Why it may not always be good to call out your friends in the mental health (MH) field on social media: A personal reflection
I usually don’t comment on things too deeply on here. However, I’ve noticed some folks asking for their FB friends in the mental health profession to support other friends on here who may be struggling. I have decided to comment on this as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate but also as a human being.
I want to say that I respect the efforts for support and I love where the intentions are coming from. It also means we are super reducing stigma and that is great. However, please before you do something like this take into consideration the factors that can make it very complicated, unfair to your MH friends, inappropriate, and/ or dangerous.
First, as professionals who do counseling and MH services the job is very draining. Your friends are most likely already drained emotionally and mentally from supporting their own caseloads during work hours.
Second, you typically do not call for a mass of your doctor and nurse friends to check folks’ symptoms related COVID-19 or other illness over the internet. I do get that medical services are more accessible (financially, geographically, etc etc) than MH services because our national social service systems can be lacking for so many reasons. However, just like medical folks MH folks also work all day, deal with heavy work, and support clients day in and day out. All of which is draining and MH professionals can form fatigue, burnout, depression, anxiety, stress, etc just like everyone else.
Third, you have to understand our profession and how it works is not just willy nilly. We cannot just see any client at any time from any location and there are ethical reasons for this ( experience, licensure, license boards, location restrictions, telehealth rules, personal/ professional boundaries) and if we do not abide by these we put our clients (some of them could be your friends or even you) in danger. There is a formal counseling relationship intro process we where need to know MH hx and so many other things. We need to know that our experience will benefit the client, we need to know that there is a good fit for both parties, and we need to know if there are risk concerns (suicidality, homocidality, interpersonal violence, etc) so that we can ethically support the client. So please respect the profession and what we do. Unlike some medical settings, we sit with clients for a consistent 50mins (give or take), listen intently and plan a course of action for supporting the client all while assessing clinical concerns. Depending on who you are and the setting you work in you are doing that for potentially more than 5 clients a day with varying needs and risk levels. Like most professionals in the business of client care, we care about our clients so we are emotionally connected to their outcomes and needs (in a healthy way). Most of all the things that concern clients and potential clients can definitely be heightened during times like this pandemic. Which all of us can witness in our own anxiety as well as the anxiety of friends and family.
Fourth, I mentioned previously that many MH folks do the aforementioned duties but we also do so many other things (research, referrals, documentation, consultation, continued learning and treatment planning, among other things). While everyones’ schedules look different based on settings, titles, organizations, specialty, and level of independence over your work we are all working hard. Please consider this when rallying for pro bono work from someone who is in the mental health profession. Unless they already volunteer and/ or you have discussed this with them before tagging them remember MH folks are some of our most needed yet most under paid (most of us don’t make that much despite these degrees). In the wake of COVID-19 with all of the financial uncertainty please do not simply try to add more work to your friends caseload (even if its just commenting on a post to support people) without first asking their permission, asking about their mental health, and asking about their capacity to support more people (and please do this prior to posting publicly).
I openly speak about how some costs for mental health services are unfair, that I wish I could lessen how much we charge for private practice (many folks offer sliding scale which is really appreciated and can still be a lot) and that access to underrepresented low income communities is important. I want to at some point be a part of the work that makes accessing mental health easier. AND I also know that some MH professionals struggle to make ends meet. Overall, all Americans need to be paid living wages regardless of profession (ignore my political views that slipped out).
Fifth, there are relationship boundaries due to confidentiality that we must abide by as a profession that other medical folks may not have to. We deal with people’s deep secrets, trauma, shame, relationships, etc. We cannot ethically enter into counseling relationships with family/friends or the family/friends of friends/ people we know. Largely this is because we may one day encounter them within a shared social/personal space and/or find it hard not to hold their information from someone we mutually know. Also, there are simply inherent differentials of power between a client and provider even though we may not notice them for the simple fact that a client is coming to us for our expertise. As therapists we are trained that clients are the experts on themselves and even knowing that we do have a level of knowledge that the client is seeking and trusting us for. Boundaries are in place to ensure counselors do not blur the lines of power or familiarity with clients. For example, a doctor can most likely treat a relative as long as he is deemed emotionally fit to do so; however, I as a counselor could not do that. We can be stripped of licenses for mishandling the information clients provide us, becoming too intimate with clients, and violating our code of ethics (and its long as hell).
As a black woman, I get how some of our ethics, ways of doing things, systems and boundaries are born out of colonialism and in some ways perpetuate stigma. I openly express frustration with those everyday. I also understand that most are in place to keep clients and the therapists safe. We could stand to edit some things and overall we do need boundaries to avoid harm (one of our principles).
Sixth, in our profession we are the vessel despite the fact that we need support ourselves. Please respect our potential boundaries. It is important to ensure we are not abusing our MH professionals ( although this already happens intentionally and unintentionally thus the reason for me making this post). As counselors we advocate, support, walk with, and collaborate with our clients.
Seventh, therapists who may be volunteering your time please be careful to monitor your boundaries and needs in order to avoid burnout. You may quickly take on more than you expected because you honestly care and want to be supportive. Maybe you can volunteer with organizations in order to direct folks to services and also to do the much needed not for profit work in a safer way.
The next time you want to check on folks in your FB network you may find yourself overwhelmed or unable to support all that they may bring up. If this happens remember we deal with this all day and are also overwhelmed and sometimes unsure how helpful we can be.
If you want to be helpful, become aware of pro bono/ non-profit offerings, low income services (otherwise depending on your friends SES needs), crisis lines, and therapist search tools so you can get folks to the right places where they can engage in mental health services properly and safely. Also you can become aware of proper mental health first aid and coaching avenues so you can help folks within boundaries and your limitations (especially if you are not MH professionals) in order to get them in a better spot to seek further help.
We do this because we love helping and care about the plight of others so don’t take this post the wrong way. I just want you to understand, we are humans, we have breaking points, and deserve to have and enforce boundaries without guilt. I appreciate everyones’ want to help during this time. Thank you! Community, connection, and caring for others is deeply needed. So learn the resources as best you for yourself. Of course you can check in with the professionals in your and you can this while also inquiring about their boundaries.
What I will ask is for my MH professional friends and folks who may have resources who are not mental health professionals is to list known resources and proper modes for access below. I ask this only if you feel you have the capacity to do so.
Thanks for listening if you read for that long. I wrote this at 3am because I woke up with a heavy mind from pondering this before bed. My mama always said without proper editing I write how I speak and If you know me well I can be longwinded (I say “well” because I am an introvert and if you don’t know me well (even if you think you do 😂) I will keep everything short and to the point.
Outside of adding resources below, ya’ll can respond in other ways as that is your right. Just know as I stated earlier, I typically do not go deep on FB and reserve the right not to respond back. I am not a social media troll and will not engage with folks who are either.
These thoughts are attached to me alone and potentially not representative of everyone else.