I was recently forwarded an article by psychiatrist and Weill Cornell faculty member, Anna Fels, titled “Do You Google Your Shrink?.” Fels brought up several points that really connected with me and prompted me to consider the impact of our digital-age demands, and the value therapists offer as a result.
Therapists Are Now “Exposed”
Although myself and many therapists maintain a social media and internet policy, it’s safe to say that most people probably Google their therapists. Some may start out with the intent of learning professional qualifications and following blogs, but if personal information pops up (i.e. social media), it’s natural to want to click and read on.
Knowing clients and colleagues can learn personal information about me, I feel vulnerable and exposed at times. Although they will most likely find pictures of my family and friends, it’s the lack of control that is difficult to accept.
We are taught in training to minimally self-disclose, and only do so when in the best interest of the client. These days, if my cousin happens to tag me in the family reunion photo on Facebook, with fifteen other family members, I have no idea what or who my identity will link to in the vast world wide web. The impact this has on me in personal and professional life is still under consideration. In terms of my blog, I now write less about my personal journey as a mother and focus more on general parenting and therapy topics. Bringing in the right balance of personal perspective with professional boundaries is important for my own privacy, and to consider implications to my therapeutic relationship with clients and how my posts may affect that relationship.
Knowing personal aspects of one’s therapist isn’t necessarily a bad thing
In fact, Anna Fels suggests that knowing their therapist is a human being, just like everyone else, can be liberating for many clients.
“They feel like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” pulling back the curtain to reveal the wizard is a mere mortal. Therapists, it turns out, are just folks like you and me. Their authority is not a given, but something to be earned.”
I definitely find this to be the case in my practice. When clients see me as a person, wife, mother, etc. who is working with them in their journey, it strengthens the trust and feeling of acceptance in the relationship. As long as the information I share with the client is in their best interest and doesn’t cross a boundary for myself, I am willing to share these personal aspects of my life.
Living in our digital age, there is a constant stream of input competing for our attention
I see people on their phones in their cars, waiting rooms, standing in line at the store, and even when out with friends and loved ones. Children watch TV in the car, play on iPads in grocery carts, and attempt to bring their electronic devices into their play therapy sessions. There are endless demands for our attention, and it truly takes an effort to put it all down and be fully present with others.
Fels describes the therapy space so beautifully in her article, identifying therapy as “the ultimate luxury.” And to further paraphrase her, the therapy office is one of the few places left where one has the complete attention of another human being, with no other agenda than to offer a place of refuge, acceptance, and personal growth.
With email at our finger tips and instant social media posts, there are very few moments in our lives when we electronically disconnect and emotionally connect with someone as we do in a therapy session. Even children and adolescents notice their time with me is special because I offer undivided attention and unconditional positive regard. These are needs that social media outlets often steal from growing minds and peer relationships.
Therapy has always offered a special place for people to reflect and connect, but now with overwhelming input from online sources, our role as therapists is even more valuable, and in many ways, more transparent. Now, more than ever, people need a break from the mental traffic and psychological games to purposefully focus on their own thoughts and feelings…and just their own. As a therapist, it’s an honor to fill this need and be a part of people’s personal, inner world.
For further reading, The Couch on the New York Times Opinionator is an online publication about psychotherapists, their patients, and related experiences. Anna Fels is a contributor, along with many other talented individuals in the field. I’ll definitely be reading on!