How Therapists Should Use Facebook

Facebook has grown so big that it’s actually hard for many people to avoid using it. If you don’t use it, you may miss out on social events, your friends’ baby photos, updates on others’ big life events, discussions, or any other things your friends, family and others are posting there. The easy way to deal with this is to just join Facebook and log in every now and then to stay updated, but as a therapist, this decision isn’t straightforward. You have practitioner-patient codes of practice that are still valid outside of your practice’s walls, including on social networking sites.

Despite Facebook’s informal nature, it is also a powerful marketing platform. If you create a business page for your practice, you have a valuable gateway to an audience who spend a lot of time on Facebook. We’ll take you through some of the main questions you might have about using this very popular social network.

As a therapist, why would I consider using Facebook?

A presence on Facebook will enable you to reach out to the largest social networking population on the internet. At the point of writing, it boasts having 900,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors, or 1.49 billion active monthly users, depending on what data you look at. Those are quite impressive numbers, especially compared to the second largest network Twitter, which “only” has an estimated 310,000,000 unique monthly visitors. Needless to say, you can assume that your clients and prospects are more likely to use Facebook than any other social networking site, making it a compelling reason to at least have your practice name and services listed there in case they look you up.

So why do people mainly use Facebook? According to a recent survey, most people use it “because everyone else uses it”. In a way, that is also why you should be using it as one of your social media channels - namely, if your aim is to get new clients, you can be sure most prospects of value to you will be on Facebook. Not everyone uses Twitter, Tumblr, or other networks, but most people use Facebook. If you can somehow tap into people’s interests on Facebook and grow your followers there, your posts could be shared by people who like them, or people could mention you in comments so others can look you up and start noticing you.

There are a lot of challenges involved in setting up an appropriately professional page without the possibilities that current or future clients will complicate your working relationship. If you jump into the challenge of using Facebook as part of your overall business strategy, it’s important you have decided on your tactics around the ways you handle followers on Facebook before you start running into mistakes you might be held responsible for in the end.

We will now take you through some of the things you, as a therapist, need to deal with to create a responsible presence on Facebook. To begin with, we at PlusGuidance suggest that if you decide to actively promote your practice on Facebook, you have a business page for it whilst keeping your personal profile private from your clients and prospects. This way, you separate your persona from the professional role you need to fulfil with clients.

As a therapist, how can I keep my personal profile private?

Facebook allows a great deal of choice in how personal you can make your profile. That said, Facebook frequently changes their privacy stances so that sometimes, your chosen settings might expire so you have to revise your privacy tactics. For this reason, we advise you keep yourself updated with their privacy changes to give yourself a chance to rethink your approach, should that be necessary.

We recommend that therapists keep their personal profile private so only actual friends, family, peers - or whomever you choose to add who are not your clients - are your Facebook friends. That way, you won’t have to worry about constantly keeping a professional appearance when you post from your personal profile. You can adjust the privacy settings so it is difficult to find you, should your clients try to. If you’re worried that clients and others you don’t want to have as Facebook friends can find you by searching for the email you use in your correspondences, you can choose to have your profile attached to a personal email few know about.

Having such a personal profile is of course not going to do anything for your marketing. We just want to highlight that it is possible to be on Facebook as a therapist, in case you were avoiding it for fear of awkward client-therapist collisions. To maintain your profile ‘appropriately private’, you can specify certain rules for yourself. Here, we suggest some you can follow in order to keep your personal Facebook profile under control.

Friend requests

Only accept friend requests from non-clients, people you know personally, and people you trust. Facebook suggests new friends to everyone in order to encourage more socialising on the network. To make it more unlikely that your name will be suggested to your clients, ensure your email address attached to your profile is one that they wouldn’t have used at any point. We suggest this because Facebook commonly uses your email address book to find friends for you to add as a way to help you grow your network.

In your privacy settings, you also have the option to choose who can send you friend requests. By choosing “Public”, everyone can send you these requests, but you can also choose that only “Friends of friends” can send them. This can of course limit your friend requests generally, but you can always be the active ‘friend requester’ yourself if this is a concern. Unfortunately, Facebook does not allow you to choose that no one can send you friend requests. This is one of those areas where you have to decide how you handle friend requests from potential clients you share mutual friends with. If this happens, it’s worth remembering that it’s less complicated to your professional relationship if you reject the request than it is to accept it and then unfriend the person. Discovering that someone has unfriended you can be as hurtful as being rejected face-to-face, particularly if the rejected person is vulnerable already.

