We know that many of you find using social media beneficial, but occasionally difficulties can arise.
We’ve worked with our Private Practice division to refresh our social media guidance to ensure that it continues to best support you, and to highlight the key points you should be aware of as a therapist using these channels.
We’ve also explored some of the difficult situations people might find themselves involved in on social media and have provided some things to consider if you encounter any of these.
You may also wish to discuss and review your social media profiles with your supervisor from time to time.
This guidance specifically applies to members using social networking sites or blogs to communicate with friends, family, professional networks and clients.
How social media relates to the Ethical Framework
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 our members. This is covered in our Ethical Framework. It’s crucial to recognise that the same ethical obligations of professional conduct apply in an online environment. As such, you should always apply the principles and values of the Ethical Framework and use your ethical and professional judgement when posting content online.
Your profile and privacy
Check your own profile
Your social profiles represent you and you shouldn’t put anything on it that you don’t want to be associated with. You can ask a friend to check your profiles, using a search engine to identify any issues and ensuring your information is accurate. It can also be a good idea to review your social media profiles from the perspective of a client or a potential client. Consider your photo, tone and style of communication.
Manage 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’s not unusual for clients, their families and potential employers to look for information about a practitioner online – searches will bring up social media profiles.
Remember that social networking sites, even closed groups, are public
All social media comments are permanent. Even if you later delete them, they’re recordable, shareable and often searchable. What you post could be shared and read by anyone and could be taken out of context.
Keep your professional and personal life as separate as possible
Talking about lived experience professionally can be useful but consider how much you’d like to share about your personal life. You may wish to have separate accounts or use different social media channels for different purposes. Even a private account where you don’t identify your profession can easily be traced, so please act responsibly.
Your professional reputation
Protect your professionalism and reputation
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. Some people may build up a picture of you as a therapist and of your private practice from your social media activity. Anything you share should be considered given the context of your profession.
Follow clear guidance and policies on social media usage and what constitutes misuse
Your employer may have a social media policy which you may be expected to uphold.
You shouldn’t publish anything which could identify a client online in any non-secure medium.
A fundamental commitment in our Ethical Framework is to show respect by ‘protecting client confidentiality and privacy’. 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.
Maintain appropriate boundaries with clients
You may wish to discuss social media when contracting so expectations and boundaries are clear from the start, for instance on the topic of friend requests from clients. The Ethical Framework guides that “reasonable care is taken to separate and maintain a distinction between our personal and professional presence on social media where this could result in harmful dual relationships with clients”.
Consider your clients’ feelings
It’s worth taking a moment to think about whether you’re sharing information that you’re happy for your clients to know about and how they would feel if they saw it. Clients can react or be affected by posts in unexpected ways. Think about how a client might react before posting. Tweets and posts can be misinterpreted and clients can react in unexpected ways. For example, if you tweet that you’ve had an exhausting day, a client might feel that the tweet was about their session with you.
Be mindful of the impact of your comments on others
Avoid using language that other people might consider inappropriate or offensive. Think about how others will feel to read your message, especially if it’s obviously directed at them and they are identified in it. We’d encourage you to be polite, respectful and kind.
Be part of a healthy debate
A discussion where people have differing opinions can be handled respectfully. It’s possible to have a passionate debate while still being considerate of other people’s views. Keep in mind the impact of your interactions online on your reputation, your profession and others. Consider whether your post is in keeping with the values and principles of the Ethical Framework.
It’s your choice if you want to respond
You don’t have to engage if you don’t want to – even tagged posts can be ignored. Don’t let people put you under pressure to reply. Sometimes it’s not appropriate to respond and to do so doesn’t always resolve the situation.
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. Social networking sites can make it easier to engage (intentionally or unintentionally) in behaviour that may not be acceptable.
Think about the motivation for posting
Sometimes people post comments or responses on social media to provoke a certain reaction out of someone else. You may wish not to respond if you feel they are doing this.
Negative situations on social media
There are a variety of ways in which bullying can take place via social media, and they can all have a harmful impact on someone’s mental health and wellbeing. These can include:
- spreading malicious and abusive rumours
- harassing someone repeatedly
- intimidation and blackmail
- online stalking
- posting embarrassing or humiliating images
- posting someone’s private details
- setting up false profiles
If someone is bullying you via social media, you may wish to block them (see the section on ‘blocking’ too) and report them to the social media site. If possible, take a screen shot of the message as you may need this as proof. If this bullying takes place within a closed group, alert the admin of the group who can act according to the group’s rules.
Discrimination, prejudice and abuse
Sadly, sometimes people can face discrimination and prejudice on social media from other users. It can be a shocking and upsetting experience to go through.
People can be targeted on social media for a number of reasons, including their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class or disability. If you’re attacked in this way you may want to take a record of the offensive posts and report them to the relevant social media platform. You may want to block the person targeting you as well. If this happens within a closed group, report the posts to group’s admin.
Social media posts may be considered as a crime under English and Welsh law, if they stir up hatred on the grounds of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity. The police will consider whether a post is a criminal offence which is motivated by hate.
A troll is a social media user who deliberately makes offensive, irrelevant or annoying posts that aim to provoke, upset or offend. If you feel someone is trolling you it’s always best to ignore them as even reasoned arguments may be taken out of context. A troll is different to a dissatisfied customer who may be using social media to publicly criticise an organisation or ask questions.
This is a form of social media harassment where a large number of accounts fill the comments of a post with criticisms or insults and target a single person. Sometimes this can be co-ordinated and can include sending private messages. It can be carried out by people in support of a particular cause or person. Just like trolling, often the people involved in the pile-on can’t be reasoned with. Again, it can be best to ignore this, rather than engage. You may wish to turn off your notifications, or even to take a break from social media, until the situation calms down.
Remember to take care of your own wellbeing
Social media can sometimes be overwhelming. It can be a good idea to regulate the amount of time you spend on it. You may want to turn off your notifications or take a break from it from time to time to protect your own mental health and wellbeing. It can be helpful to create a supportive network around yourself who you can turn to if social media is affecting how you feel.
Further steps to take
If you’re being targeted repeatedly by individuals you can choose to block these voices so they do not appear in your feed and can’t access your content.
Keep a record of what’s happened and when
It’s a good idea to keep screenshots of any concerning or abusive posts and a log of when they’ve happened in case you need to produce this for evidence during any further action.
Contact the relevant organisation
You can report misconduct on social networking sites to that particular channel.
You may wish to seek legal advice if you feel comments are defamatory or that you’re being harassed or stalked on social media or there is a potential breach of discrimination or any other relevant law. We’re unable to investigate matters that fall under legal jurisdiction.
Contact the police
If you’re being harassed, threatened, or being targeted with abuse because of disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity via social media channels, you can report the incident to the police. Such incidents may be classed as a hate crime.
Our conduct process
Our professional conduct process focuses primarily on serious concerns where there’s a public risk or where public confidence in the professions could be undermined by one of our member’s actions.
There are some limited circumstances when concerns about a member’s non-client related posts on social media may go through one of our conduct processes. Read more about our Article 12.6 conduct process.
We know this is a growing area and we’re working 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.