The Internet and Self-Disclosure

The internet has dramatically changed how we interact and the way personal information is shared. This is a particularly sensitive issue for psychotherapists and patients. With just a simple click, people can find out many facts about their current or prospective therapist. Analysts have to be particularly careful about what they make public and often perform a balancing act between what is available on Google and what needs to remain private.

Events both significant and benign are easily accessed on the internet and become a part of our public identity. Social networks, particularly Facebook and Twitter, if not carefully controlled, can result in inappropriate and unwanted transmission of information. It is vital to continually monitor privacy settings on all social media. More insidious and difficult to control are what our “friends” and “followers” disclose about us. It requires time and diligence to make sure private details about our lives are not disclosed.

Hence we are confronted with the task of managing our accounts so as little as possible become public. This can become particularly difficult when we’re celebrating life events such as marriage or a birth or when we publish travel pictures, photos from our past, or reveal what we do or whom we live with. (When I Google my name, the second thing that comes up is an article in the New York Times about my marriage.) Do we publicly celebrate events in our lives and run the risk that once this knowledge is disseminated, our patients will see it? And we must be careful to make no attempt at hiding this information from our patients once it has become public or we risk a rupture in the treatment.

Should we deprive ourselves of what’s available to others and avoid publicly celebrating events in our lives because of concerns about self-disclosure? Do we take off our new wedding ring because it may disclose a newly attained status? All of these questions must be addressed on a case-by-case basis—evaluating boundaries and degrees of self-disclosure is a vital and continuous process. Self-disclosure on the internet must be considered in the same way we make choices about what to wear, how we decorate our offices, and when we make physical contact. This process presents us with an ongoing dilemma.

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