With that said, I can’t be your facebook friend for primarily one reason: it’s a boundary issue. Some might be thinking, “Calm down, it’s only facebook, it’s not a big deal.” This isn’t about being a clinical psychologist and not sharing personal things with the patient. This isn’t about me wanting to keep patients from seeing that I’m a passionate Tennessee alum (go Vols!). It’s about you, and why you are seeking out therapy. Let me say more.
The vast majority of patients seek my services because there have been boundary issues in their lives, past and present. What’s a boundary issue? It can be many things: from being in an abusive relationship to always doing whatever your partner/friends want to do on a night out. It can be parents treating you like a child when you are in your 30s and beyond. It can be your boss putting inappropriate work demands on you. Lastly, it can be boundaries within you; whether it’s poor eating habits or making the same unhealthy life decisions time and time again. Poor boundaries lead to mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Therapy is your space to improve yourself. One of the ways to work on yourself is to have an appropriate, healthy relationship with your therapist. This type of relationship is defined by mutual respect and honesty. A hallmark of respect and honesty is to have potentially uncomfortable conversations and still know the other cares and wants what’s best for you.
So yes, it’s uncomfortable to sit with someone and say that we can’t be facebook friends. The degree of discomfort increases when you follow the facebook conversation with the continuation of your session. However, by openly talking about the friend invitation, you learn how to have a difficult conversation and still maintain a strong connection with the person. These conversations strengthen the relationship. You will realize a relationship isn't defined by agreeing all the time. A healthy relationship is defined by how you connect with one another, not necessarily what connects you.
This all applies to your relationships outside of the therapy room. That uncomfortable conversation actually gives you confidence and strength going into other relationships. If you can have an uncomfortable conversation with your therapist (and survive), then maybe you can have that conversation that you've been meaning to have in other relationships (and survive). Feeling comfortable with uncomfortable conversations will help you define and maintain boundaries in your relationships. Those boundaries are ways of taking care of your needs. In any relationship it’s important to find balance between the needs of each individual.
I can see myself having friendships with the vast majority of my patients. At times, the session has a friendly feel. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with unique individuals. Part of my responsibility is taking care of the needs of my patients, even if it means a friendship is confined to moments in my office.
As usual, feel free to share via facebook, twitter, etc. Comments are welcomed!