October 16, 2014

8 things Therapists using social media should know

This article was authored by Lauren Thomas, Online Professional Community Manager at the Australian Childhood Foundation.

Recently, a friend of mine told me she had started seeing a therapist. She was really pleased about her decision, and felt they had good rapport. After chatting for a minute or so about it, she sheepishly added that I knew the therapist in question – which she had discovered by looking her up on social media and saw that we were connected. This got me thinking… Social media creates a terrific sense of intimacy with others, but we work in a sector which privileges confidentiality. So how do we navigate the social media waters? I’ve put together a list of 7 things to know for your professional and personal safety when using social media.


Check and set your settings to privacy levels you feel comfortable with. These setting options change frequently, so check back periodically.

a. On Facebook, the setting ‘friends except acquaintances’ is recommended so that only those you have accepted can see your posts

b. With Twitter, once you tweet, it is there forever, especially now that the Library of Congress archives all tweets. So think twice and reread before hitting send

If someone is following you that you don’t want to see or hear from,you can block them, but you can’t prevent them seeing your tweets as these are public. Learn more about blocking on twitter here

c. On linkedin, if any member searches by your first and last name, they can see your full profile unless you have blocked them. Learn more about blocking on LinkedIn here.


Regardless of your settings, your profile picture (in thumbnail size) will be viewable on many social channels. Don’t put images in there that are compromising, and use your discretion on the kind of images you use for these spots.


Depending on your clientele, it may be best to avoid posting images of yourself and/or your children in front of your street number, house or other identifiable information such as schools or school logos.


Regardless of whether you use social media, conduct regular online searches of your name to be aware of the information that is available. If information is inconsistent with your responsibilities as a therapist, take measures to have it removed (if possible).

5. GOOGLING YOUR CLIENTS Just like my friend who decided to google her therapist, you may decide to find out more about a client by doing a client Internet search. Ethical practice requires that you do this with the client’s best interests as the primary motivation, rather than your own curiosity.

a. If you think it is important research, document occurrences in your client record, providing clear client-centred reasons for conducting the Internet search


The APS recommends that boundaries must be kept between the professional and personal, and advises that Psychologists discuss this with their clients where needed. In addition, it may be worth considering adding a social media clause into your client contracts. In this way, the topic can be discussed up front without the need for hurt feelings later. 7. READ YOUR POLICIES Your workplace and relevant therapeutic governing body will likely have policies, codes and guidelines that govern your use of social media. These should set out in writing what use of social media at work is acceptable and what is unacceptable. They should also give clear guidelines for employees on what they can and cannot say about the organisation.


Cloud storage and automatic backup options can be lifesavers if something goes wrong with your device, but for therapists this can create some issues around the storage of client information. We all know that there are rules around the information we keep on clients, where we must keep it and how long we must keep it for. Something you may not have considered however is how storage to the cloud impacts your client information when accessed on your mobile device. If your settings are to automatically backup, then you may be inadvertently transferring accessed files to third party storage systems held elsewhere in the world. It is also a good idea to passcode your phone, or better yet, keep a separate work phone if your device is likely to contain private or confidential information. This will help ensure content isn’t inadvertently stumbled across by family and friends as well.