We all need to vent about a hard day at work, but clinicians should think twice before posting on personal social network pages.
Guest post by Kimberly Sandstrom, MFTI
Have you ever have a long day at the office and wanted to vent your frustration to someone? Me too! We are containers of all sorts of confidential information and sometimes our containers get full, or we get triggered by something that happened during the day. It’s hard to hold it all in at times—especially when it touches or triggers some reaction in us. Yet, we are called to an oath of confidentiality, and sensitivity to our client’s information. For most, venting to a trusted colleague or a relaxation activity can be enough. Yet, some therapists use their personal social media accounts to release stress about their clients. Can’t believe clinicians do this? Read on.
As therapists, we reach in, listen, validate our client’s pain and help them make sense of it so that they can reflect, respond, and repair the distance in their relationships. It can be emotionally draining work. And we need ways to work out our stress. But are personal social media accounts the place to do this? Probably not.
Yet, some therapists post things their clients did or said that made them laugh or made them upset. Yes, you read that right. I’ve seen complaints about cancellations, clients not following treatment plans, and negligent parents. Then there are the posts intended to be funny—pictures of notes clients left for them (yes, I have seen this), pictures of children in the local paper they treat (this too!). Friends comment back “lol” or similar funny retorts, and then everyone gets a good laugh.
My heart drops whenever I read these posts.
What about all the people in their friendship circle who are in therapy or contemplating therapy? Do they wonder if their own therapist is posting something they said? I know I would.
We have such a wonderful opportunity to promote a positive image o
f ourselves and our therapeutic community and to cultivate confidence in the therapy process (see Julie Hanks' article on using social media in practice). We also have an opportunity to foster community with our public who often need courage just to pick up the phone and call us for support. Posting about clients negatively undermines these opportunities!
The good news is that therapists who post in a negative or comical fashion about their clients are definitely in the minority. And, given that I have seen some of these posts myself online from people I know, I take the view that their posts are not meant to be harmful but meant to release steam from a difficult day, or to draw others in as a way to cope with the “compassion fatigue” often experienced in this line of work. While the person posting does not intend harm, ultimately, in a round-about-way, they can elicit harm. How do we address this problem as we experience stress burnout and how do we address this with our therapeutic community?
Next time, I will provide tips on how to create self-awareness of our personal postings about our work, promote a positive image of therapy, and how to approach colleagues who may not be aware of how their posts about clients impact our wonderful therapeutic community.
Kimberly Sandstrom is a Marriage & Family Therapist Intern and Relationship Educator, Supervised by Kathryn de Bruin, LMFT, working in private practice in San Diego, CA. Married for 24 years, she and her husband are raising three daughters, two of whom are now adults. She works with couples, and families to create emotionally safe and enduring connections in their most cherished relationships.