Is Google-stalking your therapist morally wrong, a self defeating masochistic exercise in futility, considered Borderline Personality Disordered behaviour or worse, or downright creepy, dangerous and illegal; or is it healthy curiosity and something everyone does but would not admit to – or perhaps all of the above?
I have received emails from my blog readers and heard personal anecdotes from people who have Facebook and Google-stalked their therapists and I have heard of therapists who have terminated clients once they found out the client had typed their name into the internet.
The golden rule is that you never put anything up on the internet you would not want your grandmother to read or the world to see on the front page of the daily newspaper. Google your own name every few weeks to see what other people have said about you and if it is derogatory either ask them to take it down or if they won’t then there are legal avenues you can take. I had to caution a friend’s daughter who had written some slanderous content about my motherhood skills on a parenting forum where someone had reviewed one of my books.
This is the internet age, the age of information sharing so expect to be Googled especially if you are a mental health professional. But while I might want to find out your professional history, qualifications, cost, location and perhaps some testimonials, there are self-imposing strict personal boundaries around this. If I start to type your children’s name into Facebook to find out personal information or to see family snaps of you then perhaps my curiosity belongs in a different dimension and I need to address the reasons why I want to seek this information out.
This sort of behaviour, like drugs, alcohol, smoking and food, can become very addictive very quickly. When you find out new information there can be a dopamine rush to the brain which acts as a reward and creates a deep neural pathway which leads to more of the same behaviour. Or it can work the other way and the information can be so distressing it can lead to self-harming behaviour. This is serious and non-judgemental, empathic and compassionate help is much needed.
I also believe, for the mental health professional, terminating the Google-stalking client is also about safety, security and risk management. I believe most therapists would want to find out the reasons why their client finds someone else’s life more fascinating than their own, but management can see things differently. Questions to ask is what is it that is lacking in their life that they want to spend inordinate amounts of time in a dark room in front of a pixellated screen in order find proof of life of someone else’s happy existence? Perhaps it could be a golden opportunity to address the lack of substance in the client’s life and boost and enhance their daily activity to a level where Google stalking no longer seems an attractive proposition.
However, as a therapist this can be very disconcerting at least and downright scary at worst. But if you do find out about this, would you be curious and ask the client what this meant for her/him or would you automatically terminate the client out of a sense of compromised personal safety? Also are you sure your personal safety is actually compromised? Does it depend on the functioning and insight level of the particular client? Would you allow this behaviour in some clients and not in others?
I am a Google-stalker and I have been Google-stalked. As an author who has appeared regularly on radio and in print and once on TV I have had people I work with tell me I have written two books, or been on radio or even that I write a blog for Psych Central. That is not creepy for me; I enjoy hearing that and feel as though what I do is appreciated and loved.
So at what point for some does this change from acceptable to downright creepy? Pre the internet age no-one would come up to you at a party and say they did a Dun and Bradstreet on you? Yet people tell me they Googled my name. I have Googled my therapist over the years. She knows about this and we have discussed it. Anyone with transference issues is highly curious of how someone else lives, especially if you have that someone else up on a pedestal. I was always open with her and let her know what I had found. We discussed my need to do this until I got to the point where my own life was more interesting than hers. Had she not addressed my behaviour in that manner and terminated me I would not be in the good place I am now. I also learned in the process that she also was curious about other people’s lives.
It is very much context dependent. It is all about culture, existing zeitgeist and what is considered socially acceptable behaviour for the changing times. If you are a therapist and you have an open Facebook with 1097 “friends” and you post controversial opinions and update your status three times a day (yes there are therapists who do that) then you should accept that your clientele are going to be curious about the rest of your life. Or perhaps you are so private that your Facebook is on total lockdown and even your own mother could not find you. In other words you need to manage your Googleness and check on it regularly.
I have been in the public eye in the past and I now work in mental health and I have met many people who do not meet social norms in terms of acceptable behaviour (not all of them are clients or patients some belong to other organisations) but rarely do I feel scared or threatened or feel my security and privacy compromised.
It has been said also, in jest, that you have not made it in Hollywood unless you have a stalker (see Kevin Bacon episode of Will and Grace). Some therapists might be terrified that they are not being Google-stalked. Others might be upset that they are not even considered Googleworthy.
Curiosity did not kill the cat, curiosity made it most inquisitive about its own nine lives. Unlike felines, you only have one life so make the most of it.
Photos: Sonia Neale – Ubud, Bali 2012