The Other Face of Facebook: Facebook in the Therapy Session

A day or two ago, I witnessed the miracle of Facebook. One of my college friends, in fact, one of the first people I met in my new dorm my first day at college over 20 years ago, had a baby girl. The announcement of this great birth appeared in her Facebook status within the first day of this baby’s life, with the amount of hours of labor and her name and weight. 115 “Likes” and 110 comments within six hours of this status posting! But for Facebook, I would have no idea where my former classmate lived, much less, have been able to participate in witnessing her marvelous pregnancy and the birth of her first very healthy child. This is the wonderful power of Facebook, and a big reason for why I confess I check in almost daily to see the “News Feed”. Many other wonderful pregnancies and births are going on, not to mention little children growing up before our eyes through Facebook photos…

So, the wonderful world of Facebook is truly a great way for people to see each other’s kids, and for aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents to participate in the lives of these children, no matter where they live.

There is also grade school, high school, college and graduate school classmates to keep in touch with so easily! In fact it turns out the most friends group people have is from high school…

The other great reason I like Facebook is to be able to casually post a photo of my latest art work, whether just a weekly scribble drawing or a more serious work in progress and get instant positive support! For us therapists, once we’ve navigated the issue of making sure we’ve looked carefully at our “privacy settings”, Facebook represents a place we can “let our hair down” and be people, as goofy and weird as we want to be…   Or you can figure out how to live comfortably with a professional and personal presence on Facebook by joining professional groups, starting your own Artist page or Therapist page or starting your own Professional group…

Of course there are many pitfalls and huge complicated issues that arise from Facebook. Sometimes the whole six degrees of separation thing means one has to block a friend’s friend because they are or were a patient. Or my patient comes in and says she saw my happy birthday post to my old supervisee who happened to be her supervisor recently. Not too big a deal, as it was a week where my profile picture was an artwork and not a private photo. The world of art therapy is small…

Far more difficult than privacy issues we therapists face, are the issues our patients are bringing in to therapy that often involve Facebook in some major way. First of all there are parents. Many parents are young enough that they want to be on Facebook for their own social reasons and secondarily to keep an eye out on their young adult children and get to “peek” into their lives. Some parents are on Facebook purely to peek into their young adult or even older adult children’s lives. Sometimes this isn’t too complicated and only requires the child “educating” their parent about Facebook parental etiquette. That means telling your parent, don’t make a comment on every one of my posts. In fact, try not to make your presence known at all on my posts and I won’t “block” you from seeing them. Simple instructions, followed well. Done.

Not so easy if Mom is using Facebook to spy on you. “What were you doing out so late partying when you called me earlier freaking out about your English paper due tomorrow?” and, “I thought you quit smoking (or insert “drinking”, “gambling”, etc? What’s up with that photo of you from last night? Woops. Forgot to set blocking Mom from that particular revealing photo…

“It’s Complicated” is actually a relationship status you can post to your profile and put the name of the complicated person you are in this mess with up next to it. Not a good idea if you’ve met each other’s parents and are on Facebook with all of them. Most difficult scenario with a parent is the following one. The said “child” over age 20 is going through messy breakup or even messy divorce. Suddenly that 2 am drunken weepy phone call to Mom late at night right after she dumped you by email is seeming like a really impulsive move now that it’s 6 weeks later (an eon in modern relationship breakups and makeups) and she has posted pictures of you together after you and your mom agreed she was the scum of the earth and had been mistreating you the whole time you were dating. Oops. So you go into therapy and talk to your therapist about how you decided to block your mom completely and defriend her and then she called you hysterically crying upset that you would treat her that way. Which one is more high maintenance now, the girl who took you for granted and dumped you and then realized she couldn’t live without you, putting you through torture, moodswings, extra therapy sessions and bad phone calls to your parents, or the mother who now is too thorouhly involved in your love life, such that you have to figure out in therapy how to manage her Facebook presence in your life without her knowing you are keeping her out of the loop so she doesnt call you again crying? And in between all that you had to confess in therapy that after your girlfiend dumped you, you checked her Facebook wall about twenty times a day to see if she was hanging out with other guys/girls or what she was doing. (There is a whole different post I need to write about cyber confessions in therapy — “I knew his password, so I broke into his emails and read them for a week to see what the hell was going on in his head after the breakup…”, “After that asshole blocked me from his Facebook and defriended me, I signed in to his page to spy on his Facebook wall and chats…” etc.)

