Location Based Check-In Sites for Mental Health Professionals

This article is part of an online course: Digital and Social Media Ethics for Psychotherapists for 8 CE credits

At a couple of recent trainings, and in consultations with other mental health professionals, the question has come up about whether is is okay to check in on sites like Foursquare, Loopt, brightkite, and Gowalla when one is involved in the provision of clinical services. I have met with a few trainees who use these sites socially and who are eager to rack up points by checking in when they go to work at their practicum or internship sites to see clients. My predictably conservative take on this is that it is probably not the best idea.

It’s one thing for clients to decide on their own to add your clinic or private practice to these sites and, subsequently choose to check in when they attend therapy. But adding your own psychotherapy office or clinic to location-based social networking sites could be a walk down a slippery slope. It could be perceived as your encouraging clients to publicly check-in on these sites which raises a number of sticky issues.

When sites like foursquare encourage business owners to put their sites up to connect with their customers, they are usually thinking of bars, restaurants, or other non-confidential services. But when you put your own business on a site like this when you are involved in the provision of confidential services it’s a bit more dicey whether it’s simply strategic marketing and business promotion or an invitation for people to check-in. Given that ethics codes for psychologists, social workers, and marriage and family therapists all strictly prohibit the solicitation of client testimonials, might putting your psychotherapy practice on sites like this be perceived as a passive request for endorsement by clients? A trickier question is whether a “check-in” is the same thing as a testimonial. Maybe not, but it does seem to be some sort of indicator of patronage. We may not be realizing it, but our presence on these sites may be perceived as a veiled invitation for clients to disclose that they are in treatment with us.

I find myself wondering if particular populations or individuals are more likely to be lured by points and badges at the expense of their privacy. I can certainly imagine some adolescent clients going for the check-in before thinking twice. And if you work in outpatient treatment or see people multiple times a week, do you really want them to become the Mayor of your clinic? We may hope that distressed clients have more on their minds than checking in when they go to therapy, but one never knows.

Some might point out that putting your practice up on a site does not mean that you have identified who you have seen in your office. This is correct, of course. A client still gets to choose whether or not to check in when she attends therapy and the disclosure is hers to make. But the question remains whether the invitation alone could be perceived as subtly influencing some clients to do so.

These are questions about the gray areas of overlap between social networking and marketing of services. They stir up issues related to boundaries, ethics, confidentiality, and multiple roles. The APA Ethics Code applies only to activities that are a “part of (our) scientific, educational, or professional roles as psychologists.” The Internet has been already making it harder to distinguish the separation between our personal and professional lives. And certainly, once we have created a listing on sites to advertise our practices, we have brought our professional lives and the duties and responsibilities that come with it into another realm. It’s worth it to be mindful about which risks you want to take in your own professional practice.



American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. (2001, July 1). AAMFT code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.aamft.org/resources/lrm_plan/ethics/ethicscode2001.asp

American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 57, 1060-1073.

National Association of Social Workers. (1999). Code of Ethics of theNational Association of Social Workers. Washington, DC: Author.

© 2010 Keely Kolmes, Psy.D. To cite this page: Kolmes, K. (2010) Location based check-in sites for mental health professionals. Retrieved month/day/year from http://siteinsightdraft2.com/2010/02/26/location-based-check-in-sites-for-mental-health-professionals/.