Social Media For Psychologists And Therapists


I presented to a group of psychologists the other week about getting started with online marketing and some interesting issues were raised around how they can use social media.

Most social media strategists for business advocate being open, connecting with individuals on a personal level, and freely sharing information. But what happens when professional, ethical and legal considerations restrict such activity? Psychologists, along with other medical professionals face a unique set of challenges.

Here’s some of the talking points that came up.

Does blogging provide too much information that a client should be paying for?
This is a question that crosses industries – does giving away information cannibalize your business? The overall consensus would seem to be that the more you give, the more you get but guidelines must be observed for this profession. First of all, a blog post could in no way replace the value or experience of an actual therapy session, and it would also be inappropriate to try and provide actual therapy in this way.

However, blogging can be looked at as a way to establish yourself as an expert in your field. You can do this by discussing a topic in general terms, and providing insight & analysis on relevant news within that field. If you take a specific approach to your specialty, for example a holistic approach, blogging about this could be beneficial for potential patients that are looking for that approach or want to find out more about what that means.

Does participating in social media give away too much about myself?
I think this question has as many answers as there are people asking it. The good thing about social media is that you can participate to the level you are comfortable with. Nothing personal needs to be shared if this is not appropriate. For psychologists and therapists the concern is that sharing too much of themselves personally may let their client or potential client know too much about them and this may be detrimental to their working relationship, or create a ‘dual relationship.’

Keep personal separate from professional
Keep personal and professional profiles separate where possible and desirable. Facebook seems to be the biggest culprit here since many people use it to keep in touch with personal friends. Dr. Gretchen Kubacky who has been experimenting with social media for several months, and was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, says she maintains a policy of not allowing clients to ‘friend’ her on Facebook.

Another option could be to maintain a business Page for professional purposes that non-personal contacts could interact with. Facebook offers a variety of privacy levels, which, when used in combination with utilizing the friend Lists feature, can provide additional layers of privacy. They just introduced the ability to restrict visibility on a per post basis for every status update you make – this could prove a very useful tool.

There is some privacy in social media if you choose it
It may be reassuring to know that pretty much every social network has privacy tools. So if someone is bothering you on Twitter, or if you have an unwanted or inappropriate follower, you can easily Block them, or report them as Spammers. You can also protect your Tweets so that you can keep close tabs on who is following you. As described above, Facebook has numerous privacy controls. If you have your own blog, you can moderate all comments, or even turn them off if you don’t want to open up a discussion. So social media can be tailored to your comfort level to a great extent.

The challenge of exploring what and how to share in social media

1)   Before any foray into social media, have clear goals about why you are participating and think about where your boundaries are around what you will share, how you will interact and with whom.

2)   Share from a professional perspective with personal elements only as it pertains to how you approach your practice and of course never violating any confidentiality.

I think Dr. Kubacky’s approach is a great model for any psychologist looking to get involved:

“I do not allow clients to “friend” me on FB, and my postings would never violate a client confidence, in any case.  Anyone can follow me on Twitter – and again, you may get to know me a bit personally, but I work from a feminist and relational perspective that permits limited self-disclosure, so I’m not inconsistent with my theoretical orientation…I post things that are personal, but also that demonstrate my commitment to self-care, relational development, and healthy living.  I never post intimacies…..I’ve never agreed with the “therapist as blank slate” conceptualization, so I think it’s okay for clients to know a little about their therapists.”

There’s more to it than Twitter and Facebook
Find your niche. Social networking goes beyond Twitter and Facebook. LinkedIn is definitely more professionally oriented and if referrals from professionals in related fields are an important source of business, this could be a good tool to use in networking with less of the issues that other networks raise. There are also many niche social networks that have sprung up around very specific issues. For example, if your specialty is autism, there are communities of autistic people and their families/friends that you could connect with, especially if you provide workshops, groups or similar services that cater to a specific audience. On Twitter you could choose to only network with other health professionals in order to develop referral sources, rather than with people that might be potential clients.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and feedback or if there are other issues that should be addressed. Feel free to leave your comments!

Many thanks to Dr. Jennifer Cassatly and Dr. Gretchen Kubacky who were gracious enough to answer my many questions and provide valuable information and insights.

*image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/orangebrompton/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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