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Follow you, follow me?

By Lauren Muhlheim, Psy.D.

LACPA Ethics Committee Member

 

In every day interactions, common courtesy holds that we should reciprocate gestures.  However, this does not hold true for psychologists engaging with clients on social media.

 

With the rise of sites such as Facebook and Twitter, many psychologists, especially younger ones, are active on social media.  Professionally, social media offers an opportunity to connect with others and also to inexpensively build a brand and market.  Although the APA Ethics code does not specifically address social media, the APA Ethics code can be applied and provide guidance.

 

The first relevant code is 3.05 Multiple Relationships.  It is a good idea to first think about each social media site you are on and to separate your personal from your business uses.  If you were to engage with clients on social media, it could be considered a dual relationship.  Just as you wouldn’t interact socially with clients in real life, socializing with them over social media could create a dual relationship. “Friending” your clients on Facebook, or following them on Twitter, or encouraging them to follow you, could present problems, especially if they have an identifiable handle (if their name on twitter makes obvious who they are).

 

Our ethics code also specifies that we must maintain client confidentiality (4.01).  Social media is by nature public, not private, and your lists of Twitter followers, Facebook friends and likers, and LinkedIN connections are all public.  Therefore, just as you wouldn’t identify your list of clients in real life, it’s inadvisable to have clients following your social media presence if they use an identifiable handle because it could reveal your relationship.

 

Furthermore, remain mindful about sharing any information about clients over social media.  Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, encourage the use of status updates. There have been instances where doctors have shared information over Facebook and even though they did not reveal the client’s name, others were able to identify the patient based on the information posted.  We may think we have not disclosed any identifying information about a client, but in a public forum we may be providing much more data than we realize.  Even a seemingly benign reference could cause a client to feel exposed if they were to determine you were “talking about them.” 

 

It is a good idea to make a social media policy part of your practice’s informed consent.  Dr. Keely Kolmes, an expert on social media ethics has made her social media informed consent policy, as well as several relevant articles, available for free to psychologists on her website: www.drkkolmes.com

 

And as a last word of social media advice: think twice, tweet once. 

 

Reference:

Kolmes, K. (2010) Social Media Policy.  Retrieved 06/15/2015 from http://www.drkkolmes.com/docs/socmed.pdf

 

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