“Use of Social Media by Professional Psychologists”
On Wednesday March 27, 2014, faculty and students at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP) gathered to hear a colloquium presentation by Lauren Muhlheim, Psy.D, CEDS (Clinical, 1995). Dr. Muhlheim is a prominent GSAPP alumna who has a practice in Los Angeles where she provides psychological treatment specializing in evidence-based cognitive behavioral psychotherapy for adults and adolescents with depression, anxiety, stress, and eating disorders. She presented on the topic of “Use of Social Media by Psychologists in a Safe and Ethical Way.”
After earning a B.A. from Princeton University, Dr. Muhlheim attended the doctoral program in Clinical Psychology at GSAPP. She chose GSAPP because she was “impressed by the quality and depth of the clinical training” and knew that she wanted to work in clinical settings. As a graduate student, Dr. Muhlheim trained in the Rutgers Eating Disorder Clinic. In interview, she shared her favorite memory of GSAPP to be working with Terry Wilson, Ph.D., an internationally renowned eating disorders expert. More recently, Dr. Muhlheim trained in the Maudsley Family-Based Treatment (FBT) for adolescent eating disorders and is certified in FBT by the Training Institute for Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders. She is also certified as an eating disorder specialist (CEDS) by the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (IAEDP). Dr. Muhlheim has been providing psychological counseling since 1991. She has also supervised and trained psychology interns and other mental health professionals.
Dr. Muhlheim’s work experience has brought her to multiple settings around the globe. For nearly ten years, she was a staff psychologist at Los Angeles County Jail, followed by three years in Shanghai, China, treating clients of varying national, cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Dr. Muhlheim spearheaded and served as the first president of the Shanghai International Mental Health Association (SIMHA). She has also worked in an Obesity Research Clinic, inpatient hospitals, outpatient clinics, group homes, and private practice.
Dr. Mulheim’s experiences abroad proved to be a portal for her into the world of social media. In her colloquium presentation, she reflected on her years in Shanghai: “That’s where I first became aware of the power of the internet.” She described how she used search engine optimization to attract international patients to their practice website, as well as commented on the challenges she faced when China blocked Facebook.
In 2012, Dr. Muhlheim joined the social media committee of the Academy for Eating Disorders. She served as a co-chair of AED’s Social Media Committee, AED’s Membership Recruitment and Retention Committee, and AED’s FBT Special Interest Group. In her role as a co-chair of the Social Media Committee for the Academy for Eating Disorders, she helped manage the AED’s Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter pages, and helped educate professional AED members about social media. More recently, Dr. Muhlheim has stepped up to the position of Director for Outreach with the board of AED.
Over the course of her talk, Dr. Muhlheim educated the audience about social media from a variety of angles. She presented an overview of current technology, reasons why to be on social media, and recommendations for using social media safely and ethically. Loaded with valuable information and insights, her approach was also light and entertaining. She started out her presentation by differentiating among the various social media formats: “Facebook: I like donuts,” “LinkedIn: My skills include donut eating,” and “Twitter: I’m eating a donut.” Although the list of social media sites was lengthy, Dr. Muhlheim chose to highlight Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter in particular.
Citing commentary from the APA Monitor, Dr. Muhlheim presented a general outlook on social networking in the world of professional psychology. A rising number of people are turning to the internet for health information, she noted. As the use of social media is growing, psychological professionals are increasingly using media. Graduate students use social media but often lack guidance, because supervising faulty are less experienced with it. She presented the Social Media Ladder as one way to view online participation, showing how people move from being passively involved to being actively involved, actually becoming content creators.
Why is it important to be on social media? According to Dr. Muhlheim, social media helps us stay informed, make connections, meet patients where they are, build a “brand,” learn new information (e.g., “Tweetchats”), disseminate information, advocate for causes, and market products or services. These concepts came alive as Dr. Muhlheim expounded with personal anecdotes and colorful screenshots. “The more online real estate you control, the better,” she explained, “And one way you control your online real estate is through social media.”
Perhaps the crux of her presentation dealt with the safe and ethical use of social media. APA has not yet published guidelines for psychologists’ use of social media, Dr. Muhlheim pointed out. Subsequently, Dr. Muhlheim shared the social media guidelines published in 2010 by American Medical Association, illustrating how these principles apply to her as a professional.
First, she advised, be sure to separate personal and professional content. Keep a personal facebook page for social connections and create a separate practice page for your practice. Create two email address, and do not allow clients to friend you on Facebook. Second, use privacy settings—and don’t rely on even the most restrictive settings as being absolutely secure. Third, routinely monitor your own internet presence, such as by doing a Google search or checking online rating agencies. Fourth, protect patient confidentiality. Per Dr. Muhlheim’s advice, clarify your social media policy for googling, friending, and following; incorporate it into your informed consent for clients. Fifth, maintain appropriate boundaries. Sixth, remember your career and reputation when using social media. In her words, “Think twice, and tweet once.”
Listeners gleaned a variety of handy tips and bits for using social media to advance professional practice. For instance, use LinkedIn as a virtual rolodex to connect with colleagues. Strive for search engine optimization – increase your visibility on other sites and update your site frequently. Utilize twitter as a great way to share articles and stay current, and as an expedient alternative to blogging.
When asked about the challenges of being involved in social media, Dr. Muhlheim stated, “I think the greatest challenge of social media for psychological practitioners today is the fear/resistance many have to using it.” Her advice for current GSAPP students? “Plan to have an online presence” and “be willing to explore and use social media and other new technologies, such as apps.”
Dr. Mulheim’s presentation generated a wave of questions from the audience on the applications of social media to professional practice. In response to concerns over privacy on Facebook, Dr. Mulheim recommended using the most restrictive privacy and security settings, while noting that privacy settings are imperfect. “Assume anything you publish behind a privacy setting will leak.” Further, she recommended that professionals post only that which they can stand behind with integrity. Finally, Dr. Muhlheim responded to questions about the psychological implications of Facebook use on eating disorders. The discussion was thought-provoking and dynamic, as a room of psychology professionals aired concerns over the ramifications of social media use for children and adolescents.
At the end of her presentation, Dr. Muhlheim shared her social media rendition of a bibliography – a link to her Pinterest page. An exuberant round of applause followed, as GSAPP faculty and students acknowledged Dr. Muhlheim’s cutting-edge contributions to the field of professional psychology.
Dr. Muhlheim can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visited at:
By: Chana Crystal, GSAPP