At the beginning of this post, I find myself feeling much the same way I did when I wrote a piece about blog awards a few months ago – that is, rather full of trepidation and somewhat scared of offending anyone. Although, given that it may not be of interest to anyone apart from the very small handful of therapists (is there a collective noun for therapists?) who read my blog, and perhaps not even to them, that may be a wasted worry.
Why I am writing a blog post about blogging therapists? Because I read something recently that made me think about the subject more seriously than I have done before; because at the very least, I would like to give pause for thought. At best I hope to hear from one or two therapists with their views, either via comment, or (and I would be honoured if this were the case) by a reply post either on their own site or on here.
It struck me recently that there are some very different issues that today’s therapists have to grapple with, than existed several decades ago. With Facebook, Twitter, and all the myriad of other social networking sites, our lives are so much more ‘public’ than they used to be and there are so many more ways to connect with people. However, if you are in a profession where maintaining boundaries and keeping your non-professional life private, are key, how do you decide how much of yourself ‘to put out there’, and in what way?
Facebook recently asked me, out of the blue, whether I wanted to become friends with Person X, who was someone I saw once when I was ‘interviewing’ potential therapists around eighteen months ago. We had each other’s mobile numbers and email addresses, and that was enough for Facebook to connect the dots. I was alarmed at the suggestion and wondered how many other current or potential clients Facebook might be trying to connect her with, and so I looked at her page, more out of concern than curiosity. Once there, I could identify her family members, where they worked, and I could glean something of her political views from her public posts.
It may be that Person X was happy for her clients to have access to this sort of information about her – or she may simply not have realised how careful one has to be about privacy settings on social media sites. Either way, it does make me wonder: as a therapist, how do you decide how much of an internet presence you are going to have? How much thought do you give to this, in the context of your profession? How do you weight up the personal advantages (for example, keeping in touch with distant friends or family) against the possible professional implications? All therapists will know that many of their clients will look them up online and some will try and find out as much as they can. What impact will it have on those clients, to find out personal details about a therapist’s life, and whose concern, ethically, is that impact? Who bears responsibility?
A ‘personal’ presence on a site like Facebook seems almost compulsory these days –there can be a real sense of ‘missing out’ if one chooses (often for one’s sanity!) not to participate. But the decision to start a blog is quite a different one, and although blogging certainly connects you, it connects you to people outside your day to day life. From a therapist’s perspective, it also connects you to people who might either be potential clients, or are another therapist’s clients. I have come across a number of therapists whose blogging is strictly professional rather than personal in nature. That is, their posts may describe different types of therapy, address typical therapeutic situations or answer common client questions, and their interaction with readers is often limited. But there are also therapists and ex-therapists whose blogging is more personal – who share with us a little of themselves, as well as a great deal about their craft, and who are happy to engage in conversation.
And so I’m intrigued: if you’re a therapist or ex-therapist who blogs – why do you do it? What drives you and how deeply have you explored your motivations? As a therapist, you know that clients are often desperate to find out more about the process of therapy and to find out what makes therapists tick. In fact, frustrated by their inability to see into the hearts and minds of their own therapists, clients may seek out therapist bloggers in the hope that finding out what is in their hearts and minds, will give them a better sense of who their own therapist is. What impact, if any, does this knowledge have upon what you choose to say or share? Is there any sense in which your blogging is part of what drove you to become a therapist in the first place, or is it much more about what it does for you, than what it does for those who read your work? Are you ‘therapising’ (if there were such a word, which there isn’t), at a distance? Or are you always extremely conscious of not falling into acting in that capacity for people who are not your clients and whose own therapeutic alliance needs to be upheld?
An ex-therapist blogger who I am extremely grateful to for his very helpful and insightful comments on my posts, once made the point that he was assuming that my therapist was correct in the way she was working with me, and that we knew our own relationship best. It was a very affirming and supportive comment, and it did make me wonder: is that the hallmark of ‘ethical’ blogging by therapists? That it should be ultimately be affirming of the process, and of people’s experiences of it? Or does it not make sense to talk about ‘ethical’ blogging (and if does, why should clients, or anyone else, be excluded)? Is it simply anyone’s prerogative to tell the truth, as they see it?
