With social media becoming the front lines of modern communication, how far should a school therapist go to be accessible and still maintain a private life? In today's virtual world, there is little privacy left, and everyone is faced with a "how much is too much?" scenario, but for therapists, where the equation includes doctor/patient relationship complications, the answer is vitally important. It's a sticky issue. On one hand, open communication is your stock in trade. On the other, revealing personal information about your own life may result in a lack of professionalism, and as a result, hurt your reputation.
The problem with friending people is that they are often not really your friends. In order for a doctor/patient relationship to work, the patient – and in the case of students, also the patient’s parents – must trust your authority. Consider what is often inadvertently revealed through social media. Even though you may not choose to post about an embarrassing incident that took place during your college years, old friends may not be quite as circumspect. But even if there are no skeletons, incidents, or ex-boyfriends lurking in your closet waiting for the opportunity to embarrass you publicly, life choices, like political and religious beliefs, can stimulate anger and dissension when you least expect it.
THowever, refusing friend requests from colleagues, parents, and patients can seem distant and unfriendly. The answer may lie in image control. Creating a separate profile for professional relationships keeps your past and personal life out of the spotlight while giving you the opportunity to build better relationships with people you work with. You can chat, answer questions, and post advice in an informal and relaxed manner while keeping your personal life private and your college buddies on another page. Another option is using privacy settings to your advantage. Facebook.com, for example, allows you to assign people to groups. Each post can be directed to a certain group and only visible to the people within the group.
There are some distinct advantages to social media for school therapists, especially those working with teenagers. Students can be secretive and difficult to read, and it’s often hard to get them to open up. Social media offers you a glimpse of their inner workings, their family dynamic, and their interests. In addition, it gives you the opportunity to approach them in a non-intimidating, personal way they might respond to, making face-to-face communication less strained. You get the rare chance to see intimate interaction with family and friends to gain fresh insight into what makes your students tick. The key to social media interaction is to guard your privacy…while hoping your patients and their parents do exactly the opposite.
Blogging is another form of social media that school therapists can use to their advantage. Keep it professional, but not stuffy. From a professional standpoint, the more interest you can generate, the bigger audience you attract, and the bottom line today is that audience equals credibility. Writing about your insights and giving personal analysis of key issues and news in your field can establish you as an expert, which goes a long way towards building a reputation that patients can trust.
Social media is here to stay. Friending, tweeting, texting, digging, blogging, vlogging, and podcasting are a way of life for today’s students, and the therapist who learns to tune in, turn on, and get in the groove can find endless new ways to communicate and educate.