Kate: Today we will be discussing ethics and social media with Blaine Hummel. Blaine, thank you so much for joining today. I want you to talk to me first about just real quick, and I’m sure you get asked this all the time, lawyer and LPC. Does that give you a unique perspective on ethics and rules, or do you struggle like the rest of us?
Blaine: I have both brains. The lawyer and the counselor brain. But the reason I guess I started kind of veering into the area of ethics is because I just didn’t really feel like there was a lot of ground covered in. I had a course in graduate school on ethics, but I really didn’t feel like I knew a lot. Then I had counselor’s questioning me, as an attorney, what do I do now, I have a subpoena. On the lawyer side, it’s something I would do everyday. Therapists, just aren’t equipped generally, because we don’t learn about it. It positions me pretty well between both. And I think I navigate it pretty well.
Kate: I know that you offer a class on that, ‘oh my god, I have a subpoena, how do I do that?’
Blaine: Yes, I have a bunch of courses. I have a two-hour course on LFP’s, on the difference between W-2 employees versus 1099 employees. So I always tell people, if there’s a subject that you need covered, I’m willing to do a course on it. Just drop me a line and let me know.
Kate: I just want to highlight what you just did, which is for the newly self-employed new associates, right? Cause you were pretty amped on getting on that.
Why is maintaining strong ethics in counseling important?
Blaine: When I started my practice as an attorney/associate, I was doing everything myself. I was technically working for a practice, but I thought I had learned everything I needed as an associate and how to kind of build a business. And so, kind of combining that with what I know about the law and ethics, I just kind of thought, hey we need that kind of help for our associates out there, to learn how to build a practice with a new role coming in. So we’re about halfway through. We learned sort of the basics of practice and setting up an LLC. And I went through that, what types of insurance we need, what are your business expenses, and stuff like that.
Kate: I want to thank you for joining me today. I just talked to Texas counselors at Badass Business about ways to use social media to market your private practice. I’ll be real transparent, I use it to market my side hustle. My training and all of that. I haven’t used social media to market my own practice in a long time. So I sent you, the things that came to my mind before we talked today, what are the top three things counselors should do to stay legal and ethical should they choose to incorporate social media to market their private practice. What kind of came to mind for you?
Blaine: I think the first thing you really need to do is to have something in your intake paperwork, if you’re going to market heavily on social media, about your policies. You really have to. I guess the thing that really popped in my mind is that you still must follow your ethics codes. And so one of things is that you’re not committing false advertising and that everything is really inline with your practice. And not making exaggerated claims, or claims about things that you don’t really have. I think just having a real distinct policy that’s separate from practice. When we market on social media, we kind of have a persona and maybe that’s what we’re advertising. Keep that clear and distinct from your practice.
Kate: What’s a persona? Talk about that a little bit.
Blaine: Because we’re marketing, and we’re trying to sell our services, and maybe creating an image of what we are. I think a lot of us are on Facebook social media.Where we see, it always looks like the grass is greener on the other side. And people post, basically, a curated image of themselves. You don’t want to mislead your potential clients on social media marketing, where you’re one way on social media but when you get into the therapy room, you know, you’re totally different. And so that’s what I mean, you know, I think we kind of sell ourselves through marketing in a way that we may not practice in therapy. So that’s kind of where I’m coming from on that. Yeah.
Kate: Be real, be genuine, be yourself.
Blaine: I think so. But also just to make sure that those two are in line with each other and not being ok, on social media I’m this way, but in practice, I do it a little bit differently.
Kate: One thing I get asked about a lot is paperwork. So what essentially ask–or what are essential things that you feel have to go into the paperwork?
What is considered a HIPAA violation in social media?
Blaine: In terms of social media, I don’t want my clients in particular to read my paperwork. I’ve seen practitioners have thirty page documents that nobody ever reads. If you have a social media policy, put that in your consent, maybe talk about it in your first session, if you’re really going to have a huge social media presence. I don’t. My clients are mostly teens and I just don’t see teen boys interacting with me on social media. I have a client who’s an attorney, and we’re in the same Texas Lawyers Facebook group. She’s been really open about having me as a therapist. But I’ve had to have those discussions with her about, you know, I can’t really interact with you on Facebook.
You really need to think about those situations that are going to pop up and how you’re going to handle them and how you want to handle them when you actually get in the middle of the situation. And so, you know, I think it’s really a good idea to not accept friend requests from clients, just to make boundaries clear, but just have everything articulated in that policy as to how you’re going to act.
A lot of times when advertising on social media, clients will be reaching out to you through Facebook or Messenger. Facebook for instance is mostly not HIPAA compliant. I don’t know that you want to encourage clients or potential clients to talk to you through social media platforms. Set up some alternative system where you can point them to your HIPAA compliant email or phone number. Making sure that you maintain clear boundaries, that you adhere to HIPAA, and most importantly confidentiality. Which is a big problem when it comes to social media.
How do therapists maintain confidentiality?
Kate: Well, yeah, I mean, if we’re going to use social media, that sort of throws confidentiality out the window, right? So it’s almost like having to come from a different perspective. Like you said, if a client outs themselves, there’s nothing you can do about it because they own their PHI, right? But how do you respond, right? You just sort of have a honest conversation with them and say, look, I see you, I’m just not going to interact with you.
Blaine: I’m just not going to engage with you. And that can become problematic. I mean, not necessarily on your social media, but you know, you’re not interacting with you because of your HIPAA. It’s a tough world.
