The Internet and social media offer social workers and mental health therapists unprecedented opportunities to educate communities, to advocate for disadvantaged populations, to raise awareness about their private practice and professional services, and to establish themselves as experts in their specialty areas. Because people search online for health-related information, developing a strong online presence is increasingly important for social workers in private practice.
One aspect of developing an online presence is through social media. Although social media sites were often originally seen as “kid’s stuff,” that is no longer the case. For the first time in history, more than half of adults in the United States—65 percent—report using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others. Even though these numbers are continuing to climb, many social workers seem reluctant to use and embrace social media as a valid professional activity. Fear regarding breaches of client confidentiality, potential dual relationships, and maintaining personal privacy are often cited as reasons for this reluctance.
Does the state tax commission really take the time to audit small private practices? I didn’t think so, until my practice was selected for an audit.
A few years ago my clinic was selected for an employment tax audit. Lucky me, right? When the auditor walked into my office suite and saw many offices with different names on the doors, he looked at me pleadingly and said, “Please, please don’t tell me that these therapists are all classified as 1099 contractors.”
Where do I go for trusted information on ethical use of social media for therapists? Here are the top 3 resources on the cutting edge of online ethics for mental health therapists that I find myself referencing time and time again. I have taken their online courses, read dozens of their articles, signed up for newsletters, and of course, I follow all of them on social media sites.
Here my top three recommendations, links to my favorite resources on each site, and their social media links so you can follow them:
The Online Therapy Institute, co-founded by DeAnna Marz Nagel, & Kate Anthony, is a premiere resource for all things digital. OTI and Keely Kolmes, Psy.D. created a comprehensive Ethical Framework for the Use of Social Media by Mental Health Professionals that is an invaluable resource. Also, watch Nagel and Anthony discuss common online scenarios therapists face online in this Ethics and Social Media video.
Social media ethics are starting to be addressed by mental health professional organizations or licensing boards but those guidelines, if they exist, are generally vague.
It’s important for clinicians to take time to think through the implications of their online interactions on clients to avoid dual relationships, putting client’s privacy at risk, or jeopardizing the therapeutic relationship.
Including a written social media policy as a client’s initial treatment contract helps clarify how technology will be used in client-therapist interaction so it doesn’t interfere with treatment.
I’ve spent months writing about how to effectively use technology, and social media in particular, to build your private mental health practice. While the Internet has opened up exciting new ways for mental health therapists in private practice to market their practice, reach potential clients, and educate the public, it has also allowed for new ethical dilemmas.
When I first started practicing nearly two decades ago, I was concerned about my child being on the same soccer team as a client’s child, or about running into clients at parties of mutual friends. The increasing Internet usage by therapists and clients alike has created new opportunities for dual relationships online. Over the coming weeks I’ll be discussing ways to use social media ethically in the digital age.
Here are a just few examples of digital dual relationship dilemmas that therapists now face: