This article is part of an online course: Digital and Social Media Ethics for Psychotherapists for 8 CE credits
Yesterday, I posted a draft of my Social Media Policy for Psychotherapy on this blog. I also included a link on Twitter. I made it clear that this was a work in progress and asked folks to feel free to comment or suggest additions. Of all the public and private feedback I received, the section of my policy that garnered the most criticism was the part about deleting clients who become “Fans” of my Facebook Page. I appreciate the feedback, and I may modify the language of this section to soften it a bit. I also need to add sections on use of pseudonyms by both therapist and client and on consumer review sites such as Yelp and Google and Yahoo Business.
Thank you to @susangiurleo and @TriBeCaTherapy over on Twitter for some different perspectives and for raising questions about how it might affect a client to be deleted as a “Fan” from a therapist’s Page. I certainly don’t want for a client to feel hurt or rejected. The very reason I’m creating a Social Media Policy in the first place–and discussing it with clients–is to minimize the potential for such feelings of rejection. I’m making it extremely clear that this policy is universal for all clients and not personal. I’m also explaining my rationale. I want this information to be clear and accessible before such events transpire so that it’s not a mystery as to how I’ll respond. Thus far, I haven’t ever been in a position to have to delete a client from my Facebook Page. I suspect that this is because I work mostly with fairly media savvy adults who care about their privacy. Most who have any interest in my social media presence know how to access it while still retaining their privacy. But this could easily change.
I was asked why I would even create a Facebook Page if I did not wish for clients to become “Fans.” Great question. First, I am fascinated by social media and I swim in it, explore it, teach and write about it. Other clinicians consult with me both in terms of creating and modifying their own social media presence and to better understand how clients may engage online. I also work with clients who live and breathe on the Internet. It’s fairly impossible to specialize in this arena without beta testing things now and then in order to understand how they work from the inside. I also wanted to experiment with Facebook ads (which I’m no longer using) to see if I found them effective for advertising my practice. My Page was one way to attract potential clients to my content, and ultimately, my website.
I initially had strong concerns about establishing a Facebook Page because I worried that my only “Fans,” would be friends and family members and this brought up concerns about my own privacy! And yet, these were the best people to help me first experiment with the Page. I do still have some friends and family members as “Fans” of my Facebook Page. But I now also have people as “Fans,” who are trusted colleagues, clinicians in other cities who I’ve never met, and others who do not practice psychotherapy who just found and appreciate my posts. My Facebook Page allows others to read and share my postings within Facebook, which is nice for those who don’t use RSS feeds, regularly read blogs, or use Twitter.
Back to those who did not like my position on declining to have clients as “Fans.” It was pointed out that clients are grown-ups and I should not be making this decision for them. This is a valid point, but it raises some issues. Grown-up (and non-grown-up) clients may think a lot of things are okay that don’t feel okay to me in my clinical practice. Some of those things might include socializing or exchanging casual emails between sessions or feeling less concerned about the state of my record-keeping. Yes, despite my own commitment to maintaining client confidentiality, my clients themselves can choose to reveal they are in therapy with me whenever and to whomever they choose. However, this does not relieve me of my ethical obligations regarding confidentiality, or grant me permission to solicit client endorsements.
Sure, my clients are grown-ups, but I am also a grown-up running a clinical practice, and as such, I also have a right (and a responsibility) to establish policies and procedures that feel appropriate to me. My Facebook Page is part of my business and I get to set up how I’d like to conduct business on that Page. If a client wishes to disclose their therapeutic relationship with me, they always have the right and ability do so on their own Pages, profiles, blogs, or accounts.
One person said that I should not deny clients the kind of access that anyone else on the Internet has access to which was interesting. However, I am not actually limiting anyone’s access to my professional practice content or information in any way at all. Every piece of this information is on a public Page and “Fans” and “non-Fans” have the same access to it. I’m neither blocking them from accessing the Page nor preventing them from reading anything my other “Fans” can view. They can still see it, read it, share it with others, save it, and so on. The only thing they are unable to do is publicly link themselves to my Page. I fail to see how this is hurtful to a client.
I am not a rock star. I do not need my clients to be my “Fans,” particularly on a site which already has an unstable track record in regard to user privacy. The way I see it, other than the positive interpersonal exchange (pride, recognition, and other warm feelings between client and therapist), the person who stands to benefit the most from getting clients as “Fans,” on their practice Page is actually the therapist. By not accepting clients as “Fans,” I’m taking a stand against cavalier privacy policies in exchange for lower numbers. I’m willing to forgo a few extra “Fans” of my practice on Facebook if the trade-off is that those who might be curious about my clients are being told unequivocally: “You will not find people on this Page who are in treatment with me.”
Hopefully, I’m not short-changing my therapeutic relationships of the positive interactions that can still happen off of Facebook and in my actual office when clients admit that they had a desire to “Fan” or link to me. Other clients simply make mention of my blog or Twitter postings that had special meaning to them and in this way we can together acknowledge their care and interest in my work outside of the therapy room without them having to publicly endorse my presence on a website. Clearly, a client doesn’t have to be a “Fan” or “Follower” for us to both find value in these exchanges and work with the transference privately, within the walls of my office.
The beauty of office agreements and policies is that we all get to craft policies that reflect our own unique beliefs and values as clinicians. If you have a different stance on social media, patient privacy, or clinical care, then by all means create a social media policy that works for you and your practice. It would delight me to see other mental health professionals sharing different policies and agreements so that these can be accessible to clients who would like to know about your specific rules and boundaries. It would also allow clients to self-select clinicians whose policies best match their own beliefs and values. I think it would also be useful to other mental health professionals crafting their own policies to see a variety of practices related to different clinical perspectives and theoretical orientations.
Of course, I am still welcoming commentary on my own Social Media Policy which I know will evolve along with changes in the Internet. So if you have feedback, please share it via email or on Twitter.
Update: June 6, 2010
As of April, Facebook changed the “Become a Fan,” button to a “Like” button. While the terminology of the action of endorsing a page has changed, my beliefs about the problems inherent with clients “Liking” your business page on Facebook remain the same.
© 2010 Keely Kolmes, Psy.D.
To cite this page: Kolmes, K. (2010) I’m not a rock star! (More thoughts on Facebook fanning). Retrieved month/day/year from http://drkkolmes.com/2010/01/26/im-not-a-rock-star-more-thoughts-on-facebook-fanning/.