We use the internet to discover information about everything from the best shoes to the best doctors. But how far should our searches go?
The other day I was commiserating with my mom, who was dealing with a sore hip. She had called her doctor and asked for a referral, but the specialist couldn’t get her in for 2 months! “I don’t want to wait 2 months, but I don’t know of anyone else who treats hips,” my mom lamented. My advice to her? Google “hip doctors near me” and read the reviews!
The internet and social media have undoubtedly affected the way we search for information, including how we make decisions about our healthcare. In fact, 88% of people say that they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
Admittedly, this makes many of my colleagues in the mental health world nervous.
After all, we take confidentiality very seriously. We can’t discuss client relationships or respond to feedback (positive or negative). This includes google reviews, Facebook comments, and even social media personal messaging platforms. This is why I tell anyone who follows our Instagram or Facebook pages to use our HIPAA compliant email system to get ahold of us if it involves personal information.
And therapists historically were trained to be a “blank slate” for clients. Counselors weren’t supposed to share any personal information, for fear that this could change a client’s opinion about their counselor and impact their healing. The thinking went that if a “client” found out about their therapist’s religion, political views, or parenting fails, it might impact their ability to trust their professional direction.
“Googling” for Personal VS Professional Information
Sharing small, relatable tidbits about myself has helped me become MORE connected to the people I work with rather than less. I know that I feel better about being vulnerable with someone when I’ve gotten to know them a little better, so why should it be any different for a potential client?
Also, I’ve found that supporting people in my community (most notably through speaking engagements and social media), has allowed me to help people even before they need to come into my office. I’m able to explain the specific forms of therapy I provide, what kinds of problems I treat, and how I work with clients. All of these things are essential to know about before you meet with your therapist for the first time.
Curiosity may cause some people to delve more deeply into discovering information about their therapist. It may be worth thinking twice about doing this, not necessarily because of what you might discover (we have to pass a pretty stringent series of background checks to maintain our licenses), but because one of the benefits of seeking out help from a therapist is that you are working with an unbiased professional trained to withhold personal judgment. If you learn that they support an organization that you disagree with, would that change how safe you feel in discussing sensitive topics? Many not, but maybe so.
Here’s what you should know about the information you find online about your mental health counselor.
1) Don’t automatically trust Google reviews
We can’t refute claims online due to our stringent adherence to confidentiality. As a therapist, we’d like you to take negative claims with a “grain of salt.”
2) Your therapist CAN’T “friend” you
As of 2019, our licensing board prohibits it. This also has to do with protecting your privacy and personal information, but I think that there are even more important factors to think about. As a client, you choose what information you disclose in session. If we were “friends” on social media, you may be giving access to information that you would prefer not to share.
The dynamics and unwritten rules on social media can muddle the water. Should you “like” or comment on something? What are the underlying meanings associated with these actions? If you are one who tends to “overthink” things, this can really complicate the picture.
3) But you CAN follow their page
Many therapists do have a professional online presence. Although clients may follow me, so do people who are looking for helpful information to support gifted or high-achieving teens and adults with anxiety. (Follow us on Instagram or Facebook). You can also check a counselor’s website to learn more about them professionally. This is by far, the most important information for you to know.
4) If you find something online about your therapist that bothers you, bring it up!
What if you learn that I color my dog, Henry’s tail purple and you think it’s kitschy (It’s pet dye and ADORABLE by the way)? Maybe you are making your own judgments about my sanity right now! Bring it up in therapy. One of the main purposes of counseling is to learn how to have open, honest lines of communication. If you are concerned about something you discover, your therapist is the perfect person to practice these skills with.
On a personal note
I am thankful for how social media has been able to connect me to my community as well as my clients, well beyond the work I do in the 4 walls of my office. If I see you on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis, know that I am constantly thinking of ways that I can support you and help you and your family grow. No further search is needed. I’m here.