Social Worker’s Guide to Social Media

In the past year, I’ve been asked by many colleagues about where they can find materials related to the use of social media by social workers, especially for social work students. Many of the materials that I have seen developed by schools of social work don’t seem to address the professional use of social media, they mostly caution about private social media use. So we decided, at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, to develop this infographic, with our partner, 12-Grain, who were the creative geniuses on the project. I like infographics as a way to share information, because they get shared much more than text-oriented posts (see Why Visual is the New Black).

Downloadable pdf copies of this infographic are available from the UB Social Work website (on a Creative Commons license) and by the end of April 2015, people will also be able to order paper copies there, as well. Finally, we hope to have some additional background materials (for more information about some of the guidelines) at that site in the future, as well.

Also, each of the titles now has an embedded short video (which are now all on YouTube, too) to help educate viewers — they provide great short prompts for discussion.

A professional from another field (a notary) commented that she thought that this infographic applies to many professionals who use social media — that was good to hear. I agree that these are generally good principles that could apply to many people who use social media in their professional lives.

Thanks to Melanie Sage, faculty member at the University of North Dakota Department of Social Work, and Laurel Iverson Hitchcock, faculty member at University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Social Work, for their feedback on an earlier version. You can check out their blogs (great resources!) here: Melanie Sage, Social Work Geek and Teaching Social Work (Laurel Iverson Hitchcock’s blog).

Virtual World Avatars Feed Children in Kenya

Feed A Smile stage at Lavender Field in Second Life

Feed A Smile stage at Lavender Field in Second Life

A German woman who declares herself “computer challenged”  is now raising money to feed children in Kenya via live music concerts in Second Life. Musicians play for free and donate their tips to the cause. Second Life residents who attend the concerts also provide additional donations.  A 100 Linden donation (the Second Life currency, equivalent to about 30 cents U.S. currency) provides a warm lunch for a child. The organization, Live and Learn in Kenya (LLK), has been using Second Life as a fundraising venue for their “Feed a Smile” program since 2010.

This inspiring 5 minute video illustrates some cool concepts: Continue reading

Intervention with SMS: What’s Next?

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Transcending Parkinson’s in a Virtual World

Creations for Parkinsons

This video provides a glimpse into what virtual worlds might have to offer through describing the Creations for Parkinson’s project in Second Life, known there as Creations Park. The video touches on a topic I’ve blogged about before, the impact of virtual experience on our physical lives. But just as important, it conveys the sense of freedom that a virtual world can offer someone facing physical challenges or social isolation. Continue reading

What’s Ahead for Social Work This Coming Year?

Crystal Ball

Welcoming in a new year always brings a chance to consider what might be up ahead. Given who I am, many (but not all) of my predictions relate to social work and technology. This is not to suggest that these are the only notable trends for this year, only that this is what I’m noticing and thinking about.

Predictions: What 2013 Will Bring for Social Work

1. More and more social workers exploring how to use the Internet as a way to connect, and more and more non-profits figuring out they need to learn how to leverage the Internet. This trend began accelerating last year with the advent of more social work chats on Twitter (in part, because of the great work from @SWSCMedia). I think we’ll continue seeing more colleagues using Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn professionally this year. And with the start of Google+ Communities I think we’ll see more social workers using them to connect. We already have one thriving community there, started by Jonathan Singer (of the Social Work Podcast fame), called Social Work and Technology. Nonprofits who are looking for some guidance in this world would do well to look at the work of Beth Kanter , including her two books on the topic: The Networked NonProfit, and Measuring the Networked NonProfit, both of which are available on Amazon.

