What responsibility do therapists have towards their clients and those they encounter? I’ve often wondered this as I see an increasing number of therapists having online interactions with mental health consumers who aren’t necessarily their own clients.
I can understand, as a consumer, that there is an attraction in finding information online – you can do it at your own leisure, it may seem less scary than talking to your therapist and it helps you to feel a sense of connection or validation to find a group of people who are experiencing the same sort of things you are. We often come to the information with a sense of hope and vulnerability – we’re desperately searching for anything that will help us to make sense of the world we find ourselves in. This vulnerability means that the information we find has to be totally unbiased, ethical and of a superior quality – not due to issues with our intelligence, but rather with that vulnerability potentially hampering our ability to filter the information we find. When you’re desperate to find any hint of familiarity, you are less likely to evaluate the information found for it’s worth and relevance. If that information, or connection to a group of people, is found on a site run by a therapist, there is an intrinsic trust associated with it. This person is a therapist, with qualifications and years of experience… surely that means they can be trusted. But can they?
When we go to see a real life therapist, you interview them to see if they are a good fit for you, are ethical and have complaint procedures in place… how do we do this for online therapy blogs that we read? Years of teaching Information Literacy has shown me that we are more trusting of what we find online. There seems an implicit trust in having the information online. This can mean that if a therapist strays from ethical guidelines, we’re possibly less likely to question it, and we’re more likely to accept what they say as being fact. There is also the issue that the therapist doesn’t have to allow questioning on their blog… any comments which question the content of the blog or their practice can be deleted at the moderation stage. So, we can have a perfect storm scenario, where vulnerable mental health consumers are being led along a path that is dangerous and unethical, without any checks on the therapists behaviour.
This is not to say that all therapist blogs are negative… I’ve found some excellent therapist blogs which are written either for the consumer or other therapists. But, we do need to stand back and evaluate what we are finding… Often the intentions of the blogs are real and true… they’re wanting to help the consumer, but often the way of doing that is questionable. The next time you read a blog – be it a therapists or a survivors, ask yourself some basic questions…
What is this person getting out of writing the blog – what is their aim and motivation?
Is it an opinion piece, or is it factual?
Are they stating opinion as fact?
If it’s portrayed as fact, where is the research supporting that fact?
Is there indications that the therapist is continuing with their own education?
What qualifications does the therapist have, and what does that qualification mean?
Can you find out more about the therapist – do they list their name and contact details?
Google the therapist and see what comes up – are there any complaint procedures filed against them?
Who does the therapist link to – research from reputable sources, or other opinion pieces?
I know this all sounds difficult, but the online world is a dangerous one at times… you need to be aware of where you are going and what you are reading. It’s easy to be caught by a case of the therapist wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes… I know I have been.