Social Media Policy
Why this policy exists?
As a counsellor working online I have certain ethical and legal requirements that I am committed to meeting. This includes ensuring the practise of confidentiality and protecting a client’s privacy, which becomes more of an issue when using social media. I am also bound to consider the impact of certain types of communication, interaction, and information sharing upon the boundaries that exist between counsellor and client, and how this might impact upon the therapeutic work. Again, this is liable to become more of an issue when using social media, as the boundaries between professional and personal can become blurred.
This policy describes my approach to social media as directed by my ethical framework and legal understanding. I will attempt to be as specific as possible in stating how I will respond to communication initiated by visitors to my social media sites, and offer recommendation as to how to use my social media sites, for both clients and non-clients. I will also provide an ethical and legal rationale to explain my approach to social media. The purpose of such a policy is to protect both clients and myself when using platforms that have limitations around security and privacy.
No information about clients or their counselling calls will be shared with anyone or on any social media platform.
Social Media Platforms I Use
I currently have a personal profile and business page set up on Facebook and a Twitter account used for professional purposes. Prior to setting up my counselling business I had no accounts on either Facebook or Twitter. My current accounts are set up to promote my business as well as publish material on grief and bereavement which readers may find of interest.
Subsequently, I have decided to remain inactive on my Facebook personal profile in order to keep the boundaries between personal and professional life as clear and coherent as possible. More explanation on this is given in the following sections.
I have a Facebook account set up for my practise in which I post my blogs and links to relevant news stories or articles. I do not accept friend requests made by current clients or former clients, nor will I make friend requests to either type of person. This is to ensure client confidentiality and privacy is not compromised.
Becoming “friends”, even on social media, also has the potential to blur therapeutic boundaries by changing the definition of the relationship and allowing more access to material belonging to an individual’s personal life. This undermines the selectivity and choosing of what is brought to and shared in the counselling session.
I have a Twitter account set up for my practise in which I post my blogs and links to relevant news stories or articles. It is up to your discretion as to whether you choose to follow me. If you are a current or former client then your confidentiality and privacy may be compromised by having a public link to my account.
I do not follow current or former clients on Twitter. My policy is that I only follow organisations, groups and professionals, rather than friends or personal acquaintances. As with friending on Facebook, by not having access to an individual’s online activity, this helps to preserve the boundary between counsellor and client by restricting the information that is shared to the counselling session.
Contact through Social Media
Messaging tools through Facebook and Twitter are not deemed to be secure enough for communication between a counsellor and a client. They are also difficult to keep a record of, which is a legal requirement. Subsequently, I have set my business page on Facebook to remove the messaging facility, and also do not allow messages to be sent to me on Twitter by anybody who is not following me.
I advise all communication outside of counselling appointments to be made via email (firstname.lastname@example.org or through the contact page on my website). This is regarded as a safer and more secure means of communication for a counselling service, and provides a more transparent means of recording contact.
It is possible to contact me by messaging my personal Facebook page and also by followers on Twitter. I would discourage this form of communication, however, for reasons as stated above, and will respond by asking the sender to contact me via email or through the contact page on my website.
Use of Search Engines
I do not use search engines, such as Google or Facebook, to search for clients and find out information about them. I believe this to be unethical as it means I am accessing information that is not being directly shared with me by a client and so could impact negatively upon the therapeutic work.
The only exception to this would be in a crisis or if I believe a client might be at risk in some way. The use of a search engine may then be deemed appropriate to either allay these fears or to help to ensure a client’s safety. If this situation arises I will document my activity and discuss further with a client on our next appointment.
Business Review Sites
It is possible that certain business review sites may automatically add my service to their listings without seeking permission to do so. It may then be possible for clients and former clients to leave comments about my service.
It is not ethical to actively seek reviews or endorsements from clients so I do not encourage leaving comments on such sites. If a client or former client chooses to do so then I will not engage or respond to his or her comments.
You do, of course, have the right to express yourself on any site you wish, but do be aware that you may be compromising your privacy in doing so. If you feel the need to express something because you are unhappy with the service I have provided then I would encourage you to discuss this with me, if you feel able to. There may be therapeutic value in addressing this together rather than leaving comments on a site I am unlikely to come across.
Social media has become part and parcel of everyday life and has brought great benefits with it in terms of being more connected with each other. It is still, however, a relatively new phenomena, and the risks and challenges it poses continue to emerge over time and require addressing. This is certainly the case within the profession of counselling and therapy, in which careful consideration of how it is used is needed, particularly around the issues of confidentiality, privacy and boundaries.
I hope the above policy gives clarity and explanation into these issues, and provides the guidance and instruction as to how to engage on social media if you are a counsellor, current client or former client. If there is anything else you want to clarify or discuss further then please contact me at email@example.com.