Washington Post columnist Steven Petrow gets a friend recommendation from Facebook, and it turns out to be his current psychotherapist, who isn’t using any privacy settings. Petrow starts snooping into his therapist’s life as well as into guidelines for mental health professionals using social media, and is surprised by what he learns.
“For starters, there are 12 photos of [my psychologist] available for all the world to enjoy, several of them shirtless and one that had a ‘friend’ of his posting ‘Woof!’ underneath it,” writes Petrow. “I also discovered pictures of Dr. E from high school with two nice-looking young ladies. Although I’ve known he was gay, I started to wonder: Was he bisexual then? When did he come out?”
Petrow wonders if anyone else suspects learning such things could be counter-productive for the therapist-patient relationship, and discovers that one Florida study found that only a third of medical students and residents use any privacy settings on social media. “While no firm social media guidelines have been adopted by the various mental health professional organizations, the American Psychological Association has published a manifesto of sorts on the topic,” says Petro. “In The Internet’s Ethical Challenges,’ Stephen Behnke, director of the APA’s Ethics Office, wrote that ‘psychologists have special ethical issues they need to think through to determine how this technology is going to affect their work.’”
When psychiatrists are on Facebook, their patients can get a case of TMI (The Washington Post, August 25, 2014)