Kate continues with her regular column for the quarterly Journal of the BACP Workplace Division (http://www.bacpworkplace.org.
This issue focuses on Social Networking
Negotiating the boundaries between our professional and personal lives is increasingly a part of our work as therapists. If you use social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn you are probably aware of the sometimes inappropriate statuses or updates people post. Even if you are not a user of them, you will likely have seen the media reports about an staff’s Facebooks posts made while off sick coming back to haunt them, or ill-advised crude tweets resulting in an employee instantly losing their job despite having deleted it within 14 seconds of posting (see http://tinyurl.com/ccj2hwd).
As counsellors in a workplace setting, there is almost a triple whammy of considerations to think about – our own professional reputation amongst colleagues; that reputation as it is presented to clients (both the individual and the organisation the client works with); and being able to not only model appropriate online behaviour but also to pick up the pieces with clients who have fallen foul of a social media mistakes.
Social media sites have revolutionised the way we communicate in the modern world, but we need to be mindful that activity on these sites can blur the boundaries between the professional and the personal, and take great care to consider the potential impact on our professional lives. It is not necessary to spurn them completely (although many counsellors I work with do), but a simple awareness of not just appropriate behaviour but also ethical behaviour in light of, for example, dual relationships being created is essential. By adopting a framework for social media use (Kolmes, Nagel and Anthony, 2011) within our work, we can avoid the many pitfalls of living a professional life online.
Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are classic examples of social media sites, and each have their own benefits within the workplace. A company Twitter account is a useful way of disseminating news and publicity about services, alongside more personal tweets that instil hope and positivity in our clients, such as uplifting quotes or tips for managing a busy day. A business Facebook page reaches an audience who prefer the more personal touch, with a visual element that is both appealing and friendly. LinkedIn is a more professional space where we can upload articles of interest, hold workplace discussions, and find colleagues of a like mind all over the world.
However, using each brings its own responsibility in management and moderation. The disgruntled client who knows your Twitter name can easily tweet abusive or inflammatory remarks, and although blocking followers or reporting tweets is possible, the damage is usually done by the time we get to it. With over one billion users of Facebook as of March this year (Statistic Brain, 2013), the platform and the eternal “like” button is very much an established part of our lives. Every 20 minutes there are 2 million friendships being requested on Facebook – your clients are going to be among them, and rejection of a friendship can be damaging to a therapeutic relationship. LinkedIn works on the principle of six degrees of separation – we are only ever five people away from being linked to a sixth. With the advent of social networking, that figure is now 4.7 – that’s under 5 clicks to your LinkedIn connection being identifiable as a client, and confidentiality is instantly compromised.
Whether head of an organisational service or an individual freelance workplace counsellor, your social media policy is one of the best tools to hand as social media becomes an ever more essential part of our work and social lives, and should be offered as standard as part of Terms & Conditions and contract formation. One of the best I have come across is from the colleague who helped us write our Ethical Framework for the use of Social Media by Mental Health Professionals, Keeley Kolmes, and her updates and revisions in light of her experiences are offered within her policy as a learning tool for us all (referenced below). For example, despite a clear policy on not accepting “fans” of her Facebook page for reasons of client identity being kept confidential, she eventually deleted it “after concluding that the potential risks of maintaining such a page outweigh any potential gains”.
Social media and similar online facilities aren’t going to go away, anymore than technology in general is. Remember, forewarned is forearmed – so I recommend you develop your office and personal policies for social media and document your efforts in light of potential client complaint.
Kolmes, K., Nagel, D. & Anthony, K. (2011). An Ethical Framework for the use of Social Media by Mental Health Professionals. Therapeutic Innovations in Light of Technology. Volume 1, Issue 3. Available online at http://issuu.com/
Kolmes, K. (2010). My Private Practice Social Media Policy. Available online at http://www.drkkolmes.com/docs/
StatisticBrain.com (2013). Facebook Statistics. Available online at http://www.statisticbrain.com/