You have a Facebook page designed for your professional practice. You notice that one of the followers is a current client. They post many comments that identify themselves as your client. How would you handle this?
In this day and age of social networking this is an increasingly likely scenario. And if we are to be good digital citizens and demonstrate our e-professionalism we need to think about how to handle social media ethically.
What are the options for handling the above-mentioned situation ethically while working to maintain the relationship with the client? We could ‘block’ our client but what are the implications of that action for our relationship? Or would it draw even more attention to them? Do we post something publicly that addresses the client’s comments? Or..?
Our CCPA Code of Ethics (B 2) states, “Counselling relationships and information resulting therefrom are kept confidential.”
Hmm. How to preserve the client’s confidentiality and actually put a stop to the situation?
There is no easy answer for how to resolve this scenario!
At the recent CCPA conference my colleague, Susan Dempsey and I co-facilitated a workshop on being digitally aware and we used this very scenario as a discussion point. While it doesn’t resolve the issue described above it is wise to be as proactive as possible. To address the issues of ‘friending’ or ‘following’ ahead of time with clients. Let them know what your stance is on social media at the same time as you are going over your informed consent.
The 2014 Amercian Counseling Association Code of Ethics H.6.b. Social Media as Part of Informed Consent states, “Counselors clearly explain to their clients, as part of the informed consent procedure, the benefits, limitations, and boundaries of the use of social media.”
Dr. Keely Kolmes has written a number of excellent articles for clinicians on using social media. Through a Creative Commons licence she offers her private practice policy on social media for clinicians to copy, share or adapt.
In an article on social networking, the Zur Institute has a sample social media policy
“At times I may conduct a web search on clients before the beginning of therapy or during therapy. If you have concerns or questions regarding this practice, please discuss it with me. I do not accept friend requests from current or former clients on my psychotherapy related profiles on social networking sites due to the fact that these sites can compromise clients’ confidentiality and privacy. For the same reason, I request that clients do not communicate with me via any interactive or social networking websites.”
I know I have some work to do in this area. How about you?
Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca
 Zur, O. (2014). To Accept or Not to Accept? How to respond when clients send « Friend Request » to their psychotherapists or counselors on social networking sites. Retrieved June 4, 2015 from http://www.zurinstitute.com/socialnetworking.html.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA