As the Internet has become central to the way we communicate and do business, it is critical for therapists to consider the value of establishing an online multi-presence. The term multi-presence is employed to describe an online presence that involves having a website that is integrated with multiple social networking sites.
One needs to have a multi-presence in order to establish and sustain professional visibility on the web in response to the changing marketplace. While the youngest generation of consumers, “digital natives,” have grown up in a wired world, their parents and grandparents “digital immigrants” are increasingly turning to the Internet for information and services. The Internet has become the place to shop for therapists and to seek information about psychological conditions. Since online therapy is now video mediated through platforms that conform to HIPPA privacy guidelines, the Internet will increasingly become a venue to obtain psychotherapy services.
What online presence means today will be different from next year. While change is inevitable, dramatic changes that have already transformed well-established industries such as music portend our future.
The Challenge! The Internet offers therapists a vast, daunting, complex, and rapidly changing landscape to explore and to expand their resources and clinical practice. Currently there are 2 billion individuals connected on the Internet. Who would have imagined Facebook or Twitter five years ago or predicted their success? Facebook has 500 million users and is still growing. According to Brian Solis, digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist , “Facebook is changing the way we think about business, customers, and community, and as such, there is much to learn.”
What is daunting is not mastering technology, but the learning curve involved in adapting to the culture of the web. How individuals navigate the web reflects the interaction between rapidly changing technologies and slower personal processes of adaptation. This process requires time and effort and is analogous to cultural adaptation. The term “digital immigrant” captures the emotional challenges that this change presents in that it will most likely require movement out of one’s comfort zone.
As a “digital immigrant” I am wary of using Facebook for professional purposes. I have found Linkedin useful, but time-consuming to use. My initial exposure to Twitter was disconcerting, if not mildly traumatic. I felt like I had inadvertently entered a foreign country where not only the customs of discourse were strange, but the language itself was barely recognizable. A standard tweet looks like this: RT @psychcentral: Milirary Mental Health: There’s an App(and Money) for That #http://bit.ly/amcwt2. I established a Twitter profile two months ago. I tweeted two times into the strange twitterverse and quickly logged off the site. There is indeed much to learn.
The Solution! For quite some time it has been widely recognized that a professional website was a necessity for individuals who wanted to have web presence. Now the website has been supplemented (not replaced) by blogs and social networking sites. At the present time, multi-presence involves having a website, in addition to linking one’s website with social networking sites such as Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter. The website is the hub of your web presence. Once you have established a website, the next task will be to increase your online visibility. One way to accomplish this is by linking it to multiple social networking sites that will draw people back to your site. If you build it, they will come, but only if you cultivate it by utilizing effective online marketing strategies to attract individuals to your site.
OMG! This is not what I was taught in grad school or in subsequent marketing workshops. While the web is changing rapidly, therapists are adapting slowly. InGAMHPA, Glendale Area Mental Health Professionals Association, a multidisciplinary organization that I am a member of, less than 50% of members have websites. From conversations I have had with other therapists, the professional use of Facebook and Twitter is significantly less and regarded with greater suspicion. Twitter still provokes bad jokes, yet it presents a powerful mechanism for learning and developing an extensive network.
There are many reasons why therapists are resistant to change. Some are fear-based; some based on conceptions about the practice of psychotherapy, while others related to concerns about privacy and boundaries. The foundational structure of Facebook friending brings up issues of multiple relationships. Dr. Keely Kolmes who blogs about digital ethics has created a social media policy as part of her informed consent procedures. She feels it is important for therapists to think about the ethical implications of having a web presence and for clients to be made aware of privacy issues as well as the therapist’s policies for handling such events as a client friending them on Facebook. Dr. Ofer Zur has also written extensively about digital ethics.
Over the last several months more and more clients are finding me (my website) through blind Google searches or specifically searching for me after being referred by an insurance company or colleague. I ask prospective clients to look at my website before scheduling our visit to get a sense of me and how I describe my approach to therapy. I have new clients download my office forms to fill them out at home rather than take the time in my waiting room. These are modest changes that have enhanced both my visibility and my administrative clinical procedures.
While the Internet beckons, therapists need to proceed thoughtfully. There is much to learn and mistakes to be made. Fear more than technology is the greatest hurdle to overcome. In my very first post on technology, I invoked the memory of my grandparents who emigrated to the U.S. from Russia when they were in their early twenties. As I pondered the challenges of adapting to Internet, I identified with their anxiety as immigrants. They lived in this country for over 50 years. They were self-conscious about their broken English and would retreat into Yiddish never to learn English. They had a pervasive fear of the dominant culture and a deeply rooted sense of insecurity and I believe inadequacy. They buried their heads in the sand and stood on the shoulders of their children who were sent off to navigate their new world. As a digital immigrant, I hope to learn from my grandparent’s mistakes, and be more accepting of my immigrant status as I venture curiously and anxiously into cyberspace.
In the next post Anna Marie Piersimoni, online media consultant, will discuss the steps toward establishing a website.