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|The Business of Therapy - Page 2|
Strengths and Liabilities
For anybody who's just woken from a protracted coma, Facebook is the ubiquitous Internet presence created just five years ago by Harvard University sophomore Mark Zuckerberg in his dorm room. What started as a fun project for 15 friends has grown to 300 million users, with—surprisingly—people over 50 now the fastest-growing segment. Facebook, with Twitter and LinkedIn, is part of the social-networking movement online. In contrast to traditional websites or blogs, where one person writes content for others to read, users on social-networking sites generate most of the content themselves. Users post messages, pictures, videos, and audios detailing almost anything about their day—from the tragic to the sublime, but more often from the shallowly trivial to the deeply banal. Friends reconnect with relatives, current friends, friends and acquaintances from years gone by, wannabe friends. Facebook can cause real-life drama, as when old lovers suddenly appear on a spouse's friend list. Once you register an account on Facebook, you can invite anyone you know to become your friend; as soon as they accept your invitation, they'll see whatever you post.
This is at once a great strength and a liability. Catching up with friends you haven't seen in years can undeniably be great fun, but Facebook has a serious boundary problem. In fact, there are no boundaries unless you set them! Everything you post can be seen by people you don't know ("friends of friends," and even "friends of friends of friends")—which is why all those unknown people were showing up on my page. Even worse, people you do know often see what you post, even what you most certainly would rather they didn't. A therapist friend was horrified to get comments from three former coworkers and his current clinical supervisor after he'd posted "Off to Xanax land. Whee!" To a therapist trained to respect strict personal boundaries, this feels like the ultimate dysfunctional family system.
Two months after joining, I encountered every therapist's Facebook nightmare: a therapy client of mine invited me to be a friend. Anyone can search for their therapist's name in the large white searchbox that appears in the upper right-hand corner of every Facebook page. What to do? I ignored the request—which is the best thing to do with a past client. With current clients, just say that your policy is not to (be)friend clients on Facebook. After much criticism, Facebook eventually changed its privacy settings so users would have tighter control over who sees their posts—but to this day, many people don't know what their privacy settings are, or how to change them.
It is possible to maintain good boundaries on Facebook, if you follow four simple rules:
1) Go to Privacy Settings and review every item carefully. Facebook now provides 17 variables you can set.
2) Segment your list of friends into Personal, Family, and Business acquaintances. This way, you can post things that pertain to each group, and reduce the amount of irrelevant posts the other groups see.
3) Don't accept a friend request unless you know the person.
4) If friends' posts are too frequent, boring, annoying or upsetting to you in any way, you can "defriend" them, and they'll be gone from your Facebook experience. If for some reason you want to keep them on your Friend list but can't stomach their chatter, you can hide their posts.
I kept going on Facebook and gradually began seeing more and more people showing up there that I actually knew, people I really liked! What a kick! I finally got the whole Facebook deal. The positive, healthy part is that it's like a huge, ongoing, endless, party, with all the favorite people from your entire life potentially showing up. In today's hyperpaced world, where just getting together for lunch with an old friend can take weeks and require the back-and-forth negotiations of a major-nation trade agreement, Facebook is a cyberspace block party, a digital coffee klatch, supplying the many missing links that make the difference between a bunch of isolated monads and a genuine interactive community. At the top of every Facebook homepage, a big rectangle with the bold title News Feed invites you to reveal something personal by asking "What's on your mind?" Staying up-to-date on the nuances of everyday life can give a sense of moving through life together.