Should Mental Health Workers Look At Our Facebook Page?
by patricia.deegan on Sunday, November 23, 2014 - 11:11am

Each month we develop a new homepage on a specific theme in our Recovery Library.  This month our topic was Online Privacy and Personal Boundaries:

We live in what gets called the Information Age.  That’s because computers and the world wide web have revolutionized how fast we can gather and distribute information

In the past, information travelled rather slowly but today the internet has made it possible for information to spread very rapidly. That can be a good thing when we want to get the latest information about the stock market, a sports event or a breaking news story. 

But it’s important to remember that information about our personal lives can also travel widely and rapidly on the web. When we are sitting in a comfy chair in the privacy of our own home, we can forget that the post we make on Facebook or Twitter might be seen by total strangers.  So although social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest - to name a few - are places where we voluntarily put information about our private lives, once posted that private information becomes public information. Basically, anyone can see it, including our doctors, case managers and therapists.

How would you feel if you found out that your doctor or therapist looked at your Facebook or Pinterest page?  

If you were working on your sobriety, would you be okay with your counselor checking out your photos and posts in order to see if you were maintaining sobriety?

If you were wanting to keep custody of your child and your social worker checked your online pages to see who you were dating or living with over the past 2 years, would that be okay with you?

If you had a psychotic episode and went to the hospital, would you be okay with the staff at the hospital reviewing your posts in the weeks leading up to your hospitalization?

What do you think? Are you comfortable with members of your health care team checking out your social media posts?

In my opinion, part of recovery means learning to respect our own boundaries and to become effective self advocates. Safeguarding our online privacy is part of having healthy boundaries. 

Here are some guidelines for you to consider:  

First, if a professional you work with now or in the past tries to “friend” you, consider declining. Relationships with professionals are different than friendships. Trying to mix friendship with professional relationships is complex, difficult and usually have unhappy endings. 

Secondly, keep your privacy settings updated.  Most social media sites like Facebook and Instagram allow you to control who can see your stuff. 

Third, ask the professionals you work with what their online privacy policy is. Some, though not all professionals, have an online privacy policy in writing. You’ll want to discuss that with them.  If you are in a hospital or rehab facility, ask what the facilities online privacy policy is.  

Finally, consider developing your own online privacy preferences.  Do you never want your therapist to look at your Facebook page?  Are there any special circumstances when it would be okay for your therapist to check your Facebook page?  How about if you went missing or had some other type of emergency? 

Remember, developing healthy boundaries and empowering yourself to safeguard your privacy, is part of recovery.