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Social or UnSocial Media?

Over the last ten years, social media has exploded into our lives. Along with all the wonderful positive benefits such as personal connectivity and professional networking, supporting good causes and keeping in touch with loved ones far away, there has developed a dark side to being connected – bullying, internet based crime and worse have spilled over from the online realm into our real lives.

As health professionals we must carefully consider how we want to present ourselves online, how much information we share and how we speak about our work in cyberspace.

However, just because there are risks involved in having a presence online, doesn’t mean we need to become un-social and withdraw from our favourite social media sites. After all, social media is THE way to promote large and small businesses, charities and personal events. All we need is a little guidance – from our professional associations’ ethics guidelines, and from Music Therapy Bento! Below are the social media guidelines I wrote when I was involved with the Victorian Branch of the Australian Music Therapy Association . The branch did not end up using the guidelines, but have generously allowed me to share them with you, in a slightly modified format, so you can be confident in your online adventures, safe in the knowledge you are doing your best to keep yourself, your clients and your online contacts safe. It’s quite long, so grab a cup of green tea, find a quiet place and go for it.

I would love to hear your feedback on these tips – what would you add? Change?

Natalie’s Social Media Guidelines for Health Professionals


In this guide, the terms ‘social media’, ‘online services’ and ‘internet-based services’ will be used to mean a range of services available on the internet that include, but are not limited to – social media (eg. Facebook, twitter and google+), professional networking (eg. LinkedIn), media sharing (ie. videos, photos and music, eg. YouTube, Pinterest, SoundCloud), blogging, email, forums, websites, text messages and other services that encourage the sharing of information, ideas and opinions in the public domain or online.

Potential Risks

There are risks involved in using social media. These risks can be minimised by educating yourself about how each online service operates, knowing what their privacy policies are and thinking carefully about what information you want to share. Risks can become apparent in many situations and may result in loss of personal privacy, the public identification of a client, upsetting a friend or colleague, or a complaint against you for displaying unprofessional conduct. Think before you post.

General Responsibilities

As with any form of communication, you have a responsibility to behave in a way that does not encroach on the rights of others. Here are some general responsibilities to consider…

You are not only representing yourself as a private person when posting online, you are representing any other group of people, either personal or professional, that you belong to. For example, your profession, the local yoga studio you belong to, or your child’s school community.

You are responsible for the information you share. Think carefully about posting information about others.

Be honest in your online world – don’t post anonymously or hide behind a pseudonym.

Be mindful of local and national laws, for example, copyright or privacy laws.

Use your own judgment. Just because you’ve seen someone else post something, it doesn’t mean it’s right or that you should do it too. Before you post anything, think to yourself – “If this were to be broadcast on the six o’clock news, would I be ok with that?”. Technology and security experts contend that once something has been posted online, even if is deleted afterwards, it is still there, and potentially retrievable forever. Something else to think about is – “Would I be comfortable saying this to the person’s face?” If the answer is ‘no’, then you probably shouldn’t post it. We all understand the need to occasionally vent our personal or professional frustrations, however, consideration needs to be given to the consequences of doing so in the public domain.

Responsibilities to Self

You have responsibilities to yourself, your friends and your family when using online services. Think about the consequences of sharing information about yourself, your spouse, parents, friends or children online. Are your photos safe? Are your personal contact details (phone number, email address, home address) accessible by the public? Do you want everyone to know where you work? Read the privacy policies of the services you use and understand how much of your information can be shared with third parties.

Responsibilities to Other Health Professionals and Colleagues

Respecting others’ freedoms and opinions is central to being responsible to others in our community. Actively engage with other other professionals in discussion and debate in a respectful manner, pay genuine compliments and give positive feedback online, offer your help and be transparent in your dealings with others. If you have an issue with an individual, raise it in private. It is not ok to post your upset at a fellow health practitioner anywhere online. Professional organisations have grievance procedures and support in place to deal with conflicts that cannot be resolved privately between individuals.

Responsibilities to Clients

It is a very clear expectation that all health professionals maintain client confidentiality at all times. This is just as true online as it is in real life. In this case, it is imperative to consult your professional organisation’s Code of Ethics to understand how to protect clients. A good starting point is to never post about specific clients, and be exceptionally general and intentionally vague when asking for advice about a certain client/group/population, so that there is no possibility of your client being recognised and identified because of the information you have shared. Never share song recordings, videos of sessions or other clinical artifacts online unless you have the express written permission from the client to do so. If you are unsure whether you should post a particular item, consult with your professional organisation’s ethics representative.

Responsibilities to Organisations

When you identify in your profile or elsewhere online that you are, for example, a Registered Music Therapist, you are then representing the community of Australian (and international) music therapists and the AMTA. You are required to act in a way that upholds the AMTA’s mission, philosophies and purpose.

Likewise, when you identify anywhere online that you are the employee of a particular company or facility, you are then bound to act as a representative of that organisation. Consult your workplace’s policies on social media and use of internet based services to ensure you are complying with their requirements.

Responsibilities to General Public

The general public deserves to have accurate and reliable information about your profession and the health professions themselves deserve to be represented accurately. Be factual in your provision of information about your profession when online and be clear when you are providing your professional or a purely personal opinion. Engage in appropriate and ethical referral provision; again, refer to your professional organisation’s Code of Ethics for guidelines.


Here are some (fictional and somewhat lighthearted!) examples of good and not-so-good posts from our favourite social media sites. I know you will learn something, and maybe have a laugh too.

YES! Had a challenging day today. Would love to hear from other music therapists who have great creative ideas about how to deal with kids with challenging behaviours #learningeveryday

NO! I just can’t believe John’s terrible behaviour today in my session at Top Town Special School. Can anyone help me with ways I can stop him being so aggressive? #naughtykids


YES! Thanks @JaneSmithRMT for the great inservice you gave today to our allied health department at #HighStreetHospital. Everyone really appreciated your time and effort J


YES! I think I need to learn more about how to communicate better with my colleagues. Can anyone recommend a great professional development workshop or some self-study materials on this topic? Thanks!

NO! I really wish doctors and nurses would learn to take advice from other health professionals!! I am so sick of being made to feel like I have nothing to offer our patients L


YES! #MusicTherapy can be a great way to assist with coping and living with #cancer. Contact me via private message if you would like further information on the services I provide.

NO! #MusicTherapy can #curecancer. Call me on 555 5555 now to see how!!


YES! We’re off on our annual holiday soon, so excited! Call me if you’d like to join us for a drink!

NO! Goodbye Essendon, we’re heading off today to Rye for two weeks. Text me on 555 5555 to let me know when you’re coming over for a BBQ and drinks!


YES! @marylou I found your comments about the use of music therapy in palliative care interesting, however I have a different opinion on the role of recorded music with this population. I believe….

NO! @marylou I can’t believe you could say something so insensitive and stupid! As if anyone would believe the nonsense you are spouting! You should keep your misinformed rubbish TO YOURSELF!!!

There you have it! Congratulations for getting to the end. I look forward to your comments and also to engaging with you on facebook

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