers vote on the one most deserving of the prize of free therapy. While I appreciate that many people find it empowering to use Internet forums to write about the issues they struggle with, having such comments used as a way vie for the prize of “most worthy” of psychological care, as voted by readers, was objectionable in a number of ways.

A number of mental health professionals, including DeeAnna Merz Nagel and others who focus on clinical ethics,  posted comments expressing concern that this contest was exploitative of vulnerable populations and would violate many clinical ethics codes. The initial response from the website was to say that as a referral service, they were exempt from having to adhere to ethics codes. They also noted that names and emails were anonymous in the blog comments, offering participants a layer of protection.

Nevertheless, a couple more comments were posted by concerned practitioners, including myself, stating that we thought the contest was not offering appropriate protection to vulnerable people and that having readers vote on who was worthy of the grand prize was, at the very least, in poor taste.

After just a few days of commentary, responded by removing the public comments (entries) from the blog and deciding not to allow users to vote on stories to pick the winner. Winners will now be selected by

I am grateful to those who spoke up and left comments expressing opposition to the format of the contest. But I especially wish to commend for their thoughtfulness and care in reflecting upon the objections raised. They demonstrated sensitivity and flexibility in revising the competition so that it does not expose people who are in great need.

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