Networks of discord: what do we expect from psychologists on the Internet?


Choosing a psychologist, we carefully study his pages in social networks. It is important for someone that a specialist be congenial. Someone is looking for a professional who does not talk about the personal at all. About whether it is possible to please everyone at the same time, experts themselves argue.

Trying to choose the right specialist, we often pay attention to how he positions himself in social networks. Some are attracted to psychologists who candidly and happily talk about their lives. And someone, on the contrary, is wary of such people, preferring to work with a therapist who does not maintain either Instagram or Facebook.

In groups of clients who have suffered from unscrupulous professionals, they often argue about whether a psychologist (who, in fact, is the same person as the rest of us) has the right to share family photos, a recipe for a favorite pie, or a new song from a favorite artist on social networks. We decided to find out what our experts think about this – psychologist Anastasia Dolganova and specialist in solution-oriented short-term therapy, psychologist Anna Reznikova.

Light in the window

Why do we often look at the psychologist as a celestial being? Perhaps this is just part of the development of science: a few centuries ago, a doctor who could splice bones or pull out a tooth was considered a magician. And even a little afraid. Today, on the one hand, we are less surprised by the miracles of medicine, on the other hand, we completely trust ourselves to specialists, believing that they are responsible for our well-being.

“From the perception of the psychotherapist as an evil or good magician, we came to the perception of the psychotherapist as a colossus, an ideal on which you can rely on your own fragile life,” explains Anastasia Dolganova. – The client’s need for this is as great as the inability of psychologists and psychotherapists to meet these desires …

Outside the profession, there is a whole mythology about what a psychotherapist should and should not be, both as a specialist and as a person. For example: you can tell him everything, and he will accept everything, because he is a therapist. He must not be angry with me, must not be rude, he must not be bored with me. He should not talk about himself, should not get fat, get sick or get divorced. He can’t go on vacation if I’m sick. He can not be against the fact that I take a consultation with another specialist. He should like all my feelings and decisions – and so on.

Psychotherapy is first and foremost a job. This is not an ideal life and not ideal people. This is hard work

Sometimes we are disappointed in a psychologist by completely unexpected things – and far from all of them relate, in fact, to work. For example, a client refuses to work with a therapist because he is “unsportsmanlike”, and a client interrupts meetings after three sessions because the specialist’s office is not in perfect order. Everyone has the right to their own ideas about beauty, but even a specialist cannot always predict what exactly will become a trigger for a client. And both can get hurt in this situation, and very seriously.

But charm should also be handled with extreme caution. It happens that users of social networks are so fascinated by the photos of a psychologist on a motorcycle race, in the company of their beloved grandmother or cats, that they want to get to him and only to him. What does this approach of the client signal to the psychologist?

“If a client chooses a therapist based on the fact that he still writes about his personal life, it would be good to talk about this in the session. Usually, this approach hides a lot of fantasies and even pains of the client, which can be discussed,” says Anna Reznikova.

Anastasia Dolganova recalls: “Probably one of the most poorly understood ideas, both by psychologists themselves and by their clients, is that psychotherapy is, in fact, primarily work. This is not an ideal life and not ideal people. This is a difficult work, and a romantic or demonic halo only interferes with it.

To know or not to know – that is the question!

Some potential clients evaluate a specialist in terms of how frank he is on the Internet. What kind of feelings is experienced by someone who fundamentally does not want to know anything about a specialist as a person and chooses a psychologist according to the principle “if you are not on Facebook, it means that you are definitely a good professional”?

“I don’t want to know anything about you” means “I want you to be an ideal,” explains Anastasia Dolganova. — Even psychoanalysts, for whom the absence of self-disclosure has long been an essential part of professional technique, now do not treat this principle categorically. A mentally and psychologically healthy person is able to tolerate another person next to him without idealizing him – and this is part of the growth and development, the tasks that any deep psychotherapy will pursue.

Work is only part of the personality. Behind any specialist are overcomings and experiences, mistakes and victories, pain and joy. He can really love wacky comedies, felting and ice fishing. And write about it – too. So should you subscribe to your therapist’s updates? The decision, as usual, is ours.

“I don’t want to know anything about my specialist, just as I don’t want him to know something personal about me”

“A person may not want to have intimate information about their therapist, just as they may not want to have such information about any other person until it is justified by the relationship,” explains Anastasia Dolganova. “So this is not an exclusive rule for the therapist and the client, but universal human courtesy and respect for the other.”

