Six Best Practices for Living a Social (Media) Life for Therapists
by Alexandria Fields, MSW, LISW-S, LCSW
Yes, you can be a therapist and use social media, too. In fact, as our world becomes increasingly connected via virtual platforms and applications, it’s nearly impossible to just say no to social media.
We use social media for everything from keeping up with friends and family to marketing our practices to collaborating with colleagues around the world. Think not just Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn but also Tumblr, Snapchat, YouTube, wikis, Pinterest, blogs, forums, product and services review sites, and even social gaming.
Yet as therapists, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than many other professions when it comes to social media. To be both effective and ethical mental health providers, we need to establish clear boundaries between our personal and professional lives. This is true in both our physical and digital worlds.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have social networking accounts or leave a digital footprint of any kind. But we do need to take additional steps to avoid the risk of creating multiple relationships with clients. We also need to show a higher sensitivity to the content we share and interact with.
Not sure where to start? First, check with your employer about social media policies they have in place that could affect your activity. Then follow these six best practices for maintaining a social (media) life for therapists.
#1 – Lock Your Personal Channels Down
Use the highest possible privacy controls to keep your information and activity private. Consider using alternate contact information for creating social accounts or other personal interactions (such as leaving a review). Remember that the content you post could be reshared by approved contacts. In addition, any professional activity done on your personal pages is subject to ethics and licensing complaints.
#2 – Create a Separate Persona for Your Professional Self
] If you want to market your services online, create a business or professional page separate from your personal accounts. Remember, this might be where potential clients find you, so put your business foot forward to build credibility and trust. Always use your professional email to create these pages; use personal email for your personal pages only.
#3 – Do not Interact with Clients Online
Never accept friend requests or otherwise follow clients. If you manage a blog, turn off the public comments feature. Likewise, you should never communicate with clients through social media, including “private” channels like Messenger or direct messages. Unsecured applications and platforms could put patient confidentiality at risk.
#4 – Create a Social Media Policy
If you’re going to maintain a social media presence of any kind, a social media policy should be included in the informed consent process. Your social media policy should make clear that you don’t accept friend requests nor will you follow clients, and why. It should also include a reminder that your professional accounts are public and, therefore, anything your clients post, like, reshare or otherwise interact with will be public.
#5 – Never Assume That Your Activity is Private
Just because you lock down your profile doesn’t mean that your activity with other content—your likes, comments, shares and retweets, Google and Yelp reviews and more—is private. Always consider how your activity could be perceived by clients. Don’t like, comment or share on other pages with the expectation that it will remain private.
#6 – Always Protect Patient Confidentiality
Did I mention there is no guarantee of privacy on the internet? Never seek consultations publicly, even in private therapist groups or listservs. Never post anything about a client even if the post is anonymous and you have anonymized the client’s information. Doing so could risk your reputation, your career, and most important, your client’s mental health journey.
Get More Tips for Best Practices
Want to get more tips for the ethical navigation of social media? Compass Point is offering a one-day session on Best Practices in Private Practice (Ethics). The webinar will be available in March, May, September and November as a live webinar. It will be offered in June and August on location in Mason, Ohio.
I’ll be leading the course, which will provide three CEUs. This training will clarify Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist board and insurance company rules. We’ll also look at best practices for staying in compliance with teletherapy and, yes, social media.
You can learn more about and register for the program on Compass Point Counseling’s website.
Alexandria Fields, MSW, LISW-S, LCSW
Alyx Fields is a Licensed Independent Social Worker with Supervisory designation. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and her Master’s degree from the University of Kentucky. Alyx is the director of the DBT® Center at Compass Point and is a facilitator of DBT® skills training classes. She is a blogger and entrepreneur who is passionate about helping others and their mental health. You can read more of her work on her blog, Your Mental Restoration.