Hi there! My name is Tiffany Chhuom and I’m a therapist, researcher, and the owner of EthTech: a consulting firm on technology and ethics for mental health professionals. Following some recent events here in the Seattle area, I’ve decided to take some steps personally to feel safer while interacting with people online and via smartphones. I hope you will consider taking these steps as well to protect yourself and your clients; and to maintain compliance with laws and regulations.
Do you have a Facebook account for personal use? Do you have the same login for your business page? The answer is yes. That’s what Facebook requires, via their terms of agreement, but I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. Why? Well, Facebook will update their services and terms from time to time without making it very obvious.
As an example, do you use a cell phone to schedule clients? Do you also use that cell phone for personal use? If you have the Facebook app downloaded on your phone, then you agree to updates all the time. When these updates happen, it’s really hard to find the changes made to any user agreements or terms of service you implicitly consented to while using the application. Unfortunately, these updates can sometimes change your privacy settings in Facebook. That stuff you set to private on your profile, like the school you went to or the place you work? Now it’s public.
How Private is Facebook?
In summary, even if you think you are very careful on Facebook, the truth is that everything you do on Facebook could be seen by your clients, no matter how often you check your settings. If you’re going to use Facebook for business purposes too, which I recommend for boosting your revenue, then don’t do anything on Facebook you wouldn’t want your clients to see.
Your Clients & Facebook
In reality, I recommend not interacting with your clients on Facebook at all. This sounds easy to do, but how often do you get someone contacting you on your business page, commenting on an ad, or sending you a direct message? They may not be your client yet, but they may become one soon.
For this reason, take every conversation with anyone interested in your services offline. Give them your phone number and tell them you’re excited to speak with them over the phone. This is one instance where Facebook has a useful feature that will help the process: its Messenger bot system can be configured to direct clients and potential clients to contact you in a more secure way. You’ll need to ensure your phone is compliant, but I will get to that in a moment.
I really like using Facebook groups to network with colleagues and gain referrals. I also think Facebook ads can be extremely effective. As a rule of thumb though, take the time to read the user agreement and terms of service every once and awhile. Remember that all the marketing you do AFTER you enroll a client can be seen by them, so keep the language sensitive to your current clients, not just the future ones.
If you decide to see another therapist as a client, talk to them in advance about shared circles like Facebook Groups. I started a group for WA State Associates and new colleagues join all the time, regardless if they know who is in the group or not. It can be helpful to have an Authorization for Electronic Communication form. Don’t have one yet? Don’t worry, I’ve got one in the making, check back on my website www.ethtechusa.com in the spring to find it.
Practical Tips for Keeping Yourself Secure Online
1. Don’t post your business location
As a general rule, don’t post your business address anywhere online or in your email signature, including Psychology Today, professional organizations, LinkedIn, and your website. We do work in a profession with a higher rate of workplace violence, so think long and hard about whether or not you would want anyone to know when you’re at work.
Is it possible your kids go there from time to time just for a minute while you’re working a little on the weekend? If so, you may not want to share that address. Consider angry spouses of your clients or former clients that you decided to refer out years ago. Could they possibly hold a grudge? Check Yelp, Google and Psych Today, maybe Linkedin and Facebook too. As a clinician who works with survivors of interpersonal violence, I can tell you that therapists do become survivors of online stalking too. Sometimes the perpetrator is their own client and sometimes it’s the client’s angry spouse or previous partner. Prevent these tragic situations as much as possible by thinking about if someone would be able to find you online if they saw your online presence the way it stands right now.
2. Never share your personal address
Don’t share pictures of your house or cars. Don’t share when you’re going out of town for vacation or when you return. Criminals will use this information to plan break-ins.
3. Online Paid Searches: Keep Personal Out of It
Remove yourself from search sites like Spokeo and White Pages. This takes time and patience. It isn’t permanent but checking to make sure your listing is still off the site each year does make you feel more at ease.
4. Google ThySelf
Google yourself regularly from a computer you’ve never used. This is the best way to see what information you have online that is public. You can even set up Google Alerts to search for instances where your name is used anywhere on the web.
5. Personal Cell Phones and Clients: be careful!
Do not use your personal cell phone number with clients. It is generally a very bad idea. I use Spruce. There’s also 8×8. You can block your number using *67 or even buy a Tracfone at Target for $20. I’m writing a piece about this for our newsletter. For convenience and security, I like the idea of going through a company for phone service like Spruce because they were founded to ONLY provide technology to healthcare partners and providers.
6. Stranger Danger
Just like in a park, do not accept friend requests from people you don’t know online. Never interact with clients on Facebook messenger or other online platforms. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
7. Boundaries are our Best Friend
Resist the urge to return calls or texts after 8 pm. No, you will not talk to them about all their painful life events via text message, even if it’s HIPAA compliant. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
8. Sound the Alarms
Check out apps on your phone that allow you to alert 911 discreetly so you are prepared even in a worst-case situation. Consider using panic buttons that contact law enforcement in your office (don’t forget to put one at the desk of the receptionist, if you use one) and on your person. They even have ones you can wear that look like a fashionable ring. How discreet!
9. Bells are NOT Ringing
Check your wedding website. I had no idea mine was up and public until a client told me. This is information you don’t want available to the public and especially not to your clients.
10. Phones-Pin IT, Wipe it, but Don’t Give Up On It!
Make sure you set your cell phone up (if you’re using one for business) to have a pin you must enter to access the home screen. Contact your phone provider to see if you can have your phone “wiped” if it’s stolen. I have Google Business and a Google phone. The Google team did this for me for free—I just call them if my phone is stolen and they take care of it. The peace of mind this feature gives me is truly invaluable.
This list isn’t meant to stress you out. Staying safe online is just like any other skill. It takes practice and you don’t achieve perfection overnight. You do your best and that’s good enough. There’s no action that can completely prevent us all from harm. Violence isn’t the fault of the community targeted.
I provide consultation on a case by case basis for colleagues seeking further, individualized attention to secure their practice and decrease risk of non-compliance. Reach out if you would like to learn more!
P.S – Terms of Service For Facebook (always useful to have): https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms
This post was originally published to the TheraNest Blog. It was authored by Tiffany Chhuom as part of the TheraNest guest post series.