One of my clients recently mentioned a post I put on my Facebook page and I just received an invitation from her on LinkedIn. My social media presence is part of my personal life, and I don’t want her or other clients to be part of it. How do I talk to her about this and ask her to respect my privacy?
The increasing use of social media by therapists highlights one way in which our personal and professional lives intersect. A starting point for creating more separation between the two is to maintain control over access to your profile and posts by choosing more restrictive privacy settings. However, this may be in conflict with your professional goals on a site like LinkedIn where your goal is visibility and access for colleagues and other behavioral health professionals to find you. You’ll need to balance your desire for privacy with your desire to be visible to the professional community in deciding how to restrict access to information about you on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus and other social media sites.
Your question suggests that you are thinking about talking with your client about this issue and are aware the conversation may be difficult. It is preferable to have a standard policy regarding all electronic communication including social media and to talk about this when you begin treatment. If your agency doesn’t have such a policy, you can talk with your supervisor about the advisability of bringing up the subject in the first session when you talk about other issues related to your client’s privacy and confidentiality. When this issue comes up after treatment is underway, there is some risk that the client will experience your desire for privacy as a personal rejection; however, being aware of that risk will help you talk with her with sensitivity that minimizes her feelings of rejection and hurt. Keep in mind that your client may have cultural expectations about personal contact and disclosure that are different from yours and this is important to acknowledge and discuss.
I recommend being straightforward with clients about all issues related to boundaries and limits, whenever they arise. This includes acknowledging that the boundaries are often based on your needs and preferences. In this instance, you might say something like “I realize I neglected to talk with you at the beginning of our treatment about my preferences for social media. I prefer to keep my social media presence limited to personal friends and professional colleagues. I don’t respond to client invitations or other communication on social media sites, and my privacy settings limit the information clients can see about me. I’m happy to talk with you about how this feels to you, since my preference may be different than yours. I also think it’s important that we talk about what you saw about me and what reactions to you had to my profile and post.” This communicates both a clear boundary and an openness to talk about the impact of your boundary and your inadvertent self-disclosure on the client.
My next blog will address the issue of how the personal and professional intersect in the lives of psychotherapists more generally. In the meantime, I hope you can use these suggestions in having conversations about social media. Please email me with comments, questions or suggestions for future blog topics.