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Social Media Slip-Ups to Avoid: 3 Things No Therapist Should Ever Do Online

Social media opens up amazing opportunities for therapists to educate, advocate and connect. However, the casual nature of online sharing also means it’s easy to inadvertently cross ethical lines if we aren’t mindful. As professionals with a duty to do no harm, we must treat social media spaces thoughtfully and responsibly.


While there’s no exhaustive list of what NOT to do on social media, here are three core slip-ups every therapist should avoid:


Oversharing Confidential Client Information


First and foremost—what happens in session, stays in session.


Sharing identifiable details about our clients online utterly violates their trust and privacy. Even anonymizing stories still requires explicit client consent under HIPPA and most ethical codes. While educating others through case studies has value, our duty is first and foremost to our clients. There simply is no ethical justification for disclosing stories or data of client sessions without permission.


What should you do instead? Use de-identified hypothetical examples if appropriate. Seek client consent if you wish to share any part of their story. And reveal only general details if they agree. The best approach is to craft social media content focused on broader education rather than specific client narratives. Share your own journey, struggles and insights as a therapist rather than compromising client confidentiality through avoidsble disclosures.


Diagnosing Strangers Online


We’ve all seen those viral videos—someone acting strangely on a plane or train, followed by armchair analysis in the comments about their presumed psychological condition. However tempting, diagnosing people we have not formally assessed violates our ethical duty to avoid harm by speaking beyond our expertise.


Online spaces often lack contextual details essential for accurate assessment as well. Public behavior may not represent someone’s whole self or situation. Jumping to conclusions can cause real damage, especially if comments go viral beyond our control.


So what should you do instead if asked to speculate on public figures or online content? Decline to diagnose. We can speak to behaviors without assigning labels. If asked directly in comments or messages, politely share you cannot ethically diagnose without both consent and a proper clinical evaluation. Then try to educate more generally on related mental health issues when appropriate. Speculation should be left to rigorous researchers rather than therapists aiming to help.


Bashing Colleagues Online


Venting about frustrations or disagreements with colleagues may offer temporary relief. But taking to social media to criticize other professionals publicly risks damaging key relationships and undermining our own integrity. Respectfully addressing issues with institutions through proper channels is one thing—airing grievances unprofessionally online is quite another.


What should you do instead if struggling with a colleague? First seek to understand their perspective more fully through open dialogue. Identify issues collaboratively and brainstorm solutions. If informal efforts fail, follow official organizational policies for resolving conflicts constructively. As an absolute last resort with serious concerns, formal consultation or reporting may become necessary. But even then, limit disclosure of details appropriately. Social media posts made in anger tend only to inflame situations rather than encourage growth.


While just examples, oversharing client information, diagnosing strangers online and bashing colleagues demonstrate some of the most clearly unethical behaviors therapists could engage in on social media. Protect confidentiality. Avoid speculation. And handle disagreements maturely through proper channels. With so much potential to inform and inspire online, our duty is to amplify the best of our profession rather than undermine it through careless clicks.


Of course, hardly anyone sets out to deliberately harm others when posting online. Ethical slip-ups often result from simply not pausing to consider potential implications on clients, colleagues and communities. So cultivating social media wisdom for therapists essentially boils down to one key habit: slowing down to question our motivations and think through impacts before clicking “share.”


What other social media concerns do you grapple with as a therapist? What strategies help you translate ethical principles into everyday online interactions? I’d love to learn from your experiences and offer support however I can. Feel free to reach out if you ever need to process gray areas or want confidential advice!


While social technology keeps evolving, our core duty as therapists remains the same—do no harm. And when in doubt, love and protect our clients a little more than seems necessary. By grounding ourselves in ethical values and compassion, we can leverage social media as a powerful tool for healing rather than harm.

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