Say you run into your psychologist at a party. Do you say hello or feign unfamiliarity? I've known psychologists who won't acknowledge patients in social situations unless the patient says hello first, so as to avoid any awkward "how do you know that person?" questions that might put patients on the spot.
To me, the idea of friending a therapist on Facebook is a puzzling proposition. As a recent story in the Los Angeles Times acknowledges, doctor-patient relationships are trickier to navigate in the age of social networking and search engines, where the personal is more public:
Caregivers, especially psychiatrists and therapists, have historically disclosed personal information only when it might benefit a patient . . . Likewise, patients have typically disclosed personal details in their own time, as therapy continues and trust develops. The Web challenges that model head-on.
If a doctor can Google you, why not add her to your friends list? I can think of some good reasons why not to friend your doctor, as well as some potential benefits, so
- You have more ways to stay in touch. Depending on the doctor, yours may welcome communication over the phone, email, or Facebook. This could give you more ways to make appointments, ask follow-up questions, or even get in touch in times of dire need.
- It forces you to be honest. Lying to your psychologist is unproductive: if you're supposed to be avoiding your toxic ex-boyfriend, fibbing to your shrink about a recent reunion only hurts you. But if the doc can see your Facebook updates and photos, it's tougher to lie once you're on the couch.
- It begs the "how do you know this person?" question. If you don't want your friends to know you're in therapy, friending your therapist is probably a bad idea.
- You may learn things about your doctor you don't want to know. If your psychologist is giving you good advice, should it matter if she's divorced, single, or married happily with kids? Probably not. But learning too many details of your psychologist's personal life might cloud your judgment about the advice you're getting.
- It breaks down boundaries. Becoming too friendly with a therapist could make things awkward between you professionally or socially or both. You also run the risk of initiating a romantic involvement — a big no-no.
- The bond is harder to break. If you decide it's time to move on, either to a new therapist or away from therapy altogether, your socially networked status may make breaking it off more difficult.
Am I being too old-fashioned about all this, or do you think the cons also outweigh the pros?