We know that many of our members find using social media beneficial, but occasionally difficulties can arise.
Members of our Facebook group (65% of those polled) told us that they’d had concerns about fellow professionals’ behaviour on social media. So, following members’ suggestions we’ve created this guide.
It’s our responsibility to set and uphold the highest standards of professionalism and to promote ethical behaviour, attitudes and judgement on the part of therapists. Although this is covered in our Ethical Framework, here’s some guidance which specifically applies to the use of social media and will support members using social networking sites or blogs to communicate with friends, family, professional networks and clients.
It’s crucial to recognise that the same ethical obligations of professional conduct apply in an online environment. Always apply the principles and values of the Ethical Framework when posting content and use your ethical and professional judgement.
- Remember that social networking sites, even closed groups, are public and comments should be considered permanent - even if you later delete them, they are recordable, shareable and often searchable. It’s a good idea to assume that what you post could be shared and read by anyone and that it could be taken out of context. A good rule is to consider how you, or your organisation’s image may be affected by any comments you make and the potential impact this may have on your professional standing and above all, clients.
- Check your privacy settings. Consider the kinds of information that you want to be available to anyone. Regularly check your privacy settings as social media updates can reset settings. It is not unusual for clients and potential employers to look for information about a practitioner online – searches will bring up social media profiles. Clients’ families sometimes even look specifically for more personal information to help build trust with the practitioner. Posts made by friends or family may also be accessible if they have not set privacy settings.
- Check your own profile, or ask a friend, using a search engine to identify any issues and ensure your information is accurate.
- Keep your professional and personal life as separate as possible. Talking about lived experience professionally can be useful but consider how much you would like to share about your personal life. You could consider having separate accounts or using different social media channels for different purposes. Even a private account where you don’t identify your profession can easily be traced, so you should aim to act responsibly.
- Maintain appropriate boundaries with clients. If you receive ‘friend’ requests from clients you should decline these in a more formal way so the client can understand why the request was declined. You could consider this when contracting.
- You shouldn’t publish anything which could identify a client online in any non-secure medium. Be cautious of separate information that could be combined to breach confidentiality. You should also ensure any work-related issues are appropriate for an online forum.
- Follow clear guidance and policies on social media usage and what constitutes misuse. If you work for an organisation, you may wish to consider developing your own guidance.
- Be part of a healthy debate. Social media can provide an extremely effective way to network with fellow professionals. A discussion where people have differing opinions can be handled respectfully and courteously. You should always keep in mind the impact of your interactions online on your reputation, your profession and others. Remember it is your choice if you want to engage – even tagged posts can be ignored.
- Keep in mind the instant nature of social media messaging - avoid making comments in the heat of the moment at times of frustration or anger. it’s ok to disagree with what other people say, just be aware of how you express this and the language you use. Be minded that social networking sites can make it easier to engage (intentionally or unintentionally) in professional misconduct.
- If you are facing negative comments, consider if it is appropriate to respond. Trolling is an online phenomenon where people are intentionally disruptive – this can take many different forms including setting out to offend or upset - if you feel someone is trolling it is always best to ignore them as even reasoned arguments may be taken out of context and can be harmful to your wellbeing. If you feel you are being bullied you should capture the messages, block the account and report it to the relevant social networking company.
- If you have concerns contact the relevant organisation or seek advice. As a first stage, report the misconduct on social networking sites to the moderator of that site. You may wish to seek legal advice if you feel comments are defamatory.
This guidance will be regularly reviewed. If you have any comments about the guide please email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d really appreciate your thoughts.
We know this is a growing area and we’re looking to bring you more resources in relation to using social media as a professional.
- Good Practice in Action 040 - Social Media, digital technology and the counselling professions
- Good Practice in Action 047 - Working online in the counselling professions
More resources are in production relating to new digital technology e-learning.