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Dear client, does your therapist discuss you on social media?

Dear client, does your therapist discuss you on social media?

Dear potential client, or perhaps one already in a therapy chair/room. I wanted to speak out on your behalf, rather than write an article that would require you to do anything. You do indeed have that choice of course and perhaps this is a question you will raise once you have seen this article. If you are not old enough I hope your parents/carers or some professional reads this and considers its contents on your behalf.

I have been commenting on lots of posts on social media over the last few years and I now feel that I need to address and speak out on behalf of clients everywhere. You see being a human and doing the very kind of behaviour I’m going to talk about I made a mistake in my training and posted a picture of my birthday party being held at a training group because I was excited, and I also made an assumption that other trainees (begin adults) knew how to use social media. I was very wrong, and some of my peers were identified through their Facebook settings. It resulted in a shaming and guilt laden experience for me and one I quickly learned from.

What I see and comment on, on social media leaves me very worried for some of you. We provide you with a safe space and we discuss with you, reassure and ensure that sessions are confidential, and we mean it.

Well mostly, most of us do. Some of us however…

I would like to let BACP, UKCP, BPS, BAPT, BABPT, IAPT, NHS, NCS know some of your therapists are doing exactly this.

Dear child and/or adult counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists….

Social media is not supervision, nor is it a peer group, nor is it a safe space to talk about client work. It is not a an ego boosting platform for you to parade the numbers of clients you see. It is not a place to share photos of your work created together, it is not a place to share their stories of the day, nor is it a place to identify them through comments such as “Im glad to have supported this boy/girl”. It is not a place to discuss issues that you are struggling with clients nor is it a place to discuss how the sessions have gone.

Take it to supervision and keep it confidential. Keep it to yourself or discuss it with peers when you are guaranteed a safe space such as a therapy room, training room or classroom. One where you know that the other people in the room are your profession also. Social media is exactly that, its not your living room where you’re having a chat with a friend, you are not protected and its not confidential! Your post can be seen. Potentially by anyone who has access to the internet.

Do not share (identifying) information about your clients so they can be traced because here is a little experiment that some clients, stalkers, hackers, people, and companies do. I have also carried this out and here’s why this is a problem for you.

Let’s take Facebook groups for a moment: I’m going to pretend that I run a group called real counsellors only. So, I set it up and make potential group members answer a question. I’m not tech savvy so this question is are you a real counsellor? (I know, this happens believe me) So now I have 2,000 group members. Its very difficult for me to watch all of the posts that happen on the page, but its okay as I pinned a message saying, “no real client work posted here thanks!” A post appears about a counsellor struggling with a child client, whose 8 years old and they see this client at school and its Friday.

A potential client identifier (this sentence is important and I’ll come back to it shortly)

Will/can/might do this…They join these kinds of groups for varying reasons, as they want to know more? They see the post, they click on your profile, its not locked and now they can see your pictures, your family members, your friends, the groups you like, the groups you’re in, pages you like and so on. Most importantly for this exercise they see your practice, the school you have posted about where you work or your website as its advertised on your page. The goto your website, and/or they look at the school website in this example. They perhaps go and wait on a Friday near to the practice/school/setting and they see the clients leaving that day/time. I’m aware that schools are contained and its only leaving the grounds that children can be identified by the public, but bear with me and you’ll see why this is still an issue. They now know something about that child’s work so this could give them a starting conversation eg, “so you like painting?”

The client identifiers might be: The client themselves. Imagine if that came up in a session?

They might be potential abusers, yes this is a behaviour they would engage in. Lots of parents share photos with their children’s school uniform in and we know that’s how perpetrators learn about potential victims, so this fits the modus operandi here too.

They might be abusive partners, parents, adoptive parents, long lost family members trying to trace the person.

They might be your supervisor?

The peers of the client. Imagine if you’re discussing a sexuality issue that you struggle with and the client is outed?

An Artificial Intelligence programme and yes this is definitely a thing

An identify thief?

And now we have the GDPR ruling coming in it might be a solicitor/organisation?

All trust that clients put in us is sacred, as is the space we allow them to have when they work with us. We are bound by ethics and confidentiality not to identify them. Clients can of course identify us or talk about us on social media and that is their privilege, not ours. We also grant them safe protection of their data and this includes their words, pictures and anything we discuss about them. Social media is NOT the place to do this.

Social media policies won’t cut this as they will be vague or non-actionable, it needs to be in mandatory in training from the outset and it needs implementing now. Trainees need to hear messages that say DO NOT discuss your work on social media, it’s the only way to be crystal clear and to prevent clients being identified/shamed/outed/disrespected.

Please share this message so we can begin to provide our clients with the protection they deserve. My message to Governing bodies is your message (if you have one about this) isn’t working. Trainees are not the only ones carrying out this behaviour on social media (I’ve seen posts from Dr’s/Accred therapists doing exactly this). Ethically we cannot carry on allowing this to happen. Imagine the consequences, law suits and potential deaths/suicide that could be caused by this behaviour.

Why are counsellors scared of Cybertrauma?

What is Cybertrauma and why does it seem so scary?

Why are counsellors currently turning a blind eye to an issue that is only going to increase?

Why is this not a compulsory part of all courses and modules?

Will it affect you?

These are some questions I have both mused over and directly asked counsellors. Currently, the answers to this seem steeped in fear. The same fear that is preventing Parents and Teachers from acknowledging the darker side of cyberspace, the internet and digital devices/communication.

How is this important for counselling? Well if you a) see clients, b) use digital devices (I wonder how you are currently reading this?) and c) work with anyone who owns, has access to a device or cyberspace then this is a topic you need to know about.

This is not esaftey, this is what can happen and why and how this is imperative to your work in sessions.

I am currently writing academically on one small portion of Cybertrauma and the results have been quite stark and interesting in this area alone. Needless to say, counsellors are now being asked to be esaftey experts, provide advice around cyberbullying and how to collect evidence by the clients (mostly children or young people I may add at this stage) and also what seems to be a deficit of knowledge in counsellors about the harm that can occur through the medium of cyberspace.

So to answer the first question what is Cybertrauma? : This is the effect upon a person of any traumatic or stressful event that occurs through the medium of an electronic device, which may be self or other-directed. This may be limited to the present or may include past or future incidents and reoccurrences.

Why is it scary? Because anonymity exists in cyberspace in many forms.

Lastly, will it affect you as a counsellor? Well, truth be told any aspect of it could. It depends on the way you communicate using your electronic devices, what settings you have or do not have set (including default manufacturing ones), your presence on the internet and yes you probably are on Facebook somewhere; because there will be photographs of you in existence. This also depends on what devices your clients are using and bringing to your counselling room and something called geotagging. (whether they are switched on or not). If you see high-risk clients this can be a very important issue.

Then there are the issues that directly affect your client and what this means to them and how you work with these in sessions. “You see cybertrauma is a time-travelling issue” (my words). It is not limited to the here and now. It is not limited to the 6, 10 or even a few years worth of sessions you have with a client and each and every issue from cyberbullying to stalking, revenge porn to grooming, underage gaming to radicalisation is going to appear in your room. (I have listed over 25 separate issues so far in the last 4 years and its growing)

Do you know how to help your client? How the event impacts them? What they are even talking about?
Generation Z, Millennials, Digital Natives and all other names we have for the younger generation using these devices one thing is for sure. You need to know this stuff, the whys and hows. Perpetrator and victim behaviours and how to help your clients.

These children will become the adults that bring these issues.

This is not going to go away. I have only mentioned the accessible internet in this article. There is also the Dark Net and what this means for you and your clients is even more scary.