HIPAA, Social Media, and Technology
A Guide for Mental Health Professionals

Chapter 3: An Introduction to Social Media Standards for Mental Health Professionals
Part 3: Social Media Risks for Therapists and Counselors
Social Media: Blurring Professional Boundaries

The American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics [PDF] New browser window icon. realizes that there are ways to maintain your professionalism while using social media. However, the Code of Ethics specifically prohibits personal "virtual" relationships with current counseling clients. This includes friending or following clients on social networking sites via your personal account or profile.

The American Counseling Association's Code of Ethics prohibits personal virtual relationships with clients.

Does this mean you can't use social media for a professional virtual relationship? No, but you have to be careful to keep your personal and professional profiles cleanly separate. Also, it's your duty to inform your clients about your practice's social media policy and what role social media will play in their treatment. The ACA recommends that as part of the informed consent procedure, you explain the benefits, limitations, and boundaries of the use of social media.

Now you may be asking yourself: what about past clients? Well, getting friendly with former clients can lead to personal relationships and even evolve into business or romantic relationships — both of which are frowned upon by mental health practitioner associations.

Brandt Caudill, a defense attorney who represents psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other mental health professionals in malpractice cases, offers some insight New browser window icon. on how destructive romantic relationships with past clients can be.

He states that even though there seems to be a rampant misconception that there's a "true love" exception where romantic relationships with clients are concerned, that's simply not true. According to most associations' ethical codes, romantic relationships are prohibited and have career-ending consequences. They are even illegal in some states (e.g., California). He advises that "under no circumstances should a therapist seriously consider a sexual relationship with a present or former patient," no matter how much time has passed.

It's illegal for a counselor to have a romantic relationship with a counseling client in California.

Next: Counselors and Therapists: Tips for Avoiding Social Media Lawsuits

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