Is Social Media Counseling Safe and Ethical?
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There are many factors in providing social media counseling.
Is it safe? Generally, it is not. However social media can still be an equally powerful tool.
Our codes of ethics including the ACA Code of Ethics provide guidelines for social media counseling and appropriate interactions with clients. Codes of ethics have different opinions on avoiding boundary crossings with clients who try to friend us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Cyber Space Client Interaction
"The Ears of The Eavesdropper Hear Nothing Good."
From a social science perspective, it can be useful to view online interaction between clients and therapists as “eavesdropping”.
Clients report having felt betrayed by counselors through this unintentional eavesdropping (International Journal of Communication
Volume 14, 2020, Pages 3704-3726 A Model of Social Eavesdropping in Communication Networks BIGHASH, L., ALEXANDER, K.S., HAGEN, C.S., HOLLINGSHEAD, A.B.).
If we search for a client through a Google search or through social media we are eavesdropping. If a client searches for us in the same manner they are eavesdropping. How so?
Eaves dropping is secret listening to a conversation between two or more people.
We have our professional lives and our therapist lives. They are ideally separate.
The same applies to our clients. They form a relationship with us as clients and also have personal lives.
But especially for us, our counselor and personal lives are now transparent. We have less control over what we choose as appropriate disclosure to our clients.
With easy access to cyber-based and social media information, we can no longer be a “blank slate” to our clients in therapy.
If a one persists with internet research on someone, they may likely learn something about that person they wish they hadn’t discovered. That’s the nature of eavesdropping.
For example, we may have a conversation with a “friended” client on Facebook on our personal account. Naturally, some of this information we prefer to keep private.
How exactly can this negatively impact or damage the client relationship?
For example, a client can discover we have been not truthful about a pet or perhaps our partner had been arrested for driving under the influence. Clients can discover our political viewpoints and political party affiliation.
Social Media Is A Fantastic Marketing Opportunity
Posting on Facebook and Instagram is free advertising. Post information about your services and specialties. Post anything that is directly related to your “professional side.”
Providing Mental Illness Public Education
Research news, articles and videos to share on your social media pages. Post breaking news from reputable news outlets and websites.
Check and double-check news items for credibility. Unfortunately, psychology websites intended for the masses are sometimes not credible.
Your current and potential clients will be reading your social media posts and assuming it is credible because they believe YOU are.
Social Media Posts Are "Google Food".
If you have a professional website, drive traffic to it. Google is now ranking posts on Facebook Group pages. The best Facebook business profiles and posts rank the highest.
Psychotherapy marketing on the web has become an extremely competitive marketplace.
Gone are the days of waiting for clients to stumble upon your website.
Developing your social media pages generates “Google Food”. In brief, google ranks high quality and trustworthy content.
How Not to Interact With Clients On Social Media
1) Don’t “friend” or “follow” clients or potential clients.
2) Refrain from any form of two-way communication.
3) Include clear social media policies in your client informed consent.
4) Ensure your social media privacy settings prevent clients from finding your personal page.
5) Be selective about who you friend on social media. Friend those who are in your personal loop. Be selective even about friending peer professionals.
6) Don’t provide counseling services through your social media.
A well-crafted social media marketing plan is the future of marketing your counseling practice.
Consider All Counselor Codes of Ethics
Counselor, social work and psychology codes of ethics differ in their social media policies. Collectively, the psychotherapist can apply social media policies that ensure compliance with all of them. Adopting policies that are consistent with the most strict code of ethics is the safest approach to professional practice.