The reason for all of my wondering, you see, is this. A few weeks ago I read a blog post by a practising therapist, which really unsettled me. Fear over ‘driving my therapist away’ was very much on my mind. I was testing her in small ways, and wondering what it would take for her to eventually want to stop working with me. The post, which talked about the potential fragility of the therapeutic relationship and went into detail about the therapist’s own feelings about the matter, fed those fears and sent me into an even greater state of anxiety. Originally, I was going to reblog the post with a short introductory paragraph. That paragraph turned into its own 1,000 word post. However, having discussed the post and the effect it had had on me, with my own therapist, I decided neither to reblog it nor to publish my own thoughts. Although the post was helpful in a number of ways (for example, by reminding me that my therapist is human, despite the fact I often idolise her) – I couldn’t in good conscience share something which overall, for me, was more disturbing than helpful.
I do not wish in any way to offend the therapist who wrote that post, and I know for a fact that a number of readers found it helpful. And I am grateful to her for raising all sorts of questions in my mind – questions that I think it’s important for me to ponder as they apply just as much to ‘in session’ as they do to ‘out of session’. We make so much of ‘telling the truth’ and being straightforward and honest in our communication – at least, I do. As clients, I feel we are encouraged to tell all and to leave nothing out, and often I feel as though I want at least a little reciprocation from my therapist. But how much responsibility does a therapist bear for telling the truth, and for holding it back? How do you, as a blogging therapist, judge what should be said, and what, for the sake of the client, it would be best for them not to know (even if they wish, desperately, to know it)? And not just your own clients, or ex-clients, but any vulnerable individual who may be reading your posts?
Parents want to be honest with their children; but they are also anxious not to burden them with emotions or with facts that would cause more harm than good, at their particular stage of development. For example, a parent may talk to their child about grief, and may even share aspects of their own; but there is a fine line between sharing in order to teach, and burdening a child with something that they are not equipped to take on. In as much as clients bring themselves, at all ages, into therapy, I think similar factors apply to the therapeutic relationship. As an adult, I may find the idea of my therapist ‘protecting me’ and ‘not burdening me’, difficult to accept. But I am often not an adult during session, or indeed between sessions, and my therapist would be remiss if she didn’t bear in mind the fact that sometimes she is dealing with the child, and she is more ‘parent’ than ‘partner’. So that brings me back to my earlier question – if you are a therapist who blogs, how do you decide how much of your own thoughts and feelings to share? Is there an ethical dimension to that decision? Is there any sense in which you feel you have a responsibility towards other therapists’ clients, as well as to your own?
Finally, if the therapeutic relationship is at the core of therapy, how do you view your relationship with your readers, and those whose blogs you also read? Are you attune to the dynamic of the interaction in the way that you might be during session? And does that influence the way in which you respond, or even if you do respond?
A few weeks ago I realised that the way I felt about the interactions I was having with an ex-therapist blogger, reminded of me past relational patterns, particularly with other ‘authority’ figures. I became aware of the familiar feelings of wanting to ‘be special’ (which I have in relation to my own therapist as well), and of wanting his attention and his compliments. More than that, I became conscious that I was seeking from him, what I felt I wasn’t getting from my own therapist – validation, reassurance, praise. I talked to my therapist about this, and she said that it was rather like going to dad when mum was not forthcoming. She was right – but to me, it also felt like having an affair. I asked her whether my interactions with this blogger bothered her, and she said no. And yet I had wanted her to say yes – I wanted her to feel ‘jealous’. To be protective of our therapeutic relationship and to feel put out at the thought of me ‘looking elsewhere’ for what I thought I needed.
As often happens, bringing something ‘secret’ out into the light and talking about it, robbed it of its power. I still great enjoy and value my interactions with that blogger, but I no longer feel as though my mind is caught up in some bizarre kind of therapy attention-triangle. My relationship with my therapist is stronger than it’s ever been, and I’m learning to recognise the ways in which she gives me what I need, even if it’s not always in the ways that I want. But I ask myself – do therapist bloggers wonder if there are similar dynamics in play with those they interact with? Do they wonder if they are becoming part of those individuals’ therapy? If that blogger had been aware of what our interactions meant to me at the time, would it have made any difference to how he responded? I hope not – and I hope that knowing it now, doesn’t cause him to pull back in future. That is my greatest fear in writing this post – losing the connections I so value, and driving away therapists (including those who are not my own!).
I feel that that is more than enough questions for now – and I have gone on at far greater length than I intended. If you have made it this afar, and are still awake, let alone interested, congratulations! And if you’re a therapist, a blogger, still awake, still interested and are minded to reply – I’d be very excited and honoured to hear from you. As indeed I would be to hear from anyone who has thoughts on this subject….