How to Build an Ethical Social Media Presence By Mariana Plata, MSc on 1/2/19 - 1:01 PM

I began my social media adventure about a year ago. I decided that I had much to share on a variety of topics, but not a wide enough medium to do so. My apprehensions were very similar to those most therapists have. How will I handle it if a person contacts me about personal issues? How can I maintain a therapeutic framework on social media? How do I balance my authenticity with the ethical demands of psychotherapy? How do I incorporate ethics, while still promoting my services and expertise?

The good news is that while these are important questions to ask and answer, we can do so along the way, while we’re learning. We can’t learn how to be an ethical psychotherapist on social media if we put off starting. Be it a Facebook page, Instagram account, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube-or whatever social media outlet you choose – it just may be time to start!

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Any currently practicing psychotherapist is doing so in the digital era, and this involves exploring the different opportunities that the digital realm has to offer. Among other possibilities, it may involve diving into online marketing or offering digital content in the form of webinars and e-courses. It may also means engaging with potential clients by providing them with resources for maintaining and improving their mental health. In this sense, it is about making your knowledge accessible to a wide audience in an ethical fashion that benefits your practice, your brand, and your followers.

So, how exactly do we do all this while at the same time generating ethical mental health content for our audience? The first thing to consider is establishing your boundaries by asking yourself the following questions:
  • What are you comfortable doing? Maybe you’re an exceptional writer and can create helpful blog posts on LinkedIn or on your own web page. Or, if you are a talented speaker, you can make YouTube videos or short Instagram stories to talk about a specific mental health or therapeutic topic. Tap into whatever it is that you excel in and find a social media outlet that’s a good fit for your talents and strengths.
  • What are you not comfortable doing? This looks different for everyone. For some, it might consist of posting photos of themselves or their family on social media-or showing pictures of their private practice office. For others, it might be addressing a mental health issue, because you don’t know who is receiving this information and how they are using it. Take a look at some of the big social media profiles out there, follow and analyze what they’re doing. How do you feel about their strategies?
  • How much of yourself are you willing to show to others? Whenever I write or talk about authenticity or vulnerability, I rely upon Brené Brown’s wisdom. In her latest book, Dare to Lead, she teaches us that being authentic and/or vulnerable is not synonymous with disclosing private personal information. Rather, it is about presenting yourself as vulnerable and tapping into people’s emotional needs from a place of empathy. That “authenticity sweet spot” looks and feels different for each therapist, and the only way to learn about and advertise your own is by opening yourself up to experimenting and making mistakes. And this may mean challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone.

The second step is to communicate these expectations to your audience. I’ve received many direct messages on social media requesting a “mini-session”, but my disclaimer is very clear; “I do not provide therapy via Instagram. Here is my contact if you’d like to schedule an appointment.”

Another excellent resource I learned thanks to Dr. Keely Holmes is to offer a social media policy on your website. This policy might include the following:
  • The reasoning as to why you don’t accept friend requests from clients.
  • Clarification that if a client follows you on social media, you might want to briefly discuss what this entails in your next session.
  • A request to not use social media or open messaging apps to communicate, and specify which channels are allowed (e-mail, phone, etc.).
  • Clarification as to why you can’t use patient testimonials on social media or on your website.
In this digital era, where boundaries are often so easily blurred, it’s important to maintain an authentic and transparent presence with our clients. This type of document not only protects you, it also protects them.

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you to reframe your ideas about ethics in the social media era and answer a few of the questions I raised earlier on. Having a social media presence doesn’t have to be daunting. Forewarned is forearmed. It’s about being open to learning and showcasing your knowledge, skills and talent to a wide audience. Are YOU ready to take the leap?  

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, Therapy & Technology