Many of my colleagues in the psychotherapy profession get that social media is here to stay, and a force of nature in the lives of our patients. Therapists have grown more accustomed to listening to recorded arguments on smartphones, getting introduced to patient’s Facebook pages, and watching patients thumbtype texts in sessions. And whether we have accounts or not, most clinicians have at least heard of Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media. But in terms of our own practices, what good can social media be to therapists?
At least when it comes to therapists, we aren’t so excited by bells, beeps and whistles. We didn’t gravitate to a job that usually involves 2 people, 2 chairs (or a couch and a chair,) 4 walls and a door. That therapy space was chosen by us and subsequently shapes us. We choose it for many reasons: shyness, preference for intimate one-on-one relationships, privacy, and stripping down human relationships to their essentials so we can focus on them. And we often become shaped into more private, more independent, less tolerant of distraction, and more habitual people as a result. If any of you are like me you may have noticed that when you meet a friend for coffee you begin to get antsy 45-50 minutes into the chat. I’ve hung out with therapist friends and we both wind down the conversation at the 50 minute mark without even thinking about it!
In short, we aren’t inclined to immediately warm to the social aspects of social media. We’re less than dazzled by the wide and sweeping networks of connections we can make all over the world, and multiple instant messages from several different people pinging us every minute or so doesn’t thrill us. In fact, we often make the judgment that we prefer narrow depth in our relating to wide “shallowness.” And truth to tell we’re a bit snooty. I’ve had colleagues criticize some of the sites and blog posts I have recommended to readers merely because they aren’t “vetted” by a group of our peers: They would rather trust the judgment of 12 folks with degrees on a committee somewhere than someone with unknown credentials. This isn’t wrong necessarily, but it is limiting. And it slows down the flow of information.
A growing number of us are choosing to differ with, or at least diversify from, that prevailing sentiment. We’ve realized that Twitter can be a powerful, economic, and rapid way of sharing new articles, recent studies, upcoming workshops, and sometimes even snippets of those workshops! Links to speakers, presentations and findings are being tweeted more and more from therapists who are interested in research and dissemination of knowledge.
In addition, private practitioners are finding ways to leverage social media to market their practice, reach more people and grow both their sphere of influence and their business. This is an exhilarating and accelerating time for our work in this regard! Technology has enabled us to be more social in our business than ever before in history.
But none of this makes social media powerful in ways that therapists care about much of the time, and this weekend I was reminded of what the true power of social media has for us.
The power of social media for therapists and therapy is not that it is social by nature, but that it has the potential to be personal.
I had forgotten this, as I sometimes do, in my zeal and excitement with the technology and its reach and speed. Those of you who have followed these posts or attended my workshops are no stranger to my enthusiasm for social media. This past month I had used the social media of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogging and Constant Contact to pull together a workshop on video games and psychotherapy. I credit the power of social media in helping me market and get a great group for this workshop. And then social media bit me in the behind.
I had sent out my latest newsletter and was starting to get responses from various articles. Now most of these responses are usually positive, but in the mix this time was a very angry and negative one from a recent workshop attendee. It was actually more than negative, it was what I would consider my first real attacking hate email. Needless to say I was disturbed and unhappy to read it. After reading it I sent out this Tweet:
@MikeLICSW : Eek. Just got my first hate email from someone who had actually said she really enjoyed my workshop. Guess she changed her mind. #ouch
I put down my iPhone and got ready to do some other work, when seconds it pinged, TWICE:
@Leilanimitchel : ‘interesting’ – wonder whats going on for her – might not be about you of course!!
Leave it to my colleagues to help me reframe and regain some perspective on the hate email. But what was even more striking was the personal feeling of warmth I experienced to get two thoughtful and caring responses seconds after my post.
The Power of Social Media in Therapy is the Personal.
This truth is something I have known for several years. We learned it at Sparta Networks a long time ago and in the same way. Initially when we began our company we were in love with the technology of social media. We loved coming up with new functionality and features! We’d actually spend hours playing with different ones–one of my favorites was our birthday reminder feature, which we were using way before people began to track their friends birthdays via Facebook. Our feature not only sent you a reminder, but put a little birthday candle next to your avatar. Boy did we geek out about that stuff, and sometimes still do.
But that ultimately wasn’t what grew our company the most. What ended up being the most important aspects of social networking solutions at Sparta were the personal elements. One example was our long and ongoing conversations with each client who wanted personal customization (i.e., all of them 🙂 ) These people needed to engage in a personal conversation with us to feel understood uniquely about what their business was trying to achieve. We ended up spending much more time on consulting and education around social media than if we’d just been cranking out one boxed software product.
And often we didn’t just develop the social media network for them, but engaged in creating the sense of community that makes social media work, brick by personal brick. For example, if we were doing a social network to support the product testing of a certain big food manufacturer, we needed to participate regularly with other members of the social network. At first again we thought the majority of this would be systems administration stuff in the form of bug reports or permissions. Again we were wrong. That was a part of it, but if we didn’t engage in a personal way with each member of the group and start off conversations or games the network wouldn’t take off. A successful launch of a social media site requires both a certain social critical mass and a focussed personal engagement with each member by other members. At least that has been our company’s experience, and continues to be part of our consultancy component at Sparta.
This is the part that therapists need to get, the part I have alluded to in previous posts about gamers. The power of social media in therapy is the personal. It is getting those caring Tweets from real people and real friends. It is the use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to reach out person to person to convey “Hey, I understand you.” We all need to feel known deeply and meaningfully by others, one relationship at a time. When therapists critique the technology as shallow and superficial, they are in some ways correct. But they are usually looking at it from the outside in, rather than having the subjective experience of warmth and recognition by the Other that social media has the capacity to convey.
The truth is that social media technology is by nature social, but by potential personal. The social nature of these technologies is much more easily understood from the “outside in” than the potential personal capacity of it. For that you need to be within it. Even listening to your patients speak about it won’t quite do it; because at best you have to make an effort to imagine yourself into their experience, and at worst you make the empathic failure of dismissing their real emotional experiences within the social media and virtual world.
So if you have been reluctant to engage in social media on a personal level, please give it a try. I think you’ll discover and experience real feelings in real time if you do, and that is what I believe ultimately powers good therapy or good social media. What do you think?