Ethical Considerations in Online Counselling: Social Media

Hi, and welcome to this blog post where I’ll be discussing a few topics that might come up when working online.

If you’ve missed any of my other posts on online counselling, you can read them here.

When a counselling client is working with me face to face, it is usually because they live in the same town as myself, or in a nearby town.

This might lead to us bumping into one another on the street, at a shop, sometimes even at a pub or party.

There have been many conversations about how to deal with this when it happens.

One of the best moments to deal with this is at the start of therapy, or in the therapist’s written contract.

BACP has guidance on this for practitioners, as well as information for the general public. Their ethical framework is also helpful to make decisions about how to deal with this in private practice.

Different practitioners and clients alike might be more or less comfortable with the possibility of meeting outside the sessions in this manner. It is just something that might become a reality at any point.

We can agree to acknowledge each other with a nod and carry on.

Some of us might be comfortable with saying hello to our clients and even having a short conversation about general stuff – the weather for example.

Generally, we would be with others, so the nature of our counselling relationship is bound by confidentiality – on the therapist’s side. The client can disclose this if they so wish.

I personally wouldn’t see this as a major issue, and more importantly, it could give important information for following sessions.

How was that for you, seeing me outside of the therapy room?

What did it bring up for you?

What could either of us have done differently?

What shall we do next time we see each other in public?

Let’s now tackle the same topic but from an online perspective.

More and more counsellors are offering online counselling, and this is becoming a popular way for people to get access to counselling, whether it is because they live in rural areas, are not able to travel to a therapist’s office, or for convenience in other ways.

Social media is a great way to work and market our practices online. It’s one of the main ways I do networking and give out information about my services, about counselling topics and other topics I’m passionate about (just like this blog!)

Rather than see Social Media as a hindrance, I see it as a great opportunity to offer information and support to more people than the ones I can see in my private practice.

Resources on mental health, self-care, and realted topics are important as they might be a source of solace and support for those considering counselling but not quite ready to take that step just yet.

Having online profiles on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Youtube, and others means that anyone can find us and follow us.

Just like we did with meeting in town, we must decide what is OK, and ethical, for us as therapists when it comes to our clients finding us online.

There’s also the possibility that Facebook might “suggest friends” to us that just happen to be our clients.

The most strict thing to do in this case would be to block the client, but I’d like to offer some other options.

I’ll give the example of my own facebook use. My personal profile is private, I check settings often and limit posts every few months.

The only things public on my profile are my cover photo, my profile pic, and public posts which are mainly business related. I’ve got the “followers” mode on because colleagues or people interested in my content might want to catch up on that platform.

Some of those might be clients.

All the content that I share that is public, including my cover photo, relate to my business. Nothing that is shared for friends and family is public.

This keeps the boundaries clear, and keeps me safe from feeling like I’m inadvertently self-disclosing to clients or potential clients.

If a previous or current client wants to follow me on my other social media platforms, I won’t worry as they are business profiles.

If I had a personal profile on instagram, for example, I’d have the option of making that profile private and people would need to request access to it.

There are many ways to keep our private lives confidential online. They don’t have to be too strict or too lenient.

The key is that we want our counselling relationships with clients to be safe and contained.

Keeping up to date with encryption, GDPR legislation, security of each social media platform, and having conversations with clients about this topic will keep everyone safe. Also, reading up on guidance from our membership bodies can also be helpful.

Have you got any further suggestions, or questions regarding finding your client or therapist in public or online?

Drop me a line in the comments and I’ll be happy to add it to this post.

Until next week…

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