Heart chalked onto sidewalk

Photo by Guillaume LORAIN on Unsplash

Back in the day, my licensure supervisor taught me that the key to a loving relationship is self-ownership + other-acceptance. And to get that, we need to communicate needs and feelings clearly and with compassion.

So in this long month of Valentines Day, we honor that formula for leaping into long-term love with a 4-point listicle (and a CE course pack) dedicated to… communication. (I’ll find a way to work President’s Day in there, too. Just watch me.)

1) Facebook is a privacy nightmare. But it’s still good for case consultation and referrals, right?

Actually, it kinda is.

Lots of colleagues gather in Facebook groups to help each other out with support, advice, and useful referrals. What could be better?

There’s a growing concern, however, around the amount of client-identifying information that is getting bandied about.

Remember that when we consult with each other, we push the bounds of confidentiality (even when we don’t use client names.) And we do so for good reason! It’s an important part of helping the client.

What seems (to me) to be causing the trouble is the lack of awareness that online discussion venues have very different privacy characteristics from the venues where we typically consult in-person.

When discussing online, consider the following points:

  • Your post isn’t ephemeral in the way an in-person conversation is ephemeral. What you post will likely stick around for decades.
  • Large numbers of people can see your posts, even in private groups. This is especially true when you think about viewers in the future, and the computer systems which are hosting the material you post.
  • The client you are discussing, or people who know them, may see your post. This can be true even in private discussion groups.
  • You don’t have to be using a client’s name to be identifying them.

We have more in our article on social media issues. We also discuss this in our courses on websites and social media, which are in the February CE Pack.

2) Share your feelings with your clients (because the alternative is not as professional as it might seem.)

Do you use emojis/emoticons when you text or email with clients?

The case against using emojis generally hinges on the idea that maintaining a professional demeanor requires the use of formal written language. I agree that formal written English does not (yet) have room for emojis. However…

Linguistic research on texting shows that it isn’t generally used as a medium for written language — people text using spoken language patterns. Using written English in text messages would, for many clients, be like speaking to them with a restricted affect and inappropriately formal language patterns.

And I would argue that that’s not very professional. ;)

If you’re feeling restricted in how you speak when texting with clients, it might be better to develop your own way of expressing your professional voice in the medium. Consider thoughtfully choosing words and grammar (and yes, maybe some emojis) to accomplish this.

See some citations and further discussion in our article on professionalism in texts and emails. We also cover this topic in our texting courses, which are in the February CE Pack.

3) Text your mother with that app?! (In which case, maybe don’t text your clients with it.)

A question we frequently hear at Office Hours is, “do I need to have phone and texting service for my practice that is separate from my personal phone and texting service?”

Truthfully, nothing I’ve seen requires you to separate your personal line from your business line. But let me tell you one reason why keeping ’em separated is a really good idea.

I have personally seen therapists embroiled in the aftermath of client complaints to their licensing board due to mishaps involving mixed personal and business use of their phone service.

Think about how many times you have texted something to the wrong person. Now think about something you have sent or might send by text that you really wouldn’t want to send to a client. Now imagine accidentally sending that thing to a client because you’re using the same service for clients that you use for friends and family.

What’s more, there are a lot of good options these days for secure, practice-supporting, and inexpensive ways to get phone and text service. You can find a number of options in our HIPAApropriateness Reviews.

We also discuss this topic, along with practical solutions, in our texting pack courses and our course on email and phone service. Those courses are in the February CE Pack.

4) Treat your phone at least as well as you treat your file cabinet.

After doing the “tech counselor” thing for 10+ years, I’ve noticed that my colleagues feel one way towards the client records in our file cabinets — and we often feel a different way towards the client emails, text messages, and other client info we keep on our phones.

Personally, I think this is because many of us feel like “locking down” our smartphones is a much more esoteric process than locking our file cabinets. And it is, of course. Locking a file cabinet is much simpler.

Fortunately, all our smartphones are as ready for therapist-level security as our locking file cabinets are — without having to learn any esoteric secrets, thank goodness.

To make your smartphone therapist-secure, you can simply use the checklist in our article on device security. You can also get specific, step-by-step instructions on precisely what to do with your smartphone (and computer) — as well as 1 CE credit hour — from our Device Security Pack. Luckily, the Device Security Pack is included in the February CE Pack.

And that concludes this ode to communication for February, 2020. I never managed to work President’s Day into it, but I’m going to simply accept that fact and move on. Here’s an emoji to express how I feel about it: ?.

Introducing the February, 2020 CE Bundle

This sale will last through February 28th 29th! (yay for Leap Days!)

Get the Bundle!


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