Hayley Wilson wrote a timely ACA blog post this past week on the questionable merits of counselors using Facebook. After going through a huge social media learning curve this past year, originally spurred on by trying to promote my latest book, I have come to appreciate the power of social media to promote positive messages of emotional wellness. As a graduate student back in the 70s, I never could have envisioned that mental health could be promoted in such an extraordinary way to reach people in every corner of the globe! In this age of increasing use of social media, Hayley’s post was just the impetus I needed to outline some ethical ways to promote mental health and wellness using social media.
It must be noted that the counseling profession is not a “one size fits all” profession. Many experienced therapists are not driven by promoting a counseling practice, but are focused more on expanding their sphere of influence through writing and speaking. Whereas in my early years I focused on developing my counseling expertise, as my experience grew, I branched out with speaking and writing to promote practical life skills to a wider audience. More and more, counselors like myself write books, have blogs, speak on wellness and mental health issues, serve as mental health experts for radio and TV, and offer workplace seminars to promote emotional wellness at work. In these cases, Facebook pages and other social media involvement are essential to reach a wider audience. Thus, the question becomes how to integrate Facebook and other social media sites into your work while keeping in mind ethics and client boundaries. Here are some of my experiences and suggestions.
With Facebook, I have never given my clients access to my personal page. To have your clients be so privy to your personal life can wreak havoc with transference and blurs boundaries. I really can not see any good use for Facebook for therapists using their personal page. However, the benefits for having a separate Facebook page to promote mental health and wellness is invaluable. I have a completely separate professional “friend” page where anyone is welcome (Judith Belmont is my personal page and Judy Belmont is my professional one), and I have attached my professional friend page to my business fan page (you can not have a business fan page without linking it to a personal page). What started for me as a forum to promote my latest book published by mental health seminar provider, PESI, became a general mission to promote the message of mental health and wellness. I have been amazed at the positive response of people from all around the world to messages of self-empowerment, forgiveness, gratitude, healthy parenting, positive thinking and other cornerstones of mental wellness. I not only promote my mental health messages by my own pictorial inspirations daily, but post many others from various sites relating to positive living, recovery, healing and mental health. I have found that my own personal mental wellness has risen a few notches by exploring and sharing other mental health sites. I believe this has made me a better clinician, as well as a better author and speaker. For counselors who want to widen their repertoire of services and resources they offer, social media is invaluable.
Thus, what started as a mission to promote my book became a mission in itself. Although it has been time consuming to initially “learn the ropes,” it has been a win/win for me. Facebook has evolved as a very important vehicle for promoting my passion for imparting practical life skills rather than just promoting “me.” My own clients have found much support in visiting my Facebook page regularly, following my links to other great resources, including other wellness Facebook pages as well as to mental health quizzes and blog posts from myself and others.
There have been other social media outlets that were initially intended to help promote my book which turned into outlets to expand my mission of promoting positivity. With relatively little traffic to my own web site to start, I learned early on that posting good quality posts on more established mental health and personal development blogs will give visibility and credibility. I learned what people are looking for, what posts were most popular, and my blogging helped me develop the language I needed to reach people in a “user friendly” way. I was able to use my insights from my own practice and speaking to offer blog posts that resonate with the general public looking for a more positive life.
Twitter helps promote these positive messages and resources by using up to 140 characters, known as “tweets,” to display a message or link to a post on the web or any social media site. Being a rather insight-oriented person, Twitter seemed very superficial to me at first. However, I realized the power of being limited to a small number of words to express ideas succinctly, and now love using twitter to direct traffic to a recent blog post, quote or article from either myself or others I find in my reading. It’s a quick way to share resources. Twitpic is a great free service to convert your pictorial inspirational quotes or blog posts into a short URL you can tweet them with a picture attached.
Speaking of pictures, Pinterest is a marvelous way to promote mental health though pictorial inspirational quotes. I have encouraged my clients to make their own quotes with pictures that they have taken, and for my own I either use my pictures or buy royalty free pictures from a low priced photo service. Having your clients develop their own quotes through using pictures to trigger ideas would in fact make a marvelous activity for those who lead groups in mental health settings.
This is a just a sample of how some of the major social media outlets can work hand in hand to support your message of mental health and wellness. Even if promoting a book or your services is the initial reason to plunge into social media on a professional level, if you are like me, you will find that soon this worldwide community offers you a wellness boost that you could never have imagined!