Top Social Media Mistakes Therapists Make: Part 1

Top mistakes therapists, psychologists and mental health professionals make when using social media.

Top mistakes therapists, psychologists and mental health professionals make when using social media.

I’m not sure when it happened. I thought it was odd when I received a copied message from the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists recommending someone contact me to understand social media for therapists.

Somehow, despite the number of trainings I’ve done for therapists related to social media, I didn’t really see myself as an expert. What I have learned has happened out of pure need, curiosity, trial, and yes, some error.

So, this morning I thought it would be fun to highlight the top mistakes therapists make when using social media, how I learned them, and how to correct them.

Top mistakes therapist make in social media

Mistake #1: Letting anxiety take-over

I’m not a digital native. I didn’t have access to a computer in my home until I was in college. In fact, I didn’t realize I would need a computer until a few weeks into the semester!

I honestly didn’t even know the Internet existed until I got my first computer. Logging onto AOL that first time was mind-blowing. Initially, for me it was a way to chat with people all over the country. I was 17 years old (I was a young college student) and I didn’t have a clue.. I didn’t even know what to be concerned with- which can be a problem.

At the same time, it was a bit of a blessing. I didn’t have a lot of anxiety about the process- so I went with it.

How I learned about the anxiety take-over:

I learned about how anxiety can takeover from other therapists. In fact, if I was to be completely honest, I learned it while giving a training on social media to therapists at a CAMFT leadership conference. I wasn’t prepared for the fear and anxiety in the room, and didn’t properly manage the anxiety experience for the participants. While the feedback was great overall- I knew I messed up. I knew I could do better.

When the anxiety takes over it leads to looking at questioning minutia of social media. You can’t really fully delve into minutia until you get the big picture. And, the nitty gritty details are hard to comprehend when your brain is rapid firing question after question.

How therapists can manage the anxiety:

We manage the anxiety about social media the same way we manage anxiety about everything. We check cognitive distortions by getting information, but ultimately we breath. We settle our bodies. And, we take things that are new in bite-sized chunks. If you are a therapist looking into social media understand the big picture, take care of the anxiety, and then read on!

Therapists who go through the social media training in our Business School Bootcamp are often surprised by how much fun social media can be. When they learn to let go of the anxiety- the opportunities open up to use social media wisely

Mistake #2: Not trusting your professional judgment

Many therapists are fearful that they are going to make a major clinical error if they start exploring social media. So, they avoid social media altogether due to fears related to all of the “what ifs.”

How I learned that therapists don’t trust their judgment about social media:

When I do trainings on social media for therapists, I hear example after example of “what about psychotherapists who are doing unprofessional things?” “What if I do something unprofessional?” “What about coaches doing unprofessional things?” “What do I do if a borderline client uses social media inappropriately?”

How therapists can learn to trust their clinical judgment as it relates to social media:

I might be in the minority here, but the majority of therapists I come in contact with have excellent professional judgment. Maybe I’m just lucky, or only awesome therapists read this blog and come to my trainings. Yes, there are nutballs in our profession (that is the clinical term), but you aren’t one of them, are you?

Yes, it can be tricky initially to understand how social media works so we can apply our professional judgment in this new arena. I have faith that great therapists will manage this transition with grace and make great choices. I also have a bit of faith that the really unethical people out there with poor judgment will make poor choices no matter what.

Learn to apply the same process to your social media presence as you do to anything you do in the community. I find for most therapists thinking about social media in the context of giving a professional training helps them orient. Just because there could be a borderline who tests your boundaries in a community presentation doesn’t mean we avoid ever speaking in the community.

Just because someone could ask a question publicly that might compromise their confidentiality, doesn’t mean we stop speaking in public. At least in social media, if someone posts a question to a professional Facebook wall or YouTube video we have the option to delete it or hide it.

Same thing if someone approaches us in the grocery store asking about therapy, we set a clinical boundary in an empathetic manner and move on. Yes, develop a social media policy, check out Keely Kolmes policy as a starting point.

Mistake #3: Not being curious and playful

The anxiety around social media, and the fear of making a poor clinical judgment lead to therapists not being curious and playful. If a therapist was out in the world and met someone who had a similar passion, they might naturally find ways to connect and do something fun together. However, when it comes to social media, many therapists have a very small box about what can happen.

