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?
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:
- Imagine uttering a status update, tweet, or post in an auditorium full of clients. Would the content be appropriate?
- Once a client is in your network, s/he may begin to add your family members. Are you maintaining therapeutic boundaries?
- 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.