Five years ago I was having lunch with my father, a psychiatrist of almost 45 years. He was curious to know how I was getting such a full client load being a new therapist. I explained my website was coming up high in search engine rankings for my area and that these days people search for most things online, including therapists. He cocked his head slightly and looked at me suspiciously.
“Do you put your picture on your website?” he asked.
When I told him that I did, he about fell out of his chair and went on a rant about how inappropriate this is, likening it to taking an ad out in the yellow pages of a phone book. Initially I felt deeply criticized and offended by what my father had said. But upon further reflection, I “got it.”
My dad comes from a very different time in the practice of psychotherapy — when therapists didn’t advertise at all, let alone display a personal photo.
My, how the landscape has changed for therapists since then! Some of us have websites (with pictures, Dad), some of us list ourselves in directories (again, with pictures), some of us use social networking platforms and some of us are writing and blogging. A few of us have figured out ways to create a passive income to supplement our therapy practices.
What does all of this mean? It means that therapists are more visible than we’ve ever been in the history of this field of work. However, the change in landscape has not occurred without controversy around issues of personal disclosure, therapist-client boundaries and the “digital footprint” left online, which cannot easily be removed.
Being that this is the age of information (albeit “information overload” at times), people want to know a little about who might become their therapist. I’m not suggesting therapists lay out their life stories on their personal websites but strike a balance between demystifying themselves and remaining in their ethical comfort zone.
The other night when my dad was over for dinner, he sidled up to me and said, “Hey Lis, I’d like to ask you a few questions about how to do a website.” This time it was me who cocked my head slightly and looked at him suspiciously. He enthusiastically explained that he wants his own website to put all of his articles in one place.
For a moment I flashed back five years to that day we sat on the patio and he berated my online endeavors. This memory was quickly followed by a surge of validation knowing he must have decided what I’ve been doing all this time has some merit. (Isn’t it true how much we want validation from our parents?)
“But,” he clarified. “No picture of me.”
In that moment, two psychotherapy eras came together — well, sort of.