The Social Media Psychologist

I recently hit 10,000 followers on Instagram. It’s great to be reaching so many people with information about mental health, but it’s making me wonder whether as a psychologist I should be on social media at all…

 

A funny thing has happened to me lately. I got to over 10k followers on Instagram. I have always had a policy not to check the number of followers (although of course I don’t always keep this policy) because this keeps social media a healthy place for me, and stops me from making comparisons (which inevitably lead to an unhealthy place).

I was pretty excited to get the ‘swipe up’ option on Stories, so I can now easily share articles and events with people. But the other thing that happened was I started to get messages from people proposing to help me grow my following, inviting me to events, asking me to comment on news articles and offering me free stuff. All of a sudden, I find myself an ‘expert’.

 

Becoming an expert – ethical dilemmas on social media

 

In fact, it is very much part of my practice not to take on an expert position, but rather to collaborate with my clients to reach a common goal (set by them). When I started blogging and using social media, it was to raise awareness of the common mental health difficulties that arise during the perinatal period. I hear the same concerns time and time again - said by people who feel alone in these thoughts - and wanted to normalise them.



I never really thought about how it would feel to be speaking to over 10k people and the position this would place me in. It sometimes leads me to question whether, as psychologists, we should be on social media at all. But this is countered by my belief that, also as psychologists, it is part of our role to share evidence-based information to as wide an audience as we can. Increasingly, this is to counter the masses of information out there (presented as information, often opinion). As a therapist, I’ve had to think about what this means to me, and how I ensure I maintain an ethical approach.

 

This has meant sharing little personal information and letting people know I’m not able to answer clinical questions without speaking to them first – although I am always happy to help people think about how to access help (services can be hard to navigate).  For me, maintaining my professional integrity has meant I have taken on a policy of not doing any adverts, and only attending events which are related to mental health.

However, of course this will be different for different therapists who may take a different approach. What has been most beneficial is finding other therapists, particularly Emma @thepsychologymum, to navigate some of these issues with.

 

I have recently had clients contact me via social media, and have had to think about what that would mean for our therapeutic relationship. Usually as a therapist people come to see me without any pre-conceived ideas. This has always been part of my way of working - allowing myself to be a ‘sounding board’.


To me, this is an important part of therapy. This is the one relationship in which you, as a client, don’t need to think about what the other person might be thinking, what is going on in their life, whether they are ok. Instead, you can be there just to listen, think things through and contain any emotions that need to be explored.  It’s the one time you can fully expect someone to be there just for you.



Making myself more accessible raises the possibility that people might have expectations of me before we meet. One client told me recently that, having got to know me already on social media, they felt some pressure to be liked by me. This is something that can often come up in therapy, particularly with women, the pressure to be a ‘good patient’ (just as we feel pressure to be ‘nice girls’, this doesn’t go away in the therapy room).

 

 I know what it feels like to meet someone who you’ve only seen before on social media, it can feel so strange seeing someone in 3D. When I saw my first ‘influencer’ at an event I found myself more than a little intimidated! Going to therapy is intimidating enough, so that could create another barrier. Or does it also break down barriers in feeling a little more familiar?


Next I’ll be thinking about the client-therapist relationship and how that can be impacted by social media. What do you think? Have you been to see a therapist via social media? What do you think are the ethical dilemmas psychologists and therapists need to think about if they are using social media? If you’re a therapist yourself, how have you resolved this?