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Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


Should Therapists Allow Clients to “Friend” Them On Facebook

June 15th, 2012

This wonderful question was posted by a therapist Linked-In group I joined: should therapists allow clients to “friend” them on Facebook. Seems like the topic comes up often enough to have really struck a chord with the therapists.

So far, there are 88 comments and growing. The majority of the therapists that answered an emphatic “no”, they would not permit a client to “friend” them. Many others expressed that they avoid even being on Facebook for this very reason. They viewed a Facebook “friend” as they would a blurring of boundaries between therapy and client and real friendship.

But is “friending” someone on Facebook really like being a real in life friend? Many of the therapists who replied thought so – and that it would be harmful to their clients and the therapeutic relationship. And many thought that having a discussion about the whole Facebooking friend thing would be a good topic for the next therapy session.

However I wish they had done this as a survey, so I could report an actual result, but they didn’t.

If you are a therapist and you read my blog, leave me your two cents in my comments – it would be interesting to read.

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

7 Responses to “Should Therapists Allow Clients to “Friend” Them On Facebook”

  1. Stephen Says:

    I have a more nuanced policy about this. If clients friend me, I feel free to say no, depending on the client and how I feel I should respond to each particular client. In some (limited!) cases, I will accept the friendship, but block the client from seeing my posts. They can see photos of my puppy dogs and other photos of me, but all of these are out there anyway, and benign. (Some of the puppy photos are in my office!) I don’t say or do anything on Facebook that isn’t fit for a large audience, and again, clients (and former clients) can’t see my wall posts. I think Facebook is here to stay, and the way I approach this question, it’s not much different than my decision to allow clients to see my website, know my email address, and know my telephone number.

  2. Stephen Says:

    One more comment: there’s a reflexive habit in my field to be super-private with clients, and of course there are good reasons for this: there’s a power differential in the relationship that favors the therapist, therapy can all to easily be about the therapist and not the client if the therapist doesn’t keep good boundaries, and so on. And I’ve heard of therapists (and even met one in person) who are particularly abusive: they invite clients into their lives as friends, even extending invitations to go on vacation with them! I won’t come within a thousand miles of that unethical behavior, but at the same time, clients sometimes tell me that my judicious, careful openness (about, say, the human emotions of anger and grief that I have) really helps them feel like they’re working with a human being. They’ll never get this kind of openness from me on Facebook, but I’m aware that therapists can err in both directions of openness and privacy, and with regard to Facebook I very carefully choose to walk a little bit in the direction of openness. I’m a human being, and my clients know that. There’s nothing wrong with a few puppy-dog photos between professional acquaintances.

  3. Jill Olkoski Says:

    I think your approach makes sense. From the other therapists (frankly Oh My God No Facebook!!!) I got the sense that there was also a bit of technology phobia perhaps going on. Maybe they don’t realize, as you’ve discovered, there are ways to limit access to certain material in Facebook for certain people. It sounds like you take advantage of all the Facebook privacy tools and treat each client as an individual, while being mindful of your own professional boundaries.

  4. Katie Kay Says:

    Jill you are right, there are ways to limit your contact with clients on Facebook when friending them on your personal account. You can start a “clients” list and adjust the settings for that particular list so they can only interact and see certain aspects of your profile. It is also a good idea to send them to your business page, if you have one, so they can interact with you there and enjoy a connection to you and your business on Facebook.

  5. Jill Olkoski Says:

    Excellent clarification and advice Katie. Thank you!

  6. Tom Linde Says:

    I would be inclined to keep a pretty firm line with Facebook, because the results of friending are not entirely predictable. This is easy for me to say though, since I have little interest in Facebook anyway.

    But I’ll echo Katie: my understanding is that it’s good business to have a professional Facebook page, and it would settle the friending dilemma. Someday I’ll get around to creating mine.

  7. Jill Olkoski Says:

    Just as an FYI, I had to create a personal page before Facebook would let me have a Business page, but I hired Kate (because I dislike Facebook too) to help make my personal page not accept any friends or have any visibility…so only give out my business Facebook page.

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