Last week Anthony Centore wrote a great blog about the ethics of Facebook and things to consider if clients ask to friend us on Facebook, etc. I loved the post but there was a point that stood out for me and made me question some things. He stated (and honestly, rightfully so) that one should consider cleaning up his/her profile. The reason being that it can blur the professional/personal boundaries that we try to set up for our clients.
Here’s the question his post raised for me, If it is my personal account, why do I have to censor myself and what I want to share with friends and family because of the POSSIBILITY of my client finding me? (As noted in previously blogs I clearly suggest to increase one’s privacy settings to the max level, with the understanding that nothing is ever TRULY private) Where is my freedom in choosing what I as a PERSON get to do? In other words, where does my professional life end and my personal life begin? There was a blog last week, by Warren Corson III, about turning “it” off some times and it resonated so profoundly with me. I like taking the silly Facebook quizzes and as some of my friends noticed last week, I also like to vent sometimes. I do that for me, for my own mental health and stress relief. So, if I simply go with the idea of cleaning up my profile, I would refrain from those posts, and in some regard I would lose my self-care.
I am thoughtful about what I do post for the most part, just as I try to be careful to not intentionally turn on the counselor switch when not with clients. But at some point I need to be me and authentic to myself. I need to be able to post the goofy picture of myself wearing a Cheeseburger hat with my family at the Jimmy Buffett concert or maybe I need to vent about inequalities or political irritations. Self-expression is one of the things I try to teach all of my clients, to be able to express themselves in adaptive ways. So there is a part of me that says I can’t deny myself that same prerogative. We deserve the right as individuals to express ourselves on Facebook and Twitter and wherever else we may choose. I’m not saying to be unmindful about what is accessible to your clients, of course you need to be thoughtful about that. And unfortunately in today’s virtual world a lot more IS accessible to our clients than before all of this technology. But really, how is posting a tasteless joke on Facebook that a client may run across any different from back in the day telling that joke to someone outside the office while getting a coffee and possibly running into a client at the shop?
As I am writing this blog, I realize that this doesn’t just limit itself to social media though. I would venture to say that most of us got into the mental health field because we were the one people turned to in time of trouble or when they needed support, a listening ear, a caring heart. How often do our friends want us to be their counselors? How often do we get accused of over-analyzing a situation or a person? Most of my friends are others in the profession BECAUSE they get it. The fact is that I can try and turn “it” off and just be Michelle, not Ms. Wade the LCPC, and yet part of why I am able to be Ms. Wade the LCPC is because of what is at Michelle’s core: an over-thinking empathetic individual. My career chose me because of who I am. Facebook has become this virtual extension of my personality and I have to say that I am a little resentful of the fact that I need to think about censoring myself because of a possibility. To be honest, I’m not sure it is the clients that are blurring the line of professional/personal…I think maybe they are just going with the times. Maybe it is our over-analytical natures going to worst case scenario fear that is causing us to be unsure of where the line is drawn between professional and personal. Maybe it is us as a profession that needs to take a step back and ask ourselves, when did we start trying to stifle our own humanity and individualism for the sake of the “what if”. I don’t know about you all, but I don’t want to sacrifice Michelle for the sake of Ms. Wade the LCPC.
Michelle E. Wade is a counselor and doctoral student focusing on in-home therapy and technology in counseling.