How do psychologists deal with this issue? And why do they make certain choices?

“I don’t subscribe to my therapist on social networks, because for me it’s about the boundaries – mine and another person,” Anna Reznikova comments. “Otherwise, I may have some fantasies that will interfere with our work. This is not fear or devaluation: we have a working relationship. Very good – but still it works. And in these respects, I do not want to know anything about my specialist, just as I do not want him to know something personal about me. After all, perhaps I’m far from ready to tell him everything … “

Risks and consequences

Extreme frankness can be captivating. And in general, social networks are just in order to show oneself not only as a specialist, but also as a living person. Otherwise, why are they needed at all, right? Not really.

“I met opinions on the Internet like: “People, I didn’t study psychology and go through personal therapy to limit myself now!” I can understand this, but for such frankness, in addition to bravado and protest, we need at least a well-formed, stable system of external support and self-support,” Anastasia Dolganova is sure. “And also awareness, criticality to what you write, and the ability to predict the response.”

What exactly risks a psychotherapist who talks about events and features of his personal life on social networks? First of all, honest, clear contact with the client.

“Psychoanalyst Nancy McWilliams wrote: “Patients perceive the revelations of a psychotherapist as a frightening role reversal, as if the therapist confesses to the patient in the hope that he will calm him down,” Anna Reznikova is quoted. – That is, the focus of attention moves from the client to the therapist, and in this way they change places. And psychotherapy involves a very clear division of roles: it has a client and a specialist. And that clarity provides a safe space for clients to explore their feelings.”

In addition, we can judge the competence of a specialist in advance, not always noticing the difference between him as a professional and as a simple person.

“If the client is aware of the peculiarities of the therapist’s personal life: for example, that he has no children or is divorced, then he may not want to discuss similar problems with a specialist,” warns Anna Reznikova. – The logic is something like this: “Yes, what can he even know if he himself did not give birth / divorced / changed?”

It is worth maintaining a critical eye – not only on others, but also on yourself.

But there are also security issues. Unfortunately, stories like the tragedy of the protagonist of the film “The Sixth Sense” are found not only on the screen.

“You never know what is in the mind of your client or his relatives. At one of the groups, colleagues told a story: a girl went to a psychologist for a long time, and, naturally, changes took place in her. And her husband didn’t like it. As a result, he figured out a specialist and began to threaten his parents, ”says Anna Reznikova.

In general, anything can happen, and in any case, it is worth maintaining a critical look – not only at those around you, but also at yourself. And for the specialist, this is perhaps more important than for the client. Are there any materials that a specialist definitely should not upload to their social networks? What and how do psychologists themselves not write on their pages?

“Everything here is very individual and depends on what direction the therapist adheres to, as well as on ethical standards that are close to him personally,” says Anna Reznikova. — I do not post images of my loved ones, my own photos from parties or in inappropriate clothes, I do not use “colloquial” turns of speech in the comments. I write stories from life, but this is a very heavily recycled material. The point of my posts is not to tell about myself, but to convey to the reader the ideas that are important to me.”

“I would not post any information that I consider intimate on the Web,” Anastasia Dolganova shares. “I don’t do it for reasons of borders and security. The more you reveal about yourself, the more vulnerable you are. And to ignore this fact in the style of “but I will do it anyway, because I want to” is naive. Beginning therapists are usually engaged in frank stories about themselves. Experienced and sought-after therapists tend to be more reserved. They only reveal things about themselves that they can handle with criticism in the event of negative feedback.”

Person or function?

We come to a psychotherapist as a professional, but any professional is first and foremost a person. Understandable or not, we like it or not, with a similar sense of humor or not at all – but is psychotherapy even possible without showing its “human” side to the client?

“The answer depends on the type and duration of therapy,” explains Anastasia Dolganova. – Not always the tasks that the client sets for the therapist require building good relationships within this process. Some of the work is quite technical. But requests that involve profound personal changes or the establishment of a communicative or relationship sphere require an investigation of the emotional and behavioral phenomena that arise between the therapist and the client during their joint work. In such a situation, the therapist’s self-disclosure and the client’s reactions to it become one of the important elements of development.

