ACA Blog

Michelle Wade
Mar 08, 2011

Social Networking and Counseling

Since this is my first blog, I thought that perhaps I should somewhat introduce myself. I am currently pursuing my Ed.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision from Argosy University, DC and professionally I do in-home counseling. My research interests focus mainly on the use of technology in counseling and I have geared the majority of my doctoral student career within that field. I have a passion for educating mental health counselors about the uses and things that we might want to be aware of with regard to technology in counseling. And so it is my hope that this blog allows my one voice to be heard as well as a source for perception challenging for you all. In the 21st century, we are very easily instantly connected to each other through email, cell phones, social networking sites, and a myriad of technologies associated with those things. Through this blog, I plan on exploring some of these technologies one by one and hope to show potential as well as their risks.

Scenario 1: Client comes in to your office and says, “I saw your facebook profile, I hope your dog is feeling better” How do you handle it?

Scenario 2: 14 year old female client comes into your office and says she is feeling hopeless and depressed because Becky unfriended her on facebook. What is your response?

Scenario 3: You use the friend finder application on facebook and it pulls up your client’s profile because you had his email, and you notice that his profile picture is of him drinking and he is a recovering alcoholic. What do you do?

Unfortunately, all three of these scenarios are highly feasible in today’s society. As a counselor who wants to keep public and private life separate, you may feel as if facebook is nothing but trouble waiting to happen and so you have nothing to do with it. I challenge you to replace facebook in scenario one with Google. In other words, whether you are on facebook or not, your client can find out information about you rather easily in today’s technology based world and you need to be prepared for it.

Scenario 1 is dealt with relatively easy if you know where on facebook to set your privacy settings - this week. Leave it to facebook to change the rules of the game and you not be on top of it. A few months ago, facebook changed the privacy setting policy for albums to where each individual album had to have privacy settings associated with it. No longer could a blanket privacy setting be enough. So those pictures that out of context may make you look irresponsible just became publically accessible. My suggestion for keeping up with privacy setting changes, become a fan of facebook and friend Mark Zuckerberg. Another thing to note about the statuses that you put out there, if someone has access to your wall postings, they have access to your statuses unless you private each individual status. Also note, that posting things on facebook have time stamps and liking items makes patterns noticeable. So if you are a night owl like me who admits to liking Law and Order, that is now accessible. If my privacy settings are not set correctly, you will see that I posted an update at 2am and I am a fan of crime shows.

Scenario 2: I told someone today, 3-5 years ago, my response to this would have been ”ok and that is a problem why?” But today, unfriending on facebook can have damaging effects on self-esteem and self-perception. We need to value whatever our clients bring to us and understand that their perception is their reality. While we may feel as if there was no reason that Becky in California, whom our client has never met in person, unfriending our client in Georgia is no big deal. To our client, her worth as a friend was marked down because in her egocentric world, she was pushed into an outcast position.

Scenario 3: While we may not have the intention to actually “facebook stalk” our clients, this scenario could happen as innocently as I described. Just last night I was checking for classmates and because I have masters’ level supervisees emails under the same email address contacts, it found those supervisees. Now imagine if I had a client’s email address and it popped up. I am now faced with the dilemma of knowing something beyond the therapy room about my client that can impede his progress. Or at the very least I think I know something, that picture could be years old and before he got sober. So do I address it in therapy? OR do I make an assumption of it being an old picture? OR do I make the assumption it is a recent picture, but not address it? What is in the best interest of my client?

There’s a lot more to talk about on this topic, thank goodness we have 12 weeks at the very least to explore the topic. Next week, we’ll begin looking at twitter and whether tweets are a good thing or a bad thing…or maybe somewhere in the middle.

Michelle E. Wade is a counselor and doctoral student focusing on in-home therapy and technology in counseling.

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