Gulp. It finally happened. That client, or that former client sent you….

The dreaded friend request.

Now what do you do? If you decline, you run the risk of offending or alienating this client. If you accept, you will stay connected in a personal way for a very, very long time.

You want to stay personable, likeable, and approachable. You are flattered that someone you have worked with considers you “friend material”. However, professional ethics dictate that you should maintain unambiguous boundaries with potential, current, and former clients.

What is the purpose of a social media site like Facebook? In their own words, their mission is to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”. Sounds good to me!

But what really happens on Facebook? The truth of the matter is that you may see some pretty revealing things about your client: their posts may show how despairing they really are, or may reveal a side to their personality that you haven’t seen or considered yet. This sort of “intelligence” could potentially be helpful in your therapy practice, but we’re venturing into some dangerous ethical territory.

Social media reality

Things people post on social media don’t always accurately represent reality.

In fact, many people act as a persona within their social media accounts. That means they’re carefully curating how they are portrayed. A happy person on Facebook might be highly depressed in real life. A very negative person on Facebook might be a delightful in real life. Perhaps they’re using Facebook as some sort of catharsis. Perhaps they’re a troll. Maybe they’re being cleverly passive aggressive to communicate with a former lover.

“Friended” clients will see the same information about you. Do you want them seeing your children’s faces, your favorite restaurant, your love life, your selfies? Do you want them potentially questioning your decisions, or asking about your mother-in-law? Of course not!

Professional vs. Private Social Media

As we described in our earlier post about how to use social media to market your therapy practice, there is a huge difference between a Facebook (or Twitter) account for your business and your personal social media accounts. Social media marketing for therapists can be a significant source of new clients and leads, so you certainly want to use social media. If you practice online therapy, a professional social media presence can be extremely valuable. Even those that don’t have an online counseling practice benefit from a robust professional social media presence; most potential clients will Google you before they book a session.

Therapy and social media can create some ethical minefields if you aren’t deliberate in your use of social media.

Your Therapy Practice Social Media Policy

Come up with a social media policy document. That way, you can decline rejected friend requests based a rule that you have clearly established. This social media policy document can be part of the new-client intake forms.

This policy document should contain the following points:

  • Rationale for the document (hint: it’s to protect client privacy!)
  • Personal vs. Professional
  • Friending policy
  • Following and Sharing
  • Public Conversations
  • Location Based Services

Should a therapist use social media?

Absolutely! Your therapy practice is a business. You are selling a product. That product is the culmination of your skills, background and experience. Social media can be a valuable marketing channel that can communicate those benefits to potential clients as well as engage current and former clients. The smart therapist entrepreneur takes advantage of every effective marketing opportunity. However, social media boundaries for therapists are especially important. Be sure to be crystal clear as to how you interact with the public via your social channels.

Do you want to download a sample Social Media Policy document for use in your own practice? You’re in luck!

Published by Brian Dear

Brian is the cofounder and CEO of iCouch, Inc. He has an extensive background in software engineering, inbound marketing and mental health practice management.

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks for the article. Some good points and reminders about social media. I wonder what you think about a therapist telling their story. In other words, I am a therapist and I am toying with the idea of writing blog posts about my abusive childhood so that others can see you can rise above your childhood. Too much?

  2. I would like to set up a blog and an Instagram page and twitter account that will be linked to my blog. My blog will be informational and so the social media as well. With Twitter and Instagram if it’s a public professsuonal account you can control who follows you. If it’s a business type account associated with my blog can past clients follow me ethically if I don’t follow them back?

  3. therapist use social media?
    “Absolutely! Your therapy practice is a business”.
    Itwould have sounded better if your answer read more like, “Absolutely. You want to help as many people as possible”.
    “Absolutely! Your therapy practice is a business”n

    1. Private practice isn’t about scale, it’s about profitability (as gauche as that thought may seem.) While I understand (and appreciate) the altruistic theme of your comment, the reality is that practitioners that treat their business as a social service generally don’t stay in business very long or they’re overworked and underpaid — a situation that benefits nobody as a practitioner’s effectiveness is directly proportional to their own well-being and financial security.

      The goal of a private practice is to make money. Otherwise, there is no private practice. Anyone approaching private practice primarily as a means to help more people is setting themselves up for disappointment. My feeling is that by becoming financially successful in your private practice, that would enable you to provide more sliding scale/charity care, while the practitioner who isn’t financially secure is going to have a hard time offering discounted sessions simply because they can’t afford it. I personally have worked with hundreds of therapists over the years who have gone out of business specifically because they considered their business a de facto charity and ultimately they left private practice because their business wasn’t sustainable.

      A failed practice doesn’t help anyone. While a successful practice is able to better afford providing discounted/charity care as an adjunct to their profitable client base.

  4. I had someone not like a comment I posted in regard to the child detention policy on facebook. They threatened to go to the BBS and get my license taken away, I am still an AMFT rather than an MFT. In my post I had said that I beleive in Karma and that people who wish the death and torture upon ppl will have the same thing happen to them in their next life. Is it possible that the BBS could censure me for this?

    1. Your opinion, especially a political one, is protected speech under the First Amendment. If a state licensing board attempted to revoke your license over a political opinion, there’d be a Supreme Court case that would result.

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