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!