Receiving a friend request from a client, on the other hand, can also be a good chance to take this up in sessions you have with that person. Perhaps the person has started to regard you as a personal friend instead of a therapist, in which case you’d consider addressing this with your client before his/her attachment to you undermines the effectiveness of your therapy.

Shared friends

Another concern you may have is the shared friends that even non-friends can see when they click on your profile. Imagine this: a client of yours discovers you have 10 friends in common. The client immediately feels uneasy about sharing their utmost inner secrets to you because he’s thinking “what if our shared friends know about my problems? Worse still - what if they know I’m having therapy with this person?” There’s still plenty of stigma attached to seeking help, so such a revelation could potentially undermine the quality of your sessions.

There are no clear methods of avoiding this situation but there is a way in which you can make your profile less recognisable to those who are not your close friends. By changing your profile picture’s visibility to “only me” in privacy settings, none of your visitors will be able to open it, like it or comment on it. It will however display only in a small format on your profile page, next to your name. Having a picture outdoors or surrounded by people is also a great way to make you less recognisable when compared to, let’s say, a close-up portrait shot of your head and torso. If appropriate, you can even go as far as having a profile picture that doesn’t show your face and changing your first name to a nickname or diminutive name.

General privacy settings

When you’re logged into Facebook, have a look at your account settings to see all the ways you can tailor your privacy settings. Instead of leaving this up to chance, you have the opportunity to be very specific with whom you share what, including timeline posts. You can even get to see how your profile is viewed publicly by people who are not your Facebook friends. Take some time to look through all the different settings - it’ll make you more aware of how Facebook tracks and displays your information.

A word of warning: Your privacy settings mainly apply to the things pertaining to your own profile. Whenever you comment or post on other people’s profiles and pages, your comments will be visible for all who can view that profile or page. Basically, your comment or post will fall under the privacy settings of that person or page.

As a therapist, how can a Facebook Page help me?

A Facebook business “Page” can give you the one-way relationship that seems ideal in a marketing context as opposed to a two-way session context. As you’ll be unlikely to want your services to extend into complex relationships on social media, pages will give you the opportunity to list your practice without the obligation to form mutual relationships online. People can simply “like” your page if they want to follow your updates, and you generally have control over how the page is run, e.g. who can share posts on your wall. You can’t create a page, however, without having a personal profile, so you’d need to set up a profile first.

A simple way to view a Facebook “Page” is that it’s your feed of posts representing your business or brand, as opposed to your Facebook “Profile” which represents your personal self. Many people choose to network on Facebook through their profile only, but doing this means you have to maintain a fairly professional and serious image so you keep some boundaries with people who know only your professional side. Facebook pages can make the separation between personal and professional easier by providing a more focused space for the things pertaining to your work. Particularly as a therapist, there is a greater need to keep boundaries clear to avoid the risk of prospects or existing clients warming to your persona, or requesting your attention and help outside of your therapy sessions.

On a Facebook page, your communication can be significantly less personal and more one-way than on profiles where your friends are more inclined to expect replies from you. Especially if your page name doesn’t refer to a person’s name, but instead refers to the name of your practice (e.g. London Health Centre), page followers won’t be as inclined to seek responses from you personally.

Furthermore, businesses create a page to keep their customers updated on news, events, offers and other relevant information. It’s a great way to communicate and keep in touch with your clients so they remain interested in you. It’s also essential to have a Facebook business page to help you get found when people look up your services on Facebook or just want more up-to-date information about you. Because Facebook is way more populated than other networks, people are also more likely to look up your practice there as opposed to, say, on Twitter. When you’re logged on to Facebook every day, it can be more convenient to look up your details on Facebook than on Google or other search engines.

Important details to have on your page include links to your website and other professional profiles, e.g. you can share your PlusGuidance profile to let others know you’re available for online sessions.

Finally, your business is your practice and services. If your aim is to be found and contacted by new clients, your practice’s Facebook page will be most successful by addressing visitors’ problems directly. If your page is created to network with peers, your posts should reflect that. Without specific goals for your page, you can end up appealing to everyone - and thereby no one. That’s why your first step in deciding what to do with a Facebook page should be to decide why you have it in the first place.

Final thoughts...

Even in our advanced internet age, the rules of therapist-client relationships aren’t that easy to determine on social networks. There are questions you need to consider and make your mind up about. But this doesn’t make it wrong to have a Facebook page. With time, you’ll find it more natural to know what’s appropriate and not in your responses to followers. Facebook also has a great help section if you are ever in doubt about the technicalities of changing something to your profile. Just make sure you know what you’re going into - and ask for advice if you’re unsure about anything!

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