The aim of this document is to clarify ECPT’s position in regard to the use of social media and offer guidance for using social media responsibly. It aims to provide a guide for trainees, staff and members and is written in line with the ECPT Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Conduct Policy. It is informed by the UKCP Security and Confidentiality Guidelines.
Many more practitioners are using the internet, social networking sites and blogs to communicate – both personally and professionally. Trainees, staff and members should be aware that these internet/social networking sites are public and permanent. Once something has been uploaded or posted, it is still possible to trace it or be saved by others, even if it is subsequently deleted.
The nature of an online presence has the potential to blur personal and professional boundaries. All therapists should consider if they engage with social media and, if so, how. It is important to ensure that the use of any social media meets the following requirements from the ECPT Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Conduct Policy – General Ethical Principles #10 and the UKCP Code of Ethics 1.1:
The practitioner recognises that their behaviour outside their professional life may have an effect on the relationship with their clients and takes responsibility for working with these potential negative or positive effects to the benefit of the client.
ECPT requires that practitioners make a clear distinction between their online personal and professional presence, with regard to emails, websites and social media accounts i.e. Facebook. We require members to have a separate email address for personal and professional use and that all possible steps are taken to ensure confidentiality of professional emails.
In particular members are required not to use any joint email address with partner/other family member for professional purposes. It is important that if one email programme is used to collect emails from a variety of different accounts, e.g. Outlook, that it is not jointly used by a partner/other family member and is password protected.
Where confidential documents are sent electronically, they must have password or other forms of protection against being opened or tampered with by a third party.
Smartphones and tablets that are synchronised with a main computer need to be protected from being accessed by a partner/other family member.
If computers are used by people other than the practitioner then all confidential, professional material needs to be password protected.
Practitioners will have up to date antivirus and antiphishing protection and be registered under the Data Protection Act.
Members are strongly advised to protect their own privacy. This means regularly checking your privacy settings as well as choosing carefully the information you make available online. Be aware that comments or images posted by friends or family may be accessible as their privacy settings may not be set as rigorously as your own. Pictures of you taken by other people may be tagged and it is recommended that you monitor this as much as possible and request people untag any inappropriate images.
Members need to be aware that most search engines will guide members of the public to any sites that could have personal information posted about them.
Members are also reminded that when social media sites update their services, sometimes the privacy settings are automatically reset to a default setting. It is incumbent upon members to be vigilant about this.
However you identify yourself on your professional account (e.g. student/contractual trainee/CTA etc.) you are required to act professionally at all times and be guided by the ECPT Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Conduct Policy.
ECPT suggest all therapists both qualified and trainee develop their own Social Media policy and this be shared as part of the contractual arrangements on commencement of work with clients – even if you are not using social media, your clients may be.
When members are involved in social networking sites they may inadvertently become involved in ethically questionable conversations. If this occurs members are required to act according to our ethical guidelines (e.g. withdraw, seek supervision or confront).
In particular, MEMBERS MUST NOT:
- Establish online relationships which in any way compromise their professional relationship with clients and service users.
- Accept friend requests from clients or service users, and to decline this request using formal means of communication.
- Discuss clinical work or work-related issues online in any non-secure medium.
- Publish pictures of clients, trainees, supervisees or other service users online without their permission.
- Post defamatory comments about individuals or institutions. This applies to all comments made on personal or professional accounts. Defamation law applies to any comments posted on the internet.
- Use social-networking sites/internet/blogs for raising professional and/or ethical concerns or whistle-blowing.
Implications of local jurisdiction and working internationally
This is a complex area for consideration. Therapists should recognise the need to obey the law of the country/area they practice. This is not just where they are based but, if using technology, it includes where the client is based also. It is impossible to provide complete information within this policy but it would be a therapist’s responsibility to be fully informed of this information if working internationally. Points to consider are:
- Include in your literature/advertising/contract that you operate under the jurisdiction of the law of the United Kingdom.
- Check that your professional indemnity insurance covers you to work abroad including checking any limits on such practice
- It is important to ensure the safety of data transfer and storage. For further information please visit the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website – Data Protection Principles – principle 8 ‘Sending personal data outside the European Economic Area’.
The ECPT Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Conduct Policy outlines guiding principles, one of which is open communication with colleagues as well as clients. Members are required to confront any misconduct of other members on social networking sites either directly and formally with their colleagues.
Reviewed May 2020