Data don’t lie; you can’t hide from data. Mid-August my gamma brainwaves had dropped, my ever-spinning busy brain, heart rate, and muscle tension risen. Then my Pastor helped me make a necessary decision, and all my brainwaves returned to my normal the first week of September. I learnt a hard lesson about social media and therapists.
The situation on Twitter my Pastor extricated me from had been unfolding for months. I had been blind to it because of being a woman who hates confrontation, because my injured brain processed slowly what I was experiencing, because the PTSD hell I am in deafened me to the subtle difference between concern and obsession.
When I began to feel crowded in late August, I spoke to three therapists, a peer mentor, friends, and family about what to do. The situation changed daily and hourly; advice I got was old by the time I returned to Twitter. My inability to make quick decisions, my self-doubt, my slow processing all rendered me unable to handle the situation in real time on my own. I didn’t have weeks for my brain to process sensory input and initiate an action plan. I needed professional help. I didn’t receive it from my not-on-Twitter therapists. If I had told any therapist a man I knew was suddenly knocking on my front door every. single. day with a bunch of roses, then roses and chocolates, then roses, chocolates, and teddy bears several times a day, what do you think they would have said? Probably not “I can’t tell you what to do.” Finally I thought of my Pastor. He is a professional, he knows off behaviour, and he participates in social media. It was the latter that benefitted me. He understood the milieu, the tools to protect people; he knew what I needed to say and what I needed to not do. Mute, block, report, in that order, he repeated to me, if the man keeps getting to me. I wrote down his instructions and acted.
Relief. Then I got angry.
Imagine being a person with a brain injury who discovers Twitter, begins to flourish socially, then is informed by mental health professionals who are not on Twitter how it’s not “real life,” it’s only a start, how they need to get a social life in the “real world.” And to leave if someone is bothering them.
It’s patronizing, unhelpful, uncomprehending of social media, and a nicely worded putdown of your client’s experiential knowledge of Twitter as if it’s not as good as your what-you-heard-through-the-grapevine knowledge.
How can you really know the new and opaque Twitter community if you’ve never lived in it? Would you consider yourself qualified to help a person if you had no experience with commuting, with working, with living with a family, with friendship, with social clubs, with professional groups? That’s the kind of therapist you are when you attempt to aid a patient on Twitter when you’re unfamiliar with it yourself.
Up till now, I’ve thought it would be nice but not necessary to have my therapists on Twitter with me. But I’ve changed my mind. It is necessary for people in the helping professions to be on Twitter, to be experientially familiar with it.
So this blog post is for mental health professionals with no social media life experience.
Social media, specifically Twitter, is real life.
People in the helping professions who are not participating even to a small, regular degree, cannot help their patients or clients when toxic situations arise. They may think they can; their clients may hope they can. But they can’t.
How can you tell when behaviour is tipping from a bit too interested to obsession to stalking when you’re not familiar with what’s normal behaviour on social media?
When would you advise a patient being harassed on Twitter?
You may have heard about the obvious dangers where men tweet vicious rape and death threats to women. But people also become obsessed with a tweep so subtly and cleverly that fellow tweeps won’t recognize the danger. These people can control a person through misusing good Twitter features and can stalk them with no effort. I can see furrowed brows as you guys not on social media think “following” is stalking. It isn’t.
That’s the essential problem isn’t it when your patients or clients are on Twitter or Facebook and you are not: you speak different languages.
It’s like the telephone forty years ago. The instrument of instant voice communication was ubiquitous in Canada but not in England. Every time I visited England, I’d go to call someone and was sharply rebuked. What? What do you mean I can’t just pick up the phone and talk? What do you mean I can only use it if urgent and to use the mail instead? Since when do people use letters to talk to each other?!!! Argh!!! The English relatives would have the opposite experience coming to Canada; they would marvel at this concept of easily talking to people any old time and for as long as they wanted to. How novel! How fast! How freeing!!
That’s social media: novel, fast, freeing; also fun, challenging, stimulating, newsy.
But a therapist not on Twitter is like that relative in England: unknowing and unbelieving.
Twitter has matured into a community separate yet threaded into the world. Today, people of like minds meet each other across space and time; people of opposite minds debate and people from different cultures learn how they argue differently, making us Canadians appreciate how respectful we are; people talk to each other rapidly as if face-to-face, as well as in slow motion over several hours; people congregate around conversations like at the best party ever; people strike up friendships, draw “real-life” relationships closer, and take Twitter ones into geographic space, thereby changing them in unforeseen ways; people live tweet events to an audience who watch through their smartphone apps; journalists smash through the confining walls of traditional media; people influence politicians; and people get a hell of a lot better customer service – it’s amazing what complaining about bad service to one’s 1000+ followers does for your telephone service. Tone, mood, tiredness, hunger, laughter, knowledge, EQ, IQ, sense of humour, interests all come through in tweets. People become intertwined; personal discussions are conducted in public instead of privately through DM. As a result, all sorts of social cohesions and problems crop up that therapists have no clue about, even if explained through the imperfect filter of their patient’s experience. How would you advise your client in trouble on Twitter? Perhaps tell them to take a break from social media, as I was told to?
