The Ethics of Social Networking

Christine Whelan | Posted on 04/01/10

Attitudes are harder to change than behaviors, so just you wait: We're going to see a dramatic shift in norms of "professional" relationships in the coming years.

Should you "friend" your therapist on Facebook? If you are a doctor or mental health professional, what information is Google-able about you that your patients might find? Social networking has brought a new layer of complexity to doctor-patient (and, indeed, professor-student) interactions.

This week both The Washington Post and PsychCentral weighed in. Asks Dana Scarton in the Post:

Should a therapist review the Web site of a patient or conduct an online search without that patient's consent? Is it appropriate for a therapist to put personal details about himself on a blog or Web site or to join Facebook or other social networks? What are the risks of having patients and therapists interact online?

The American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association don't have any specific rules, but it's not to say that this isn't a topic of debate among practitioners.

Dr. John M Grohol recently gave a presentation of tips-and shared them on PsychCentral:

  • Feel free to be on social network like Facebook or Twitter. But do not "friend" your clients and do not allow your clients to "friend" you.
  • Become intimately familiar with the privacy controls on these networks and ensure that the general public cannot see personal details of your life you would prefer to share only with your immediate friends and family.
  • Develop a social media policy.
  • Anything that is publicly available online is food for thought. While I don't encourage therapists to investigate and research their clients, if a client has a public blog or journal, the client should be aware that their therapist may be reading it.
  • Setting and maintaining clear boundaries is always the hallmark of a professional therapeutic relationship.

And the frustrations of Facebook don't stop there, says another mental health practitioner: Her clients are updating their status while in session with her.

Teachers and professors in any discipline might create a similar list of rules for their social networking life. I have a no-friends-with-current-students policy on Facebook, and while I am certainly not scanning their profile pages for incriminating information, they need to be aware that a future employer might. And it drives me crazy when students are texting and scanning Facebook profiles during class.

Attitudes are harder to change than behaviors, however. So just you wait... we're going to see a dramatic shift in norms of "professional" relationships in the coming years. And oh, the new moral quandaries they will pose!

blog comments powered by Disqus