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Mobile Apps and the Savvy Social Worker

Icon from our Savvy Social Worker App

Icon from our Savvy Social Worker App

Last spring I was asked by Lindsey Getz of Social Work Today to weigh in on the topic of mobile applications (apps) in social work — I think they found me through my blog post on this topic. Lindsey wrote a great article, and, per usual, the University at Buffalo (UB) university news service mentioned the article in an university-wide email. A few weeks later a UB staff member, Matthew Stock, contacted me to see if I wanted to develop an Android app for social work. Matt and I had worked together in the past on a committee that I had chaired for one of the information technology university projects. I had really enjoyed working with him — he’s a tech whiz who also has excellent management and people skills. And he’s also just a great guy– so I was intrigued by the invitation and decided to take him up on it. But that then raised the issue of what type of app to develop. Continue reading

Virtual Reality Improves Social Attention in Autistic Kids

Important new research on one of my favorite topics–the power of virtual reality in changing human experience. I’ve excerpted this from Medscape since you have to have an account there to view this(accounts are free though):

Virtual Reality Improves Social Attention in Autistic Kids: May 24, 2011 (Honolulu, Hawaii) — Virtual reality training may help improve complex social attention in school-aged children with higher-functioning autism (HFA), suggests new research presented here at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2011 Annual Meeting.

Head-mounted virtual reality apparatus

In the pilot program, 18 children with HFA and 20 healthy controls wore head-mounted displays showing a virtual classroom with 9 “virtual avatar peers.” As the participants gave short speeches about themselves, each peer was programmed to start fading and become transparent if ignored.

Although results showed no difference in the preadolescent HFA and control children in number of looks to the avatars, the adolescent HFA children made significantly fewer looks than did their age-matched controls, signifying evidence of impairment that emerges later in life.

In addition, “the social attention of all children was malleable,” meaning the looks improved dramatically for all groups during the fade conditioning session, report the investigators.”

The Future of Online Therapy: Great Resources

I don’t typically do this type of post, but in this case there are such good resources here that I want to preserve it in my blog as well as bring it to the attention of readers. Click through to the blog post to see an awesome list of resources for professionals interested in doing online therapy:

The Future of Online Therapy: Wrap Up! by DeeAnna Merz Nagel

March 28th, 2011 | The Future of Online Therapy

This past Saturday I gave a presentation on the topic of the future of online therapy at the Psychotherapy Networker Symposium. I thought I would pass along the resources that I offered during the workshop, hoping that you will find these resources and references helpful!

I discussed the resources available at the Online Therapy Institute pointing people in the direction of our main website, blog and social network.

via The Future of Online Therapy: Wrap Up!.

Virtual Worlds as Immersive Treatment Settings: The PTSD Sim

One of the advantages of virtual worlds is the ability to created simulated experiences that can help us learn something about experiences other than our own, as well as providing a an opportunity to help us make sense of our own experience. The  Virtual PTSD  (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) Sim in Second Life is an example of such a place. I recently went exploring there to check the out the “build.”

Welcome to the Virtual PTSD Experience

The experience starts when you transport into the Sim into a reception area in the Visitor Center. The first thing you see is information about how to reach someone if you are in crisis now. This welcome area also has an information desk (complete with pamphlets) staffed by “Ranger Jane” (a bot) who will answer questions that you ask in chat. In another part of the room, there is  an animated diorama that provides you with an overview of what happens in the simulation. This is important, as it will make the entire encounter more predictable and, therefore, less likely to trigger extreme PTSD symptoms while going through the simulation. There is also an option to transport to a Relaxation Room in the event that you start to feel too anxious. This “room” is actually a choice of several very different relaxation environments (e.g., the beach, outer space) so you can choose the one that fits your needs. Continue reading

Power & Social Media: Thoughts for Therapists Working with Trauma Survivors

Power and the Mind: Lacking power impairs thinking Writing in Psychological Science, Smith et al (2008) report that when randomly assigned participants are made to feel powerless they become worse at keeping on top of changing information, filtering out irrelevant stuff and planning ahead to get the task done.

I very much appreciated a recent post by Susan Giurleo on The Real Challenge of Health Care Social Media where she talks about the subtle shifts in power in a relationship that comes with health care professionals using social media. Social media requires more of an accessible, collaborative stance and certainly flies a bit in the face of the “mysterious therapy office.”

Social media will challenge therapists to carefully think through and articulate our boundaries for this new medium. That’s not a bad thing. However, as a trauma therapist and a trauma-informed therapist (they are not the same thing!), I am especially intrigued by any medium which helps at all to equalize some of the power differences that occur in therapy.

