Marriage and Family Therapists Using Social Media
Those familiar buttons on the site of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) site show off the different ways you can connect: via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
Some licensing agencies also allow you to follow them or become their fan. When your regulatory agency invites you to follow them on Twitter and see them on YouTube, you know: Social media is about more than just being social. It gives you easy access to information.
The amount of information you are expected to know and access is greater than ever. How do you stay on top of developments in the field in 2013? You do it partly through traditional continuing education and subscriptions to journals – and partly by reading your Twitter stream.
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Using Social Media to Build a Career
Social media accounts let you build relationships with colleagues. LinkedIn, a business-oriented network site, allows you to build the network of professionals who are familiar with your work; it can increase the trust factor as people realize that you went to school, worked with, or maintained other professional relationships with people in their networks. This could lead to professional partnerships.
Social media can also help you brand yourself. Here Twitter can be useful. You can call out resources for therapy, relationships, family life… and, yes, call attention from time to time to your own website and to events where you will be presenting. You can establish your knowledge and interests by highlighting the seminars you’ll be attending, the webinars you’ll be tuned into, the most provocative journal articles you’ve read. You’ll want to build a network of like-minded individuals, one that may extend beyond those you routinely interact with in the offline world. You can search by topic to locate relevant accounts; Twitter will also suggest them.
Navigating the Hazards of Social Media
Social media is, of course, not without hazards. There can be issues not only in others having too much access to information about you, but in you having too much access to information about them. Therapists choose to avoid both ethical conundrums and awkward moments by maintaining a policy about who they follow on Twitter and being up-front about it: They frequently note that they only follow colleagues and organizations.
There’s one group of people that you probably won’t want ‘friending’ you on Facebook: your clients. This is not only to avoid dual relationships and maintain professional boundaries, but to be cautious about confidentiality. Facebook pages are somewhat safer that personal profiles; businesses and celebrities use them to build their online presence. But even allowing clients to fan a business page could cause problems. The AAMFT ethics code suggests that Marriage and Family Therapists exercise special care when publicly sharing testimonials.
Remember that you do have a complex set of privacy controls on Facebook. And with Twitter, it’s possible to create multiple accounts and to maintain one solely for your professional identity.
LMFTs don’t necessarily try to hide their professional accounts from clients, but they do exert caution. Social media policies can be addressed as part of the professional disclosure statement that is given to new clients.
The March/ April 2013 edition of the AAMFT journal Family Therapy addresses the dilemmas that Facebook can pose and how they can be handled.
Some state licensing agencies have issued policy statements about use of social media. Professional organizations also offer training. Washington’s division of the AAMFT, WAMFT, has an upcoming ethics workshop titled “How to Stay out of Trouble with Everyone” that includes, among other topics, use of social media.
Many of these organizations respect and use social media; they can give solid advice.
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