Counsellors are increasingly likely to use Twitter, Facebook and blogs to promote their practice and communicate with other professionals but can appropriate professional boundaries be maintained when using social media?
Over the summer I signed up for my first ever Facebook account and began collecting ‘friends’. Some were friends I had known for decades, some were ex-students I’d taught over the years and many were current students.
My intention was to create a social network that would allow me to interact with my friends and connect with my students. I began by posting links to interesting articles and research papers, complimenting people on their achievements and posting supportive comments whenever any of my new Facebook family met with adversity. Very quickly I became a witness to my students' unfolding personal dramas: nights out, hangovers, family celebrations and emotional crises. I have to say it felt inappropriate and after just one week, following discussions with colleagues, I deleted my first Facebook account.
I learnt two lessons from my first experience on Facebook. Firstly, I ought not to have mixed professional relationships with social relationships. Secondly, even though I might have been circumspect about the information I posted, I was nevertheless exposed to personal information about others that crossed professional boundaries. I am back on Facebook now with much stronger boundaries. I only accept friend invitations from people who really are personal friends. My response to students, supervisees and clients who wish to add me as a friend is heartfelt: let's not jeopardise or sacrifice a valuable professional relationship for something that is likely to be fairly superficial.
So how can I use social networking to promote my practice, share information and connect with other professionals and the public (including students and clients)? I have discussed this with colleagues and need more feedback as I tentatively embrace this new technology as a teacher, counsellor and supervisor. Here are three "platforms" I'm currently using:
Facebook Pages allow me to post on Facebook as "Marsden Therapy". Individuals can “like” my page and receive my updates but they have no access to my personal Facebook profile and I have no special access to their personal information either. This is still a work in progress as I haven’t developed my page yet or added any interesting content.
Twitter allows me to follow and communicate with other mental health professionals, post links to articles and feel part of an international community of counsellors and psychotherapists. I occassionally comment on things I’m doing but the vast majority of my posts are about my work and research interests. I have encouraged my students to follow me but I do not follow them and so far there have been no boundary issues.
Blogging is something else I like to do and again I’m working out what is and isn’t appropriate for a counsellor to share on a public forum. I want my personality to come through but I don’t want the blog to become too personal. At the moment I’m sticking to book reviews and mental health topics. But as my confidence as a blogger increases maybe I will relax and write more freely about my experiences.