So last week I talked about social networking, but for the most part focused more on facebook itself. This week I thought I would talk a little bit about twitter. For those of you who don’t know about twitter, it is a social networking site that allows individuals to microblog. In 140 characters tell your followers what you need/want to tell them.
Tweets can range from what someone had for lunch to linking you to a funny youtube video to even helping revolutionaries organize protests (as we saw with Iran). Twitter, at first glance, can be rather narcissistic and self-absorbed, but this blog is all about challenging the preconceived notions of these technologies.
So how within the counseling field can we use/be affected by Twitter? First, let’s take a look at just one of the comments made on last week’s blog by another ACA blogger Stephanie Adams. She has started a website for the beginning counselor and tweets from @BeginCounselor What a valuable resource for the beginning counselor (and from perusing her site, I’d say for most counselor educators and supervisors as well to help keep us in perspective). She uses her tweets to send words of encouragement and useful links to articles and other counselors that can help provide a support network for those just starting out in this field. Another example of using twitter to disseminate information is @TherapyOnline which is associated with http://www.theonlinetherapyinstitute.com and is a great resource for those trying to pass on great information to others within the field. In other words, as a resource for passing along information to like-minded individuals, twitter is invaluable at times.
Therapeutically, can we use twitter? Twitter allows a lot of anonymity and I can see a number of therapeutic uses for it. Blame it on my tendency to lean to the experiential side of the spectrum, but how great would it be to be able to voice all those unspoken things we bottle up time and time again because 1) they are not appropriate to say at the time, 2) we are afraid to speak our minds and/or 3) we are ashamed of our inner thoughts. Twitter can allow an individual to just get it out there and quite possibly receive feedback from others who feel the same way. I am on twitter as well, both professionally and personally. I will admit that personally, my tweets can be incredibly self-indulgent. That being said, being able to vent about a personal situation and not have to bother my friends and loved ones about something relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things is incredibly helpful for me to process. I am an extrovert and so I need people and I tend to over analyze situations and so twitter allows me to voice a thought and get feedback relatively quickly. Professionally, my twitter account is really about following others within the mental health field and getting ideas for clients and interventions.
Another way to use twitter is maybe tweets between group members. Here’s where that would get a little tricky. Because twitter has relatively low levels of privacy settings, you can either lock your tweets to where you have to approve all of your followers, or you can leave them open to have everyone and anyone run across your tweets. So for a therapeutic group, the confidentiality becomes an issue. If you go to someone’s twitter feed, you can see who they are following as well. So if I had a group of 10 people and they all had their accounts locked, but allowed non group members to follow them, those non-group members would have access to the tweets addressed to the group members. SO, why would I even suggest it as an idea? Let’s say that you decided to set up a group twitter account. IF everyone in the group made a twitter profile for just that one group and only tweeted members within the locked group, then they could converse off and on throughout the week and encourage each other outside of the group. Think about a depression management group who could get words of encouragement and use each other as motivators throughout the week with a quick 140 comment. Or teenagers who are working on low self-esteem being able to tweet throughout a rough week and get feedback from peers encouraging them to make it to the next group.
I am not saying it isn’t risky and new and problematic. BUT if you take the time to educate and monitor, twitter has potential to help individuals stop living in the shadows and stop keeping thoughts to themselves. It has the potential to help individuals learn to be more assertive and to stand up for what they believe in. It has potential….can you see it?
Michelle E. Wade is a counselor and doctoral student focusing on in-home therapy and technology in counseling.