But that advice blames the victim and reveals your harmful-to-your-client ignorance of safety tools created to allow the victim to stay on happily while sending the offender out the air lock. Can you imagine advising your client to not visit their friends, don’t read the newspaper, don’t talk to politicians, don’t attend events, don’t watch videos, don’t listen to music, don’t share your photos, don’t write? Well, that’s what you’re doing when you suggest quitting Twitter or social media.
What does a patient do when a painful conversation pops up in their stream? Could you advise them and recognize the urgency if their tweeps began arguing with them, muted them, blocked them for no reason they could understand? Arguments are a fact of Twitter life. Not all are bad. Political or news-driven arguments are informative or entertaining and the cool thing is that strangers jump in – but perhaps a person with a brain injury or social phobia would hesitate to participate without your help. Being able to ask you, their therapist, for knowledgeable guidance would not only be nice but moreso necessary for people with poor social skills and/or low EQ, dontchya think?
Relationships on Twitter are real ones. People are people everywhere. They bring their baggage into the Twitter community, even when they intend to hide it. If they tweet regularly they’ll eventually reveal more and more of themselves.
One of my therapists said it’s like texting. Um, no. It’s more like film acting or writing a book in that you have no specific audience in mind. Maybe one day when you’re a little emotional or bored, you tweet out something revelatory. You mayn’t get a reply, so you won’t know it was read. That drops your guard a little. You tweet out something more revelatory. Pretty soon, regular followers and anyone checking out your timeline will develop a pretty good picture of you. But in texting you always have one person firmly in mind – so you’ll remember to keep hiding what you don’t want the other person to know. And no one ever joins in that conversation sans an invitation.
I was also told it’s like a dating site where the person you’re supposed to be exclusive with can see when you’ve logged on and who’ve you corresponded with. Really? I had no idea. But, um, no. Twitter doesn’t reveal lurkers. But Twitter does make monitoring dead easy: turn on notifications on a favourite tweep and voilá, as soon as she tweets, your smartphone or tablet buzzes. It’s a great feature for friends to keep up with each other or a therapist to monitor a fragile client, but it can also be used to obsess over a person. Or control them. Or stalk them. Fun.
Would a therapist not on social media know about that?
No. You wouldn’t. And so you might say soothingly, it’s only a coincidence he tweets you within minutes of you tweeting and he’s suddenly mimicking your tweets, not recognizing the danger to your client.
Would a therapist not on social media know Twitter is like face-to-face communication and how rapidly things evolve or devolve?
No. You wouldn’t. And so you might tell a woman patient with a brain injury worried about a man obsessed with her, that you can’t tell her what to do but can discuss it at the next appointment if it remains unresolved, as if she has weeks to decide, compose, act.
Would a therapist not on social media understand mute, block, report?
No. You wouldn’t. And so you would tell your client to take a break from a big part of her real life instead of advising her on how to use the safety tools in order to stay in her community sans being harassed.
Well, what’s in it for me, asked one health care professional of me, as if being able to advise their patient appropriately was not a good enough reason. Ahem.
Well, okay then: what’s in it for you to live in a community, live in Toronto, be part of Canadian life?
Do you read newspapers? Twitter will provide you broader and more comprehensive news faster than your traditional newspapers, TV, radio, way beyond what you can imagine. Do you like to influence local politics? Twitter will get you direct access to policians, bureaucrats, and journalists. Do you like to chat over coffee? You’ll meet all sorts of people from around the globe to shoot the breeze with. Do you want to expand your professional learning? You’ll get together with patients and fellow professionals in scheduled chats. Do you want to meet like minds and be challenged by new ideas? Do you want to break out of your geographic box and meet your fellow Canuckians, learn about Canada’s North, feast your eyes on the gorgeousness of our country, our planet? Do you want to meet your fellow professionals from the UK, Australia, India, etc. socially as well as professionally? Do you want to participate in your professional conferences more fully? Do you want to watch volcanoes blow complete with visible and audible shock waves? Do you want to participate in or watch events you can’t attend? Do you want to discuss a TV show no one in your family is interested in while you’re viewing it? Do you like to people watch? Well, Twitter does all that and more because it’s a community comprising flesh-and-blood humans connecting through their minds. Rather sci-fi’ish I know. But real.
Twitter is real life. Twitter is where your patients and clients live. That is why you as a therapist must join in. Or if you choose not to, know that you are abandoning your client to the deceivers of the world while you watch from the sidelines benignly.