My first professional experience with social media was starting a free online study group for California MFT exams. In short, it was ah-mazing. I don’t mean I was amazing. I mean the group, the community was amazing. Yes, I connected with a few negative people, but the bulk of people were absolutely awe inspiring and I feel ever blessed by that Yahoo group. It has now transitioning to a Facebook group. (If you know a pre-licensed therapist taking licensing exams anywhere in the world- give it a share).

How I learned that therapist struggle with being curious and playful

I was lucky. So many therapists don’t get to have fun on social media. This issue was actually recently highlighted in the Business School Bootcamp for therapists. We had the best group of therapists in there- they were ready to rock and roll! We taught them skills for using social media to connect in their community and build their professional reputation.

And, we recommended that they focus on using social media to build actual, real relationships with people in their community. Honestly, if social media doesn’t lead to real connection- if it is just about “advertising” what is the point? When we asked them to talk to people, many of them felt frozen. How do I do this “social media thing?”

How do we teach therapists to be curious and playful when using social media?

We helped them realize that social media was not really any different than any in person networking you might do. Just because you met someone on social media doesn’t change how you get to know them. And, your agenda can simply be getting to know people, and allowing them to know you and letting that develop in a way that feels right. When you start to see social media as simply a type of community event- it becomes a lot more fun!

One of our favorite parts about the bootcamp community we've developed, is we get to see therapists blossom over time. Social media can lead to your website being more findable, opportunities to present, writing opportunities, more clients, and so much more! 

Mistake #4: Not seeing the beauty of social media

As therapists, we get an amazing inside view of what happens in people’s lives. Some days it is awe-inspiring and other days it is terrifying. It is pretty difficult to do this work for even a year and remain “naïve.”

For me, one of the biggest shifts was a birds-eye view of why not to judge people. The truth is, most of what people do- even if it is terrible, confusing, and hurtful makes a certain amount of sense in context. When I see/hear/experience terrible things I try to keep my judgment in check- I don’t know that person’s story. Or when someone irritates the crap out of me, I remind myself that I irritate the crap out of other people!

How did I learn therapists often don’t get to see the beauty of social media

To be honest, my first experiences with Instagram were clients sharing their trauma over being un-followed by ex-partners, or slammed in comments. Many of you hear about social media in relation to pain, stress, or relational concerns. That is the lens through which we work, people primarily bring PROBLEMS into the therapy room, they won’t tell you about how social media is helping them unless you ask.

How can therapists learn to see the beauty of social media?

The first step may be including assessment about social media in our clinical work. And, instead of asking or waiting for the negative pieces- focus on finding out if our client is connected with pro-social groups, inspiring groups, whether they get reminders to meditate daily, etc.

I think the next step is looking for those experiences ourselves. Look for communities that are powerful and transformative. If you are pre-licensed join this Facebook group or LinkedIn group. If you are licensed, join this LinkedIn Group and connect with Kelly on LinkedIn ( and Miranda on LinkedIn ( or connect with us on Facebook. Our main rule in both groups? Be nice, be helpful. You can post whatever types of materials you would like, but if you are demeaning or rude, your out. Yep, we said it, we might give you a tip about online tone, a gentle reminder, or we might just not have time.

Ok, so this blog started getting REALLY long. Today, we talked primarily about mindset issues related to mistakes therapists make with social media. Tomorrow we will delve into nitty gritty, technical mistakes therapists make with social media.

Time for action: I want to challenge you to post a comment below. Did you know that commenting on blog posts, and including your website can help your search engine optimization? Share a question that comes up for you related to mindset mistakes therapists make when using social media below. Include a link back to your website, and maybe even include a tagline that includes your specialty and the city you help in. I'll post an example comment below. 

Did you like this article? Check out Social Media is Worthless. Ready to dig into some more nitty gritty technical recommendations? Check out Top Social Media Mistakes Therapists Make: Part 2. 

Miranda Palmer

I have successfully built a cash pay psychotherapy practice from scratch on a shoestring budget. I have also failed a licensed exam by 1 point (only to have the licensing board send me a later months later saying I passed), started an online study group to ease my own isolation and have now reached thousands of therapists across the country, helped other therapists market their psychotherapy practices, and helped awesome business owners move from close to closing their doors, to being profitable in less than 6 weeks. I've failed at launching online programs. I've had wild success at launching online programs. I've made mistakes in private practice I've taught others how to avoid my mistakes. You can do this. You were called to this work. Now- go do it! Find some help or inspiration as you need it- but do the work!