Social media have become an integral part of people’s everyday lives, influencing how they relate both individually and professionally. It has enabled counselors to conduct research and offer services in better ways. Brew, Cervantes, and Shepard (2013) aver, “Creating an online profile for professional reasons has the potential to be used as an extension of a counselor’s practice” (p. 97). Despite the numerous benefits associated with social media, the technology poses significant ethical challenges. The steady transformations in digital technology beleaguer the majority of the counseling professionals, thus being unable to assist clients in coping with their online and offline lives. This article will evaluate the ethical concerns attributed to the use of social media amid rehabilitation counselors.
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Giota and Kleftaras (2014) posit, “As the online world often overlaps with the real-life, professional and moral issues increasingly arise and will inevitably invade the practice of counseling and therapy” (p. 2378). Counselors should be conscious of the possible ethical challenges if they decide to relate with clients online. Currently, there is limited consensus on whether it is imperative for rehabilitation counselors to communicate with clients via social media. Conventionally, clients do not know a lot about their counselors beyond the consulting room. Thus, challenges might occur should they decide to gather information about their therapist online or establish relationships on Facebook. Young patients may choose to send private messages to their counselors or request friendship on social media like Facebook.
Failure by a therapist to accept a friend request could result in the patient feeling rejected and abandoned. Conversely, accepting a friend request from a client and granting them permission to access private information can lead to the growth of dual relationships. Giota and Kleftaras (2014) aver, “Counselors must explore their feelings, wishes, as well as counter-transference reactions to the client, his/her friend request, and technology” (p. 2379).
Rehabilitation counselors should set strict boundaries between their personal and professional lives online. Failure to do so may affect the trust that clients have in the counselor and impact therapeutic relationships. The American Psychological Association Ethics Code states that counselors should avoid establishing multiple online relationships with clients as it can damage their competence, objectivity, and effectiveness.
Today, there is a need to formulate clear policies to regulate the use of social media amid rehabilitation counselors. The policies would guarantee that therapists observe ethical and professional behaviors when dealing with clients. Moreover, there is the need to include the policies in informed consent and to make sure that clients understand the possible repercussions of interacting with their counselors online.
According to Brew et al. (2013), therapists must be accountable to their social media presence and should appreciate that online activities might blur the limits between professional and personal lives. For instance, searching for information about clients on Google or reading their blogs without their consent amounts to unethical practice. Such an exercise may affect the counselor’s perception of the client, therefore interfering with their relationships.
Brew et al. (2013) assert that counselors should bear in mind that whatever they share on social media can be read by many people and may stick in their minds even if deleted. Thus, they should make sure that whatever they share does not disclose the identity of their clients. Giota and Kleftaras (2014) allege, “A helpful tip could be to regard social media as a virtual office door: only post on your page what you would not have trouble displaying in your office” (p. 2379).
Counselors should realize that there are multiple online places where they might interact with patients. A counselor who wishes to retain a personal and professional presence on social media should create distinct accounts for the two purposes. The information on the accounts should be different to enable clients to understand their uses. According to Brew et al. (2013), ensuring that one’s contacts and profile are non-public can go a long way towards helping counselors maintain healthy online relationships with clients. Facebook allows people to tag their friends and share information with them.
Counselors should review their Facebook accounts regularly to make sure that they remove tags, which might lead to clients doubting their character. Rehabilitation counselors should avoid discussing confidential information about their patients on social media. Such information should only be considered in environments that guarantee privacy. Even though the counselors may use social media to interact and share ideas with their colleagues, they should avoid discussing their patients.
Social media have significantly affected the counseling profession. It has enabled rehabilitation counselors to gather information about patients and share ideas with colleagues. Despite the numerous benefits of social media, the technology poses immense ethical concerns. The rehabilitation counselors require setting clear boundaries with patients as social media may result in them sharing private information with clients. The primary moral concern with social media is a violation of privacy or breach of confidentiality. Rehabilitation counselors should ensure that they do not share diagnosis information on social media. Moreover, they should be watchful of the information they share on social media, particularly with young clients. Establishing two social media accounts for professional and personal use may guarantee ethical practices amid rehabilitation counselors.
Brew, L., Cervantes, J., & Shepard, D. (2013). Millennial counselors and the ethical use of Facebook. The Professional Counselor, 3(2), 93-104.
Giota, K., & Kleftaras, G. (2014). Social media and counseling: Opportunities, risks, and ethical considerations. International Journal of Social, Behavioral, Educational, Economic, Business and Industrial Engineering, 8(8), 2378-2379.