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Therapists and social media - How to manage your online presence and build trust

As counselors, we know that fear can be one of the biggest hurdles to people getting the therapeutic support they need. The fear of stigma, of not being understood, of being labeled as “the problem,” of being judged… There is no shortage of reasons why people may be afraid of participating in therapy, which is why we as therapists strive to reassure families and help them overcome the obstacles that fear creates. We do this through the power of trust. 

How therapists convey trustworthiness to prospective clients. 

The first impression your future clients will likely have of you will be through your online presence, and whatever they discover about you online will form the foundation of their overall opinion regarding how trustworthy you are. They will be assessing whatever they find out about you online and making a personal judgment about whether or not you are the type of person they can trust with the struggles they are coping with. They will review your directory profile, Google you, look at your pictures, your personal statements, and form a conclusion as to whether or not you are someone they feel they can trust. 

This means your online presence has the power to create a sense of trust, but… is it? 

Managing your online image is important for every professional in every industry, and therapy is no exception. In fact, due to the nature of our work as child therapists, our need to be mindful of our online presence and the implications our online image might convey is paramount. The information we offer about ourselves, the glimpses into our personal lives, and the posts we share and comment on may be interpreted in any number of ways by current clients, prospective clients, and industry peers – for better or worse.

What to share online vs what not to share online? 

Admittedly, this question is very hard to answer, especially if you have a professional social media presence. Establishing the right amount of trust for a therapist-patient relationship takes the right amount of personal self-disclosure. You don’t want to overshare, but you also don’t want to share too little. As therapists, we walk a fine line between being personable and getting personal. While we don’t want to get too personal, we also don’t want to be so generic and neutral that we appear unrelatable or impersonable. We do our best work when we establish real, authentic human-to-human connections. 

As the line between professional and personal becomes increasingly blurred, how can therapists balance their professional image with their personal social media image? Because the truth is, viewers don’t see a difference. Your prospective future clients’ opinion of you as a therapist will be based on the aggregate conclusion they derive from whatever information they can source on you, which means one of the most influential factors in your reputation is your online presence. Consequently, taking the time to review and assess your online presence is an ongoing part of responsible, reputational management. 

How therapists can assess their online presence

Step 1 – Google yourself and ask the following questions.

  • Are you ok with what you find? 
  • Is there anything about what you find that could damage your private practice reputation? 
  • Are there any false accounts in your name? 
  • What public pictures, info, and records does a simple Google search pull up? 
  • Do the pictures enhance or mar your professional image? 
  • Overall, what does your online presence say about you, and how is it affecting your private practice?

Tip: Remember, future clients will draw conclusions about how you will work with them based on whatever they find out about you online. Statements of personal opinions and beliefs may be perceived as bias to some people. While our credentials are certainly important, prospective clients often care more about who we are as individuals rather than the credentials we have. 

Step 2 – Review all your social media profiles individually. 

Do you have one profile for both personal and professional use or separate ones for each? Either way, assess the information and photos across every single social media profile that features information about you and/or your practice, and consider the following:

  • Is the information on your social media helpful to prospective clients? 
  • How necessary is the information you are sharing? 
  • Do you need to delete or hide any information?
  • Are the pictures appropriate? Are your photos personable or too personal? Are you ok with potential clients viewing extremely personal content? What is in the background of your photos?
  • What videos have you shared? What conclusions might viewers draw based on the content you share or post?
  • Do you need to update your privacy settings?
  • Is what you share or post helpful or unhelpful to your private practice?

Tip: Be careful sharing something that may be misconstrued. As therapists, the image you project on your social media matters. Whatever you post will likely be viewed and judged either in a helpful way or unhelpful way. If you would not want the picture, post, or comment to show up on the front page of a major newspaper, consider removing it.

Step 3 – Consider other internet spaces where information about you may be viewed.

Take a quick inventory of anywhere and everywhere your online presence extends, and then review those areas with your future clients in mind. For example…

  • How many therapist directories are you listed on? Do the photos of you on your directory profiles reflect how you want to be viewed? Does the information represent your practice well?
  • Do you have any active dating profiles? It’s completely possible that a future client’s Google search may reveal your dating profiles. If so, what will be found there? What information will be accessed? 
  • Are you active in comments and on forums? Comments on sites, forums, and posts are not hidden from Google. Are you ok with future clients seeing your online comments? Are you comfortable with the language you are using online? 
  • Look through other people’s pages or public spaces featuring photos you might be tagged in.
  • Where else might pictures of you be found?  

Tip: Keep in mind that the internet has an almost perfect memory, and online activity is never private. Even deleted activity and closed group activity may be screenshotted. A good rule of thumb is that if something is online, it is not private. With that in mind, ask yourself: is what people might find out about you online congruent with what you share in your private practice through self-disclosure? 

The bottom line 

Your online image has the power to convey trust and reinforce the reliability of your reputation, or it has the ability to negatively influence your reputation and the success of your private practice. Routinely taking the time to assess your online presence is an important part of reputational management, and if you are ever in doubt over how you might be perceived online, consider welcoming peer input. As therapists, we are each other’s greatest advocates, and sometimes a fresh set of eyes can illuminate potential concerns that might have otherwise been overlooked. 

Nothing dispels fear like trust, and when we as therapists authentically present ourselves as the trustworthy advocates and professionals that we are, we help neutralize the fear keeping families from getting the help they need. Without earning this sacred trust, we simply cannot operate effectively. Our trustworthiness is one of the most essential factors contributing to private practice success, and when we take mindful, responsible ownership of our online presence, we are proving to others that they are safe to trust us.