[image by Ben Zvan]

I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of social media and the role of therapists (pastoral counselors) in the midst of it. There is a large percentage of therapists who thinks being online should be super limited, if online at all. And there is an emerging demographic of therapists who are making a splash online and venturing forth to help people in some unprecedented ways. As I work through these things myself, I just wanted to share 3 areas that I have some observations about.

Online Social Media As Catalyst for Face to Face Therapy
Back in July of 2009 I was invited by Tony Steward to come to LifeChurch.tv and film four short videos on depression that correlated with their At the Movies series. It was a great opportunity to work with Tony and the team at LifeChurch.tv; to experiment with online technology/social media around the topic of depression; and to see how online accessibility affected my work as a therapist and a counselor.

Several things came out of our time together that are continuing to blossom, and I’m learning a great deal about combining my work as a therapist in an online medium. One of the real beautiful stories that emerged out of that experience was that I was contacted on Twitter by someone who had come across my video and said “I felt like you were speaking directly to me…yet, you didn’t know me.” That video, led to a Tweet, to an email conversation, to face to face therapy. That’s an amazing story I think.

I continue to receive emails from those videos I shot, and I also continue to follow up on people’s progress who emailed me on Facebook about things they were going through.

We will continue to see social media as a catalyst to help get people into therapy–either face to face in person, or face to face online.

Being Accessible to Help
One of the things about being online, present on Twitter, Facebook or a blog is that you present the image of being accessible. I say present the image of being accessible because not everyone online is accessible. But I’ve always tried to be available to anyone who contacts me online. I have always received questions from friends about faith, theology and Christianity. I think a lot of that came out of my work as a pastor, so people will email me some questions, or ask for input. But now that I’m known for working full-time in therapy it’s amazing how many questions I get from people. I really count it as a privilege to receive emails, tweets, comments from friends asking for guidance, resources or help in areas related to their marriage, family, addictions, etc. I’ve referred people to therapists in their home city, made book recommendations, chatted on Facebook with them, prayed with them, etc. I count that as a high privilege to be invited into that part of their life and I take it very seriously–trying to help out everyone as best as I can.

Struggling to Find Appropriate Boundaries
Historically, therapists are very hard people to get a hold of. You are lucky if you can find an email of theirs to send messages to them. That’s very rare. It can even be hard to get a phone conversation at times (easier if they are a one person show than at a clinic, or have a secretary screening calls). Therefore, the boundaries have always been pretty impenetrable. Contact exists in that 45-50 minute window each time you see them, and outside of that it is rare. But with social media, and more and more therapists getting online the boundaries have become more difficult to navigate. Some therapists still refuse to be accessible online, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, a blog, website, or even an email. There is nothing wrong with that, because that is their choice.

But I think there is a generation emerging that expects more transparency from and access to its leaders, pastors, and health care providers. I have always thought that I needed to be online, but have sometimes struggled as many in the therapy field see it as having a lack of privacy and boundaries. But I think it’s better to be here, to be available to people and to continue to wrestle with the new boundaries.

I’m figuring it out as I go.

What expectations regarding access do you have of your pastors, therapists and other leaders?