Users of forums and public pages dedicated to the work of psychologists sometimes write: “A specialist for me is not a person at all, he should not talk about himself and must focus solely on me and my problems.” But do we not, in such cases, reduce the personality of the one to whom we entrust ourselves solely to a function? And can we say that this is definitely bad or good?

An experienced therapist is quite capable of experiencing being perceived as a function.

“It is not always a bad thing to treat a therapist as a function,” says Anastasia Dolganova. – In some cases, this view saves time and energy for both the client and the psychologist. The therapist, who has already passed the phase “I want to be the best friend and a good mother to everyone” in his development, treats such cases, probably even with some relief. Thinks to himself something like: “OK, this will be a simple, understandable and technical process for a few months. I know what to do, it will be a good job.”

Even if a professional behaves impeccably, he cannot help but react at all to the fact that the client sees a set of options in him. Are specialists upset when they find out that they can only be a “simulator”? Let’s ask them!

“An experienced therapist is quite capable of experiencing that he is perceived as a function,” Anastasia Dolganova is sure. – If it interferes with work, he knows what to do with it. If this spoils his life personally, he has a supervisor who will help to cope with these feelings. I think that portraying the therapist as hypersensitive is just the other extreme of portraying him as only functional.”

“If the psychologist is upset that the client treats him in one way or another, this is an additional reason to go for supervision and personal therapy,” agrees Anna Reznikova. You won’t be nice to everyone. But if the client has already come to you, it means that he trusts you as a specialist. And this trust is more important than how he treats you. If there is trust, joint work will be effective.”

Give me a complaint book!

We can complain about this or that therapist, focusing on the ethical code of the organization or association with which he cooperates. However, there is no common document approved for all psychologists that would define the norm in the relationship between the therapist and the client in our country.

“Now a lot of people in need of help end up with various unfortunate specialists. After communicating with them, clients are either disappointed in therapy or recover for a long time, says Anna Reznikova. – And therefore, a code of ethics, which will spell out in detail what can be done and what cannot be done, is simply necessary. Unfortunately, not everyone can be guided by common sense: more and more often we can meet “specialists” who do not have a basic education, proper hours of personal therapy, supervision.”

And since there is no single “law” that is binding on everyone, we, the clients, use the lever of influence that is most accessible to us if we cannot find justice for an incompetent specialist: we leave our reviews on various sites on the Web. On the one hand, the Internet significantly expands the boundaries of freedom of speech. On the other hand, it also gives room for manipulation: in communities where it is customary to leave reviews about psychologists, we can most often listen to only one side – the one that has the right to talk about what happened. And lately not only gurus without diplomas have been “under distribution” …

“Over the past three years, the context of the work of ethics commissions has changed dramatically,” explains Anastasia Dolganova. “While previously they worked mainly with really egregious cases of exploitation and abuse of clients by non-professionals, now the culture of public complaints has created a situation in which members of such commissions have to spend most of their time studying unhealthy and inadequate claims against therapists, dealing with withholding information, outright lies and slander. The general congestion has also become a sign of the times: complaints are written in such numbers as never before.”

Psychotherapists need protection from the vicissitudes of this world no less than clients

“If within the profession there are formed mechanisms for protecting the client: the same ethical code, ethical commissions, qualification programs, supervision, then there are no mechanisms for protecting the therapist. Moreover: the ethical therapist has his hands tied in the matter of his own protection! – says Anastasia Dolganova. – For example, any client of Masha’s psychologist can, at any site and for any reason, write “Masha is not a therapist, but the last bastard!” But Masha write “Kolya is a liar!” cannot, because in this way she confirms the fact of their work and violates the confidentiality condition, which is key for psychotherapy. That is, it does not look very good for the public field. There are currently no working mechanisms for regulating this situation, but there are already conversations and reflections on this topic. Most likely, something new will be born from them over time. ”

Is it worth separately fixing the norms that would help psychologists navigate the world of the Internet, which in one way or another implies some frankness? Perhaps they themselves need protection from the vicissitudes of this world no less than clients.

“I believe that new points are needed in professional codes of ethics that would allow the therapist to get guidance in the modern public space and take care of both the safety of their clients and their own. As such points, I see, for example, a clear definition of intimacy and recommendations on what the therapist should and should not do in case of public negative reviews of his work or his personality, ”concludes Anastasia Dolganova.

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