Kate: One of the things that comes to my mind is that our life now is I want to start using that TikTok thing, or I want to, I want to–I don’t get on Instagram–but I really want an Instagram presence. That’s like me saying to me I want to go scuba diving but I’ve never taken any scuba diving lessons? You know what I mean? It’s like you have to kind of be familiar with this stuff if you’re going to try to use it as a platform.
Why is it important to maintain confidentiality of clients?
Blaine: In our society we see the huge influences that have huge followings, it’s work. I mean it really is work to be on social media. Just because you have an Instagram doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get ten thousand followers. You have to figure out are you attracting the clients that you want to see. Are they reaching out to you through the right platform? I mean, I’ve heard, I’ve listened to some podcasts of some people who’ve you know, have generated sort of a large following, you know, who get the occasional client. I think it’s more about getting your name out there. The more traditional marketing techniques seem to be a little more effective than just general social media presence.
Kate: I think that’s good for our next topic, which is, what are some of the mistakes that you see. It sounds like a mistake is ok, I’m going to use this, I’m going to go at it, and I’ll use anything as far as a client.
Blaine: I don’t want to use that categorically that we’re going to be doing social media marketing. But you really need to be savvy in what you’re doing, particularly your metrics. How much time are you putting into it, how much money are you spending, versus how much are you receiving. I think one thing I think some people talk about which is a really important thing to know, is your lifetime value of a client. And so you know, if you like to say it’s a thousand dollars per lifetime of a client, then you can have a good baseline of what you want to spend on social media in time and money to determine if that makes sense for you. It’s difficult.
What a therapist should not do…
Honestly, I think the biggest mistake that I see people do on social media that doesn’t pertain to marketing so much, as you know, asking other clinicians how would you, you know, handle this client? And then divulging client information. I see it all the time, some places where moderators will sort of step in and kind of pare those things down. But I think social media is not where you want to do case consults, like categorically. Get somebody on the phone, get a small group together. Just don’t put that on the internet.
Kate: That reminds me of an admin I know. I have an admin and I love what she did. She said if your post starts with ‘I have a client…’ it should be banned.
Blaine: Right. But you know, a lot of that information, even non-descript, the last thing you want is your client finding out that you’re talking about them on Facebook or some sort of simi-public forum. I think you want to be clear in your paperwork, if you are doing consults, that that is articulated as well.
Kate: Like I will be talking about you on social media, so be prepared.
Blaine: Well, I don’t know if I’d say that, but something, like you know, ‘I do consult with other professionals. I try to make it as anonymous as possible.’ Something like that.
Kate: What other mistakes come to mind when you think of clients and social media?
Blaine: You really need to know the risk versus reward. Also, you always have to kind of keep being mindful that anything you post on the internet is forever, even if you try to delete it. So you really need to. I guess there’s really three big categories of things I see in the ethics realm.
What are the rules of confidentiality in therapy?
Which is, you know, making false representations, breaching confidentiality, and another big one is keeping appropriate boundaries with your clients. Like how do you interact with them and how do you not? Because that’s really hard. When you have an online presence, to keep your practice, essentially.
Kate: This is wonderful, and I’m going to record it, and it’s going to be in the Step It Up group for our members. I want you to, if you would, talk to our graduate students or our LLC associates who will be self-employed. They got the ok from their supervisor, and maybe they want to use social media marketing. And they’re mentor is not really into it, or maybe they’re just not too savvy. Talk to those graduate students or the LLC associates already about what to do with social media.
What are some potential ethical issues that may arise within the supervisory relationship?
Blaine: One of the things I want to say to associates is if you have a supervisor who is not meeting your needs, whether it be through social media or the actual supervision itself, or allowing you to practice, is then you just kind of need to go out and find someone who will be more appropriate for your situation. And in respect to social media in terms of like you said, maybe your supervisor isn’t too savvy. I think that’s one thing that supervisors in particular are going to have to grapple with is what does supervision look like now that associates can own a practice.
How much supervision time can be spent on things like business development and how they run their own practices. And I think social media is one of those things that’s a really good topic. Because, obviously, I don’t think it’s going away. But I do think, and I guess I should have mentioned this earlier, is that some of the more traditional ways of doing social media advertising, is I think it’s really been curtailed. And I think in particular when Apple came out with, I don’t know when it was, in the Spring, with these privacy restrictions that made these Facebook ads or Instagram ads. It essentially changed the algorithm so that you’re not getting in front of as many people. And it made social media advertising much less effective. It’s sad on your end, but that’s just the way it is.
Do therapists have a code of ethics?
Kate: You have supervisors who will be watching this. Folks in the Kate Walker 40 training get access to this, and people who have graduated from the Kate Walker training get access to this. We get these new supervisors. What would you tell these new supervisors, these people who are willing to supervise LPC associates who are wanting to be self-employed?
Blaine: The thing is making it clear what you want to do with your associate’s and making it organic. You know, just follow their lead and vice versa. You know, just figure it out as you go alone. There are obviously a lot of new liabilities that you must consider, but I would make it a practice to be checking in on, you know, what they are doing, and making sure, as you would, that they’re being ethical and how they’re advertising.
Kate: I love that. Thank you, Blaine. Thank you so much for taking time today.
Blog post by Kate Walker Ph.D., LPC/LMFT Supervisor
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