How To Use Social Media for Confidential/Counseling Ministries

counseling privacy social mediaI received a message over the weekend from someone whose ministry is to counsel people through some of the toughest circumstances you can imagine – rape victims, people with multiple personality disorders, former satanists.

He wrote:

The big problem I am wrestling with is that as a ministry the people I help prefer be helped confidentially. This is where I am torn, how can I use twitter effectively to raise awareness and support, at the same time as respecting confidentially as much as possible?

Here I am contemplating how I could find financial support relating to the wider community of Christians via services like twitter, while at the same time, unable to see how to honestly describe the situations I am ministering to.

A second problem I can see twitter being useful for, is to find supportive accommodation for individuals in need… to get away form abusive situations, and to find the healing they need in a Christian home.

I am not a licensed counselor, and so I’d like to open up this topic to those who are and may be able to provide some insight.  But a few thoughts…

1) Know and follow all applicable laws. One of the most important things to do is to understand the laws the national and local laws as they related to counseling and confidentiality. Can you share share stories if the names are changed and circumstances made vague enough so the person can’t be identified? Do you need the individual’s permission to do even that?

2) Protect privacy. Regardless of what the law states, as Christians we want to love people and treat them with dignity.  You may want to go above and beyond what the law requires to protect the privacy of the people you serve.

3) Create partnerships. It seems to me that providing God counsel and emotional support is one of the responsibilities of the church.   Yet, most churches don’t have counseling ministries.  And those that do, usually are not in a position to help those with severe issues as those described above.  As a result, it seems to me as if it would be in both counselors’ and local churches’ best interest to form a partnerships.  Churches could refer people to the counselor and provide financial support.  Counselors can provide this critical ministry on behalf of the churches.

I would love to hear from some counselors out there as to how you use social media to develop support for your ministry and your clients.  What rules or guidelines do you have in place?

Of course, this issue doesn’t apply just to professional counselors.  Most pastors provide some counseling and are also bound by confidentiality laws and principles.

What other questions or issues do you have about social media, counseling, and confidentiality?

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

4 Responses to “How To Use Social Media for Confidential/Counseling Ministries”

  1. PaulSteinbrueck Apr 4, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Since publishing this post a few hours ago, I've had a few more ideas of how counselors can use social media…

    - Retweet articles related to counseling and your counseling specialty.

    - If you have a blog, when you see an article about counseling or your particular specialty, you can blog about the article, including excerpts from the article and your thoughts on it. You can then post a link to the blog post on Facebook and Twitter.

    - Use Facebook & Twitter to network with other counselors. Get ideas from them, retweet links and blog posts they share.

  2. I feel that using social media as a counselor allows me the opportunity to tell others about how I view counseling and what techniques I typically use when working with those who struggle. As far as using case examples, it is best to be as vague as possible and speak in generalities. The more specialized the practice or ministry is, the less likely it will be to use case examples to talk about how one is helping people.

    I work with those who suffer from general issues such as anger, depression, low self-esteem, relationship issues and so if I choose to talk about some cases, it is fairly easy to write in general terms without pointing to anyone in particular.

    Generally, though, I try to post information that can be helpful to the reader so they can have some direction as to how to alleviate some of their issues.

    I like your comment about retweeting articles related to a counselor's specialty and networking with others. I am new to blogging and also think it could be a good idea to write about an article with one's thoughts about the article. Are there copyright issues with doing so without the author's consent?

    For the gentleman you referred to in the article, I would imagine there are some general safety tips or "signs to look for" that he could post about to help bring awareness to the issues of rape, multiple personality disorders (which has been updated to Dissociative Identity Disorder), and satanic following. Perhaps some of his readers know someone struggling with those issues that can be pointed towards someone who can help.

    • PaulSteinbrueck Apr 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm

      Ryan, thanks for your insight and suggestions!

      Regarding the copyright issue, it is a copyright infringement to duplicate someone else's entire article on your blog, but fair use laws allow you to use excerpts. There's a lot of debate as to how much content constitutes fair use, so it's best to be conservative. Most bloggers/authors are happy if you write about their article, include an expert, and include an link to the full post. It's like free advertising for their blog and the link helps their site in search engines. Here's an example of recent post I wrote where I did that.
      http://www.liveintentionally.org/2011/03/31/new-r

  3. The next time I learn a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I mean, I do know it was my choice to read, however I truly thought youd have something attention-grabbing to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you might fix should you werent too busy in search of attention.