I have spent time lately training therapists and writing about a therapist’s boundaries online. And so now I am curious from the other perspective, what people think about connecting with their therapist online via social media sites like Facebook, MySpace or other similar social networks?
The Counselor’s Code of Ethics
I guess it might help for those of you who are not in the counseling profession, to talk first about our code of ethics- what we as therapists, counselors, psychologists, social workers and psychotherapists must carry out to remain ethical. Regardless of the discipline, we all have a code of ethics that we are expected to follow, and with a few differences in intent and wording, there are some ethical tenets that remain universal. Two of these tenets are with regard to confidentiality and dual relationships.
Current State of Play
While most ethical codes have not yet addressed social media in their codes [UPDATE: 10 years from this original post, most codes have indeed addressed social media much as described below] , some of us in the field have interpreted the existing codes as applied to social networking as follows:
- Friending a client on Facebook could potentially breach confidentiality. While the client may agree or even initiate the connection, others who are friends of the therapist and/or the client may “connect the dots” and assume or confirm that the person is indeed a client of the therapist.
- Friending a client on Facebook could be interpreted as a dual relationship. As a therapist I do not socialize with my clients. I don’t meet my clients for coffee and I don’t go to their home for dinner. Inviting a client to my Facebook page is like inviting a client into my living room.
So, if you are in therapy and you friend your therapist or other helping practitioner, please understand that their lack of “friendship” online is their ethical responsibility. Most therapists address this with you in your initial session now.
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