If you’re about to meet someone new for the first time, what do you do? You look them up online, right?
Let’s face it, we all do it. Whether it’s for a job interview or a first date, the lowdown on other people is at our fingertips these days so why wouldn’t we use it? There’s no reason to think it’s any different for people going to see a counsellor for the first time. Many of my clients are in their early twenties and I’m not going to fool myself that they haven’t at least Googled me.
This raises a bit of a dilemma. I’m a wellness blogger and I often write about issues from my perspective or based on my own experiences. I teach yoga and also work on issues-based campaigns. So, how do I reconcile my self-disclosure and the public side of myself with my role as a counsellor?
Counsellors are often thought of as a ‘blank canvas’. Should people be able to have access to my past experiences and vulnerabilities?
This is a topic that has been playing on my mind and I don’t think there is an easy, one-size fits all answer to the question. Everyone will have their own gauge when it comes to privacy versus openness, but, in a world where first impressions are often made online, it’s probably something worth thinking about for all of us.
To help me navigate the gauntlet of media and social media, I’ve come up with my own set of inter-related guidelines for sharing. I’ve steered away from tips on Facebook privacy and the like because there are plenty of ‘how to’ articles for social media settings out there and because I don’t think that gets at the more puzzling conundrum of - if, how and what to share.
Does it feel honest?
For me, this is the first and ultimate litmus test when it comes to sharing anything online. It may sound simple but for me the question is more nuanced than the black and white standpoint of truth versus lies. It’s more about ‘am I being real?’, ‘Is this a true reflection of me?’.
We are surrounded by idealised versions of self; they jump out at us from mainstream media to Instagram to our friends’ Facebook feeds. I work in fitness and wellbeing and it can feel safer to fall in line and hide behind a shiny veneer that wouldn’t really reflect who I am or how I feel. As a result, anyone looking me can see that I’m imperfect - I’m human. Although this makes me feel vulnerable, on balance I’m okay with that.
Would I be okay talking to people about the content of the writing?
It’s easy to get carried away when I’m hiding behind the veil of my computer screen, so a good test for disclosure is to think about whether I would be happy to have a face to face conversation with the same level of intimacy. If not, then maybe I’m not ready to hit publish just yet.
This guideline is quite closely related to the rule about honesty too. If my screen-life is to reflect my life offline, then maybe I shouldn’t post that photo of myself five years younger and 14lbs lighter…
Is this issue still raw?
I've made a decision not to write publicly about any issues that are still current for me. This one is more to do with my own self-preservation than privacy, but equally relevant to consider. It’s related to both questions one and two, because too much vulnerability can get in the way of honesty and I wouldn’t feel emotionally safe talking about the topic in public.
This guideline on self-care is as important in the rest of life as it is for counselling. You can only be your best for others when you look after your own needs.
Is it in line with my values?
This question doesn’t just guide what I write, it makes me think about what I endorse when I share things on social media, whether it’s a tweet or a guest blog on my site. Do I stand by the opinion, message or the impression being given?
Don't reveal anything personal about another (without permission)
What I decide to share is up to me and that same right should be extended to others, even if it means I have to resist telling everyone that hilarious funny anecdote about my friend. I won’t share another person’s story online unless they have given express permission. Their right to privacy is as important as my right to express myself.
It's okay to be human
We are all a work in progress. There are reasons we make decisions to pursue different things and our experiences shape our interests, passions and paths in life. But, for some reason, there’s a pernicious pressure in our society to appear as if we have just materialised from planet-perfect - fully-fledged and flawless, without turmoil or back-story. In my opinion, this alienates people and separates us from each other.
I want others to know that they are not alone in dealing with difficulties; that it is okay to show who you are. This ‘rule’ is a reminder to cut myself a break. All we can do is our best and with the best of intentions.
Miriam Christie has recently joined our team at The Counsellors Cafe and we're delighted to have her with us. Miriam is a wellness and lifestyle writer, yoga & pilates teacher and qualifying Counsellor. You can get in touch with Miriam via Twitter.