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.
Analytics have shown that the "About me" page is the second most popular web page just behind the home page and directly above the frequently asked questions page. So as a clinician you want to be sure that when they click over to your "about me" they are finding what they are looking for, but what is that exactly?
When looking to see a clinician or doctor for the first time, clients are first and foremost looking for someone who specializes in what they are coming in for and fits within their budget. However, if you are in a saturated market it is likely that there are plenty of other qualified clinicians. This is where your "about me" will set you apart.
Clients are looking to find someone they connect with.
When clients call to schedule an appointment with a clinician our scheduling staff often hear comments like "I would love to see Mandy, I saw that she has a therapy dog and I think my child will connect easily with her." or "Sarah made a reference to "The Office" in her bio and that is my favorite show to binge." That doesn't mean that Mandy and Sarah just went on and on about themselves in their bio. In fact Mandy just has a picture of her pup with a blurb about therapy dogs and Sarah just included a quote from Micheal Scott at the bottom of her page, but those personal touches were all they needed to make the connection with their ideal client. It made the clinician "human" for the client.
Know who your ideal client is.
Take a look at your caseload and see if their is a common thread in your case load or something that the clients that you would love to see all day everyday have in common. That is who you should be talking to in your "about me." If you are a child therapist you will most likely be talking to moms who are concerned for their children, what can you say to connect with them? This would be a great place to mention your own child. If your target demographic is young adults and you know they are often stressed about college and adjusting to adult life include something in your "about me" section that will appeal to them. These two therapists would have completely different ideal clients and their biographies should look and read completely different.
Your about you page is not actually about you.
A lot of people make the mistake of getting too comfortable and relaxed in their "about me" and end up missing an opportunity to convert that potential client to an actual client. You are providing information about yourself in an effort to connect with your client and ensure that they follow through on your call to action. Take the time to talk directly to them, connect on the issues that matter most, and then call them to an action - to schedule an appointment with you. You understand them, you are empathetic to the struggles they are going through and if they pick up the phone and schedule today you can help.
Don't forget a picture.
A picture is worth a thousand words and knowing who they will see when they show up at the office can help put them at ease.
Combined with your bio above and your FAQ page they should come to your session feeling comfortable and excited to work with you. If you are missing a Frequently Asked Questions page on your website, visit our blog on why you should have a FAQ page and what you should include.
We would love to learn a little more about you, comment below with a link to your "about me" page along with a sentence that you include to help show your personality to potential clients. Bonus! This will count as a back link to help with your SEO!
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When a potential client is looking for a provider in your area, they are most likely going to type something like "'specialty provider' in 'city name'." Google will then show a list of practices for them to look through. The client client is going to click around on a few hoping to find what they are looking for, and most likely click on a link of a private practice that has a page that lists their specialties. They don't want to have to search through a website just to find out if the practice has what they need. By placing your specialty list on you your website, they know the practice has some experience in their specialty, along with a multitude of other topics. While having just a simple list of specialties might be enough for that potential client to book, these websites are missing a huge SEO opportunity by NOT having each specialty get a dedicated webpage, which gives them a chance to better educate and help their client make the best choice for themselves before they even call you.
So why do we recommend giving each specialty it's own page? How does this help your SEO?
1. Clients stay on your page longer.
You want clients to stay on your page as long as possible. This is because when clients stay on your site longer, Google knows the information you have is quality, in turn making them more likely to recommend your page to others.
2. Adds more keywords to your practice listing
Keywords are the bread and butter of your website. You want your name, your location and words that clients type into Google when looking for a clinician to all be organically on your site to help your SEO or search engine optimization.
3. Increases client trust
If a client seeking treatment for PTSD , for example, goes to a website and sees PTSD on a very lengthy list of other specialties would they feel confident that the clinician is the top in their field? Probably not. They are wanting reassurance the practice or clinician knows what they are doing with PTSD. If they go to a page and see information regarding PTSD, explanations of different treatment options, along with some testimonials, they're probably going to feel pretty confident in who they should schedule with. You want this to be your page and have them pick up the phone and call you!
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