Social Media in a Successful Psychotherapy Practice
Integrating an online presence within a relational perspective
Posted Jun 24, 2015
This blog curates the voices of the Division of Psychoanalysis (39) of the American Psychological Association. Linda Beeler, LCSW, N.Y. City psychotherapist in private practice, supervisor, consultant for marketing a private practice submits this post.
Research indicates that 95% of clients look on-line for psychotherapists (TherapySites.com). However, many psychotherapists are resistant to creating an on-line presence and utilizing social media to enhance their practices. By creating an on-line presence and becoming active with social media, mental health practitioners can reenergize and sustain their private psychotherapy practice.
Many psychotherapists developed their clinical practices before the computer age. They were accustomed to getting referrals from friends, colleagues in the psychoanalytic community, by personal “off-line” social networking, advertising in the yellow pages or otherwise by word-of-mouth. While potential clients still come from these “traditional” sources, many now research the internet for a psychotherapist, or, at a minimum, go on-line to cross-reference the background and experience of a therapist to whom they were referred. There is a real danger that without an on-line presence, psychotherapists will struggle to develop or sustain their practice; that without a digital footprint their practice will become extinct.
There are a number of major concerns that inhibit psychotherapists from promoting their practice on the web. The first is feeling technologically challenged and intimidated. While most therapists are up-to-date on emailing, they do not know how to go about creating a website.
Psychotherapists can create a website on their own by locating a website builder with a template, or finding a web designer, or webmaster. The webmaster can also provide information on how the search engines operate. Webmasters are skilled computer professionals who oversee the optimal functioning and maintenance of a website.
Secondly, psychotherapists often do not understand the importance of the content of a website or the design in which the content is presented.
A website represents a psychotherapy business. Therefore, it needs to be attractive, appealing, and engaging. It has a unique domain name which establishes its address. A website attracts new clients by creating a competitive niche with specialized content. It highlights the therapist’s expertise and the distinguishing features of the practice. At the same time, it verifies the credibility of the therapist. A unique presence with visibility can distinguish a therapist from other therapists on the web.
On-line social media, such as Facebook, Linkin and Twitter are also great tools for building relationships with colleagues, sharing information and providing a resource for prospective clients.
Business cards, in conjunction with an on-line presence, are also effective in promoting a psychotherapist’s practice, especially at offline networking events. The cards need to be unique and fashionable, and include the therapist’s specialty, email, website and even a blog address. While it sounds hokey, a photograph can also be included on the card as a means to later jolt the recipient’s memory after meeting so many professionals at a networking event.
Finally, and perhaps the most significant major obstacle inhibiting psychotherapists from creating an online presence relates to their psychoanalytic and clinical training. Therapists are fearful of exposing too much of themselves on the internet. This is understandable since they have been trained to uphold clear boundaries; to not reveal too much of their private selves in order to allow the transference to emerge.
Sigmund Freud formulated the classical orthodox model of the silent, neutral, non-responsive therapist. According to Freud (1912) in his “Papers on Technique,” [the] doctor should be opaque to his patients, and like a mirror, should show them nothing but what is shown to him.” The revealing of personal details inherent in marketing a practice on-line is incompatible with this orthodox model of the therapist as a blank screen.
In recent years, the Freudian concept of absolute neutrality has been challenged by contemporary psychoanalytic theorists. Fairbairn, Winnicott and Guntrip were dissenters from classical theory. As pioneers of object relations theory, they were revolutionary in introducing the role of the interaction between therapist and patient. Specifically, Winnicott (1960, p. 39) theorized “there is no such thing as an infant-only the infant-mother unit.” This dramatic statement was critical to the development of the two-person system and the evolution of relational thinking.
Influenced by the works of Mitchell, Greenberg and Aaron, relational perspectives have become more mainstream in the contemporary American psychoanalytic world. The psychotherapist brings his own subjectivity into the room, no longer being simply an observer. Therapeutic change is regarded as taking place within the analytic relationship: it is not only the patient’s insights but the authenticity of the therapeutic relationship which create change.
Patients are seeking a psychotherapist who is approachable and humane. The patient can feel more engaged with the therapist by viewing something on the internet about the therapist which resonates with the patient. Learning more about the therapist through the internet can make the therapeutic relationship more real and genuine.
How does the therapist balance the authenticity of being online with the need to avoid disclosing too much personal information? This is a real dilemma since knowing more about the therapist can enhance the therapeutic interaction while at the same time it can interfere with it because the patient may no longer idealize the therapist or view the therapist in an authoritative position.
A psychotherapist can, for example, create a professional facebook page to which the patient has access while also maintaining a separate personal facebook page, access to which is denied to the patient. By not accepting the patient as a “friend” on the personal page, the patient is prevented from participating in the therapist’s social relationships.
Twitter and blogging are quite popular and can enhance a therapist’s following and generate referrals. The therapist should take care to ensure that the blogging and postings are professional in tone and content. The therapist can also decide how to address a patient’s response to a particular blog. The therapist also has control over linkedIn, the social network site for professionals and companies by either accepting a patient’s invitation to join or ignoring the invitation.
In the end establishing a boundary between a psychotherapist’s professional and personal persona comes down to the personal choice of the therapist: whether the therapist feels comfortable in exposing to public view certain details of the therapist’s life and whether to allow a patient access to such information.
Of course, despite the best efforts of the therapist, a patient can find out information about the therapist on the web from sources over which the therapist has no control. Like everything else that affects the therapeutic relationship, these revelations should be brought up and explored within the therapeutic context to understand what meaning they have for the patient.
In sum, working with social media on the internet presents many challenges to the therapist. Learning how to navigate this new terrain in a professional manner will be integral to the success of a psychotherapy practice.
Freud, S (1912) Recommendations to physicians practicing psychoanalysis. Standard Edition 12:109-120.
Winnicott, D. W. (1960), The theory of the parent-infant relationship. In: The Maturational Processes and the Press, Facilitating Environment. New York: International Universities1965,pp. 37-55.
By Linda G. Beeler, LCSW