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What are you saying...

You woke up this morning.

As you dressed you carefully covered as many of your scars and open wounds, (physical, emotional, spiritual) as you could. Like millions of others, you dressed in the clothes that are visual representations of your profession- Dr/Nurse, plumber, Chef, law enforcement, Therapist, Educator, Mechanic, business owner, retiree. You may have added accessories that reflect other parts of your identity- Spouse, Parent, Faith, musician, sports fan. Perhaps you put on a name tag for the organization you work for and you walked out of your house ready to face the world for the day.

Now, imagine that your lawn has signs that represent the last six posts your shared-on Facebook. Your car is wrapped in the last five memes you posted on Instagram and the bumper stickers are the last three tweets on Twitter. As you get out of the car you are handed an advertising sandwich board or oversized arrow that reflected the last demeaning thing you said about people who own guns/second amendment rights or calling out persons who believe in choice as murderers. You drive your car and carry/wear your advertising signs everywhere you go all day.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I representing the real, deep, mission and values of my employing organization? My faith? My profession? How many people have rejected my organization today because of my signs.

  • Would someone in trouble or distress feel safe coming to me for help? Your children? Their friends? Your colleagues? Peers from your church? How many people who needed help didn’t ask for it because they fear me or my reaction?

  • How have I contributed to stereotype’s about people like me - who believe what I believe that I know to not be true?

What you post on social media is like wearing that advertising sandwich board - how many people could you help, but will never have the chance because of the vitriol we are all guilty of posting on social media sites?

As professional counselors, we all are aware of what the ethical codes tell us about our professional presence on social media sites.

A.4. Avoiding Harm and Imposing Values

  • A.4.a. Avoiding Harm Counselors act to avoid harming their clients, trainees, and research participants and to minimize or to remedy unavoidable or unanticipated harm.

  • A.4.b. Personal Values Counselors are aware of—and avoid imposing—their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature.

H.6. Social Media

  • H.6.a. Virtual Professional Presence In cases where counselors wish to maintain a professional and personal presence for social media use, separate professional and personal web pages and profiles are created to clearly distinguish between the two kinds of virtual presence.

  • H.6.b. Social Media as Part of Informed Consent Counselors clearly explain to their clients, as part of the informed consent procedure, the benefits, limitations, and boundaries of the use of social media.

  • H.6.c. Client Virtual Presence Counselors respect the privacy of their clients’ presence on social media unless given consent to view such information.

  • H.6.d. Use of Public Social Media Counselors take precautions to avoid disclosing confidential information through public social media (ACA, 2014).

I offer to you that you are still a counselor and a representative of the counseling profession regardless of whether you are on your professional or personal profiles. Isn’t is only right that your professional and personal profiles be congruent?

You might be thinking that these comments don’t apply to you, because you use your platforms to advocate for the oppressed. You are an ally to those who feel disenfranchised. Would the 18-year-old girl who lost her athletic scholarship opportunity to the transwoman athlete who won the state meet feel that you could be her ally? Have you articulated balance on your platform so that she would know that you can be on her side too?

You might think that no one you know or are friends with on Social Media have beliefs or values that do not align with yours. The problem with social media is that you really don’t know all of your digitally articulated circles, where or how they overlap, or who is in them and who is not. You also cannot know the full reach of your voice or how far it could be shared and who will be hurt by what you say. Our obligation is to serve those who seek help whatever their belief system and to treat them with unconditional positive regard.

We are living in a time where people try to create dichotomies where dichotomies do not exist. There are too many layers to complicated issues for it to be all one way or the other. On social media platforms it is too easy to fall in to the camps of sharp contrasts instead of the shades of gray that color the spectrum in between the extremes. Individuals who do not fall into one binary camp or the other are struggling to find their own congruence in a society that has declared that it is “us” or “them”. Are you presenting yourself as someone who is a “we”?

Continue to use your platform to educate, raise awareness, or discuss complex issues… be mindful that some are reading your posts for agreement, some are reading to argue, but some are reading to see if you are a safe place and friend for them.

Thus, ends our lesson for today.

American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA code of ethics. Alexandria, VA: Author.

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