The internet is simultaneously a wonderful and overwhelming place. Thanks to social media, pretty much anyone can reach out to pretty much anyone else at any time through dozens of different portals.
The internet is a minefield when you are a therapist. Many (myself included) choose to be public with our names and credentials on social media in an effort to share accurate information about mental health, break down stigma, and provide resources to the public.
As a graduate student, I was discouraged from putting my own name out there for clients to potentially find. But in the modern world, if clients want to find information about me, they will be able to find things. It’s up to me to decide whether or not I am going to be the one creating the content they will find.
For example, websites like CareDash post inaccurate information about my practice without my consent. They are still refusing to take my profile down or allow me to correct it without accepting their terms of service. If I did not curate my online presence, many clients’ first impression of me might be through CareDash. So, I create accurate profiles on sites like Haley to ensure that clients find accurate information if they choose to look me up online.
A friend of mine who works with people with eating disorders was listed on CareDash as “treating obesity,” which is in direct conflict to her framing and approach to treatment. She pointed out the possibility that a client could see that listing, think she had misrepresented herself to them, and discontinue treatment. Obviously, this could be damaging to clients, not to mention the possible impact on her practice.
In addition to ensuring clients see accurate information about my practice, social media creates a difficult-to-navigate maze of random interactions. Imagine running into a client at the grocery store, except we all live at the grocery store 24/7, and many of us are in disguise.
What happens if a potential client follows my Twitter or tries to add me as a friend on GoodReads? What if their profile is anonymous, and I don’t realize they are a client? What if they comment on my post identifying themselves as a client?
This is why I have a Social Media and Technology Policy at my practice. It is hard to capture every possible scenario, especially with new sites popping up every day and technology constantly evolving, but in my policy, I address:
- Connections and friend requests
- Clients following me and my policy on not knowingly following clients
- How I will respond if they choose to interact with my posts
- Messenger and other non-secure portals on social media (and how I will not read or respond to messages from clients through these methods)
- Search engines and directories
- Business review sites and feedback
I will continue updating my policy as needed, but this is a starting point to ensure that clients understand my professional boundaries when it comes to the internet, know where to find accurate information about my credentials and practice, and what they can expect from me if we encounter each other online.
If you are in practice and want to create a social media policy, feel free to use mine as a template or starting point. A PDF of my policy is below: