Child Psychologists’ Social Media Activity

Tunick, R. A., Mednick, L., & Conroy, C. (2011). A snapshot of child psychologists’ social media activity: Professional and ethical practice implications and recommendations. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 42(6), 440-447.

Tunick, Mednick, and Conroy (2011) argued that with a large proportion of the population using Facebook and other social media sites, new dilemmas emerge for psychologists, particularly for those working with adolescents and children.  These include issues of self-disclosure, informed consent, and confidentiality.  Therapists often have easy access to online information about clients, and must determine when and if it is ever appropriate to view this information without clients’ permission.  According to the authors, if they do choose to view this information, appropriate follow-up action is often unclear.  In addition to concern surrounding therapists viewing client information, there is also the need to address instances in which clients access personal information about their therapists. The authors warn that this may pose a challenge to professional boundaries and affect treatment effectiveness.  The authors surveyed 246 child and pediatric psychologists and psychologists-in-training from the membership of several American Psychological Association divisions.  Survey results indicated that 65% of respondents participated in social networking websites and 9% wrote blogs.  Of those using social network sites, nearly half reported having material on their page that they wouldn’t want clients to view.  The same was true for about one-quarter of those writing blogs.  About one-quarter of the respondents had received friend requests from clients, which most had rejected.  In regard to therapists accessing client online information, 32% indicated that they had “Googled” a client and the same percentage reported reading material on a client’s social networking pages.  Forty percent of these respondents had asked their client’s permission to do so.  Many encountered material they found concerning, including content dealing with substance use, bullying, suicide and depression, and sexual behavior.  In response to these findings, the authors proposed several guidelines for psychologists’ blogging and social networking practices.  These included (1) maintaining awareness of the interpersonal, professional, and legal ramifications of one’s own online content, (2) implementing appropriate privacy settings, (3) addressing social media concerns in clinical supervision and work with trainees, (4) communicating a consistent policy about social media use to clients, (5) educating young clients about safety in online behavior, and (6) carefully weighing risks and benefits of viewing clients’ online material — if the decision is made to do so, the authors suggested seeking the client’s permission and viewing the material together with the client.

Making Connections

Adolescence
Children
Ethics
Therapy

Media Supplement

In this Washington Post article individual mental health workers discuss their experiences with the social media dilemmas.