How Should Therapists Handle “Friending” Requests?

Course excerpt from Ethics and Social Media

The Phenomenon of “Friending”

Friending Request from ClientA “friend” used to be an individual of one’s personal acquaintance, with whom a sense of liking, trust, and camaraderie had been built over some period of mutual experience and interaction. Many people considered themselves fortunate if – over the period of a lifetime – they were able to count a handful of others among those they considered to be friends.

With the advent of Facebook, that concept has morphed into something that may or may not bear any resemblance to the original definition. In many cases, people who are friends on Facebook were personal real-life friends before joining up on Facebook. In other cases, new friends are made online, without the benefit (or bother) of any face-to-face interaction. In still other cases, individuals spend a great deal of time and effort collecting “friends” online for the sake of amassing a very large audience for their postings.

In some cases, these numbers are quite extraordinary. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center (2014), the average number of friends a person has on Facebook was 338. A generational ranking revealed – not surprisingly – that number of Facebook friends was inversely correlated with one’s age. Millennials (age 18-29) averaged 300 friends (a quarter of these young users had more than 500 friends in their network), Gen Xers (age 30 – 49) 200, and Younger Boomers (age 50 -64) 75. People over the age of 65 average 30 friends.

To Friend or Not to Friend

One of the more complex challenges facing contemporary therapists (at least those who use Facebook) is the question of how to respond when receiving a friending request from a client. It is the arrival of this simple electronic message that precipitates a cascade of questions concerning a broad spectrum of ethical issues from privacy and confidentiality to multiple relationships and clinical competency. Zur (2012) states it this way:

“Currently, more than 900 million people around the world and more than 157 million in the United States [these numbers are already outdated] have Facebook pages, and at least some of them may be your clients. Clearly, the issue of when, or whether, to use Facebook touches on just about every clinical and ethical issue of importance to therapists, particularly issues relating to boundaries and dual relationships. Should you even have a Facebook page, and if so, how much of your private life should you show? Who should see what? Should you use Facebook’s privacy settings to distinguish what you show among colleagues, best friends, family members, and old, new, and potential clients? How do you respond to clients who want to ‘friend’ you?”

These questions are answered in different ways by different therapists. Kolmes (2009) offers this view:

“Inviting clients to your personal profile can also be perceived as inviting them into your personal life. Unless you utilize very strict privacy settings on your profile, those who become your ‘friends’ can post and view messages posted to your Wall, they can view your photo albums and read the comments on these albums, and they can see and interact with your other ‘friends.’ This can send mixed messages to clients, especially if they are unclear about therapeutic boundaries to begin with. If you would never think of inviting a client to a cocktail party at your home with your friends and family present, then you may want to think twice about inviting them to be your friend on Facebook (or approving their friend requests). It is the online equivalent of inviting them into your social circle.”

Laura Hahn, a counselor in private practice, suggests that therapists refrain from friending clients on Facebook. “Make it a policy by adding a statement to your informed consent documentation and inform your clients up front. Counselors who find clients being overly interested in the counselor’s personal life and conducting intrusive online searches can explore that topic with the client in therapy” (in Shallcross, 2011).

Questions for Psychotherapists to Consider Before Responding to Clients’ Friend Requests

It is useful – probably even necessary – for a therapist to spend some time pondering the friending issue before plunging into the world of digital friendship. On the Zur Institute website ( there is a list of questions for therapists to consider as they face this decision.

Learn more:

Ethics and Social MediaEthics and Social Media is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that examines the use of Social Networking Services (SNS) on both our personal and professional lives. Is it useful or appropriate (or ethical or therapeutic) for a therapist and a client to share the kinds of information that are routinely posted on SNS like Facebook, Twitter, and others? How are psychotherapists to handle “Friending” requests from clients? What are the threats to confidentiality and therapeutic boundaries that are posed by the use of social media sites, texts, or tweets in therapist-client communication? The purpose of this course is to offer psychotherapists the opportunity to examine their practices in regard to the use of social networking services in their professional relationships and communications. Included are ethics topics such as privacy and confidentiality, boundaries and multiple relationships, competence, the phenomenon of friending, informed consent, and record keeping. A final section offers recommendations and resources for the ethical use of social networking and the development of a practice social media policy. Course #20-75 | 2016 | 32 pages | 15 posttest questions

Professional Development Resources is approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) to sponsor continuing education for psychologists; the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).

The National Certified Counselor (NCC) Certification

From the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)

The National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc. and Affiliates (NBCC), an independent nonprofit credentialing body for counselors, was incorporated in 1982 to establish and administer a national certification system, to identify graduate-level counselors who have voluntarily met certification standards, and to maintain a registry of those counselors. NBCC is the largest counselor credentialing body in the United States.

NBCC’s primary certification is the National Certified Counselor (NCC), which is a prerequisite for all other NBCC certifications. In order to maintain NBCC certification and recertify, all NCCs must earn the equivalent of 100 hours of continuing education every five (5) years. These credits must be obtained from qualifying professional activities designed to enhance or increase the professional knowledge of graduate-level counselors. National counselor certification from NBCC demonstrates to the public and employers that the counselor has met the national standards set by the counseling profession. It is not a license to practice. In some states, holding a national certification can assist the counselor in obtaining a state license. National certification travels with the counselor no matter the state or country of residence.

Many state counselor credentialing boards and agencies have similar continuing education requirements. A state license in counseling is literally permission from a particular state to practice counseling or to call oneself a licensed counselor. Some states have a single license and some have a two-tiered system. The names of state licenses vary from state to state. Some examples are LPC, LCPC, LPCC, LMHC, LPCMH, LCMHC, LPC-MH.

NBCC Approved Continuing Education ProviderNBCC Approved Continuing Education Providers

NBCC Approved Continuing Education Providers (ACEPs) have completed a thorough review process and shown that their continuing education activities meet NBCC standards. When you obtain CE clock hours from an ACEP, you know that they have been educated on what qualifies, their programs are relevant to the continuing education of professional counselors, and that they are accountable to NBCC for quality training and customer service.

With ACEPs, you can relax knowing your CE clock hours will qualify when it comes time to recertify your NCC.

Professional Development Resources, an NBCC provider since 1994, specializes in CEUs you can use. With a selection of over 100 relevant and interesting home study courses, you can browse our online library and choose the topics you want and get the amount of CE credit you need. Our courses, which are online or book-based, range from one hour to eight hours. You can start learning immediately after enrollment and print your certificate instantly upon passing the post test. Visit our Counseling profession page today and get ready for a continuing education experience that is both user-friendly and rewarding.