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“Why Can’t We Be Friends?”:  Why Your Practice Needs a Social Media Policy

October 18th, 2016
Social Media Policy

I frequently ask the mental health professionals that I work with “Does your practice have a social media policy?”  The response is often “What is a social media policy?” and “Why do I need one?”

A social media policy is a written set of rules governing the use of social media and other methods of digital communication that your practice observes.  It addresses such questions as whether you and your co-workers will allow themselves to be Facebook “friends” with patients (suggested answer: No!); whether you are open to communicating with/responding to patients via text messaging, IM, Twitter and the like (suggested answer: No!); whether and under what circumstances you will engage in therapy via Skype, Facetime or similar “remote” means (suggested answer:  Only if your licensure, applicable State regulations, insurance coverage and training permit).

Why do you need a social media policy? The obvious reasons include risk management, avoiding legal liability, avoiding practicing in jurisdictions in which you are not licensed, best practices, etc.  There is another, less obvious reason.  It’s been called the “digital divide.”  On one side of this divide are older people, who came of age in an era without personal computers, the internet or social media.  The other side of the divide consists of younger people who never knew a world that lacked the internet and social media.

These two sides often have very different expectations regarding how, when and where information is exchanged with their therapist.  Older clients tend to expect and be more comfortable with traditional “in the office” type of therapy and face to face communication with their therapist.  Younger clients tend to expect to be able to reach out to their therapist outside of traditional office hours and to do so via instant messaging, text, email, websites and even social media.  They may expect you to reply to them via the same technology and to do so outside of office hours. They may also want to be able to “like” you and your services on Facebook and other social media sites.

Success in therapy requires that clients and therapists have clear expectations of each other, including how, when and where therapy takes place.  This requires that the therapist think through and develop policies regarding these issues, and do so based upon the laws and regulations governing their licensure, risk management and “best practices” considerations – in short, a social media policy. This policy should, in my opinion, be discussed at the outset of services and included in written materials that are reviewed and acknowledged by the client.

Need help developing or implementing a social media policy for your practice?  I’d be happy to help.  Please call me at 732 238-8686.