There are many sociological and interpersonally weighty issues raised by the whole arena of “social networking” sites such as Facebook. But recently I began to think about how inspiring some of the silly, playful parts of Facebook can be for ways to reach our clients creatively. For those of you that partake of Facebook you know there are a myriad of surveys, quizzes and other interactive opportunities to learn such things as “what would your trailer trash name be?” or “what rock star are you?” but in the midst of these kind of surveys is a truth that bears scrutiny: we all want to be known.
Everyone would like someone to be interested in them, the small details of their likes and dislikes, their dreams, their worries. To me, surveys and quizzes on social networking, or even in forwarded emails, are attempts we make at connection. One popular one that I have answered several times includes a question “who is most likely to respond?” and it is telling that we all know who the responders are in our life and those that will pass the opportunity by. Not that either role carries any weight or judgement – just that there are differences and we know them. A recent survey I took on Facebook was “what poem are you?” and I was piqued by this since I enjoy reading and writing poetry. My own use of Facebook is totally personal and not open to clients or anyone except identified friends.
So how does any of this inspire us as counselors or connect to that professional world? I think we need to look at our clients longing to be known. They don’t have a longing to share demographic information, history of prior treatment and current medications used, as in the kind of intake questioning we all have to do. Not that kind of “knowing”, which can become the sole focus at times in clinical settings. No, I am referring to a deeper knowing- an existential and authentic way of trying to know and be open to someone where the smallest details or interests DO carry the essence of the person. What country song would they be? Who would respond when they send that forwarded Email survey? What object do they own that means the most to them? There are so many “surveys” that we can do verbally and in my case through art, to find our way into their truest self- even if starting from a seemingly silly question.
I'm not suggesting at all that counselors connect to clients through Facebook, except in the case of professional fan pages if that. But we can learn from our own use and reflection on social networking as a cultural phenomenon. This is how Facebook inspires me- to find a way to connect- not just to “social network”, and to be reminded by Facebook that each person is unique and wants so much to be known and understood. I would rather think of technology and networking as thresholds not destinations. And if reflection on Facebook "tools" leads me closer to understanding a client- then there is a benefit. So what poem are you?
Joan Phillips is a counselor, art therapist, and marriage and family therapist. She maintains a private practice and teaches at the University of Oklahoma.