Should You Add Clients to Facebook?

Recently, several clients from an outpatient substance abuse program found me on Facebook. Being in recovery myself, the role of peer mentor can conflict with my identity as a mental health professional. In twelve-step meetings, these clients have heard my testimony and witnessed my active processing of problems.

Should I add these clients?

Facebook ethics among counselors. Unsplash: NordWood Themes

Facebook ethics among counselors. Unsplash: NordWood Themes

Dr. Keely Kolmes suggests defining your objectives for social media. For example, I exclusively use Twitter to connect to the academic community with special hashtags, such as #PhDChat, #PhDLife, and #AcademicTwitter. This platform is one method of growing my audience and professional connections.

The intention is similar with Facebook: connect to communities, grow my audience, and keep in touch with family. If I define all social media in terms of professional roles, should I ever accept a friend request from a client?

If I define my presence on social media in terms of professional roles, then legal and ethical responsibilities apply:

  1. Imagine uttering a status update, tweet, or post in an auditorium full of clients. Would the content be appropriate?
  2. Once a client is in your network, s/he may begin to add your family members. Are you maintaining therapeutic boundaries?
  3. The inability to express frustration after an exhausting day. What if the client thinks you are talking about him/her? How does adding a client present possible breaches in confidentiality?

One possibility for students aspiring to open a private practice is the creation of a professional Facebook—only add professional contacts and clients, no family. In fact, if you plan to be a counselor of any kind, the American Counseling Association requires a separation of accounts.

Zur and Walker offer an in-depth review of the ethical ramifications related to befriending clients online. Check it out.

So, to answer the original question: no, not on your personal, private profile.

Instead, create a public-facing persona where clients can talk to you. Ensure your personal profile is private. That is, hide everything from the public.

Cory J. Cascalheira
Doctoral Researcher in Counseling Psychology

Research interests include oppression, resilience, and resistance among marginalized populations, especially sexual and gender minorities, with attention to addiction, compulsive behaviors, well-being, internalization processes, and sexual subcultures (e.g., BDSM, kink). Clinical interests include mindfulness, ACT, RCT, and interpersonal process.

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