A couple of weeks ago I consulted with a therapist who had just learned that her client discovered secrets about the therapist’s own family via online searches that the therapist herself was not even aware of. The therapist was devastated about both: the negative revelation about her family that she had just became aware of, and the fact that her client was the one who uncovered these long held family secrets.
In a less dramatic way, we need to realize that many and probably most of our clients, as modern-day consumers, Google therapists prior to starting therapy. This is a common and reasonable practice on the part of modern clients who want to know they are in good hands and can trust that their therapist is competent.
That being the case, we must be prepared for some clients who take their research to another level and use extensive or intrusive online searches whereby they can find highly personal information about their therapists. These may include home address, divorce, criminal, financial, real estate, dating sites, vacation destination, sexual orientation, political activities and other highly personal records of therapists and therapists’ family members.
What does it mean for therapists?
- Accept that modern-day consumers Google or check therapists’ Yelp ratings as a legitimate and reasonable way to evaluate their therapists. They do it with restaurants, yoga teachers and car dealerships, etc.
- Do not moralize or feel offended. Accept it as a prudent 21st century practice.
- When clients have personal information about their therapists, it can significantly shift the power differential between therapist and client.
- Find out immediately what your clients can learn about you by conducting a simple Google search on yourself.
- Track ongoingly what is posted on you online via Google Alerts: Sign up for Google Alerts. Simply enter your name and degree in different combinations, such as “Mark Smith, Ph.D.,” “M. Smith, Ph.D.,” “Dr. Smith, San Francisco,” etc.
- Assume that EVERYTHING you post on public blogs, social networking sites, listserves, online dating sites, online bulletin boards and chat rooms can be read by clients.
- Be very careful and ethical in discussing case studies online.
- While it is not easy and may not even be advisable to try to remove negative or misleading information about one’s practice online, there are several ways one can try to respond to such negative postings.
- Have a contemporary looking and informative web site that would hopefully show up first on any search engine.