Trauma-informed practice requires that we examine all aspects of how we organize our services in light of what we know about how trauma affects people. Here’s a definition from The National Center for Trauma-Informed Care:

What is Trauma-Informed Care?

Most individuals seeking public behavioral health services and many other public services, such as homeless and domestic violence services, have histories of physical and sexual abuse and other types of trauma-inducing experiences. These experiences often lead to mental health and co-occurring disorders such as chronic health conditions, substance abuse, eating disorders, and HIV/AIDS, as well as contact with the criminal justice system

When a human service program takes the step to become trauma-informed, every part of its organization, management, and service delivery system is assessed and potentially modified to include a basic understanding of how trauma affects the life of an individual seeking services. Trauma-informed organizations, programs, and services are based on an understanding of the vulnerabilities or triggers of trauma survivors that traditional service delivery approaches may exacerbate, so that these services and programs can be more supportive and avoid re-traumatization.

Trauma, Power & Trauma-Informed Therapy

Understanding power is key to trauma-informed therapy. Most clients who are survivors of childhood trauma were abused by someone with power, someone who should have been trustworthy and then abused that trust.  Therapists are authority figures who you are supposed to be able to trust, a characteristic we share with our clients’ abusers.  Abuse involves the misuse of power–people who have been victimized feel helpless, vulnerable, and powerless. Healing from abuse involves recovering (or achieving for the first time) a sense of our power in the world. For this reason, a trauma-informed approach is based on the assumption that recovery from trauma must include collaboration and empowering clients whenever possible.

So What Does This Have to Do with Social Media?

Extending therapists’ reach into social media requires a level of transparency and accessibility that is a change from the traditional therapeutic model of the therapy room being a space set apart from the world. As Giurleo points out, this is a subtle shift in power dynamics. I hadn’t considered how much a difference this might make until I reflected on a recent conversation with a former client–I’ll call her Ann*. She remarked on the difference in my accessibility compared to more traditional/non-social media using therapists and noted that their limited accessibility made her interactions with them feel slightly “triggering,” that is, evoked some of her trauma-related symptoms. It’s not surprising that experiencing an authority figure/caregiver as inaccessible might evoke feelings of fear or abandonment related to experiences with caregivers from childhood.  Her observation eloquently captures the impact of non-trauma informed practice and how a therapist’s willingness to use social media to enhance collaboration might shift some of those power dynamics. While some therapists might observe that such reactions are transference and provide important grist for therapy, I would point out that I rarely find that there’s a shortage of grist for therapy with people who grew up in abusive environments, and that people need to feel some measure of safety before they will take the risk of a connection with an authority figure after a lifetime of many authority figures who have either failed them or hurt them.

For all of the reasons discussed above, I think that with the proliferation of Web 2.0 in our society the trauma-informed therapist now has to consider moving into the world of social media. If your clients are there, you really need to be there too. If they aren’t there, they probably will be soon.

So How Should a Therapist Use Social Media?

Clearly there need to be boundaries on how this is done to protect confidentiality and to ensure that therapists get enough disconnected time so they can maintain wellness. In my own practice I have not used anything especially innovative, I have used social media/technology in only a few ways: allowing clients to text me information regarding appointment changes or to send me information we might need for an insurance form that they needed to verify at home; on request, reading a client’s blog entry; posting information that I thought might be helpful to clients on my therapy practice blog. I worked out any boundary issues with clients that needed to be addressed in the process of using those tools (“if you’re suicidal call me, do not text or email me anything that is a crisis”). Using these tools in limited ways hardly makes me an expert on all the most effective ways to do this. Fortunately, there are skilled, experienced people to help guide therapists in this process (e.g., see Mike Langlois, LCSW: How to Have a 100% HIPAA Compliant Online Presence, see Susan Giurleo, PhD’s posts social media for therapists), and–here’s a bonus–they, too, can be found in the social media world.

*”Ann” has seen this post and has given me permission to refer to her comments-and she may well decide to read this blog post.

Photo provided courtesy of Will Lion