With some patients, we have had to talk about Facebook addiction and treatment which involves “breaks” — take a day off where you aren’t allowed to go on Facebook at all. Take a week off going onto your partner’s or soon to be ex’s or ex’s page. No peeking at all.

Re-set the boundaries with mom and dad. Translates as, keep him or her as your Facebook friend but block him or her from all photos of your wonderful reuniting with the girl or guy that your parents never want you to mention much less see again. Yes you can manage each post and each photo separately, thus blocking mom from only the ones you don’t want her to see. The challenge in therapy now is beyond Facebook pages. How do you “delete” the 5 am crazy phone calls you made to mom or dad when you were ready to jump out the window from finding all the terrible things this “awful” relationship was putting you through while you secretly start over with the same person who has gone from awful to adorable love of your life again within the last month or two, or worse, you moved out and back in all within about 4 months time and can’t bear telling your parents because of their obvious and predictably bad reactions? And now you have to go home for the holidays and pretend to be still sad about it or deal with everyone in your family (yes, I forgot about grandpa and the siblings who know all about it and who have seen those new photos on Facebook of you back together.) Damage control first, arrange with all of them to keep it quiet and do not mention any of it to mom or dad during the holiday visit. Second, what do you do when you are baking with your mom and she starts casually asking if you’re meeting any new people, or if she found out, how do you steer her away from the topic of how you are throwing your life away in this relationship, how disappointed she is in your terrible choices, and worried sick as well. “And how could you even think of defriending me on Facebook!” she will definitely bring up, still hurt about it.

This is not dramatization. It happens all the time. As does the addiction to checking up on your too attractive boyfriend who gets too many likes on all his photos and comments… Jealousy redifined, or jealousy obsessions now have a new Face, and plenty of new places to find fuel for the jealousy.

The other Facebook therapy topic is just plain old addiction. Complaints of spending way too much time playing “Farmville” or some other Facebook game, or even worse, just spending countless hours on Facebook and not too sure what you were even doing. This one goes with other internet addictions, porn being a typical one. Almost worse than porn which at least involves some kind of “goal”, is the hours on the internet people spend and cannot account for and have no idea what they were doing, but one minute the computer was on and suddenly four or five hours of time has gone by and nothing to account for it. This usually happens when someone has a paper or thesis or work related activity due.

Which brings me to Facebook at the workplace. At a party recently, someone told me about a new form of work interview “prejudice”. That some people are complaining that at a job interview they were asked why they do not “do” Facebook, that there must be something wrong with them. I was astonished, but she had actually heard this from several people. This one goes with the big question, do you friend people you work with or your boss? Do you friend the babysitter? Are you Facebooking while at your workplace and do you do this on the sly or in full view of everyone?

Blocking, unfriending and defriending…Do you really want to stay friends with some ex from years ago? What about the friend you have stopped speaking to or the cousin you suddenly regret friending. Turns out according to a recent article in Huffington post,

“Offensive comments” and a lack of knowledge about a person are the top two reasons people unfriend on Facebook, according to NM Incite’s research. People were also more likely to be disturbed by the nature of the content friends shared, rather than the frequency of it: 23 percent said they unfriended people over “depressing comments” and 14 percent unfriended over “political comments,” while just 6 percent unfriended because someone had posted too frequently.

Wow. I was quite surprised, actually shocked. Nobody said they unfriended because they got in a fight with someone or broke up with someone, the two top reasons I would have guessed for unfriending. And what about obvious reason number 3, “Woops, I am so regretful that I friended Mom and Dad…” Why do people have such a low tolerance from a single depressing sentence in a Facebook status, when, last I checked, most close friends include long depressing phone calls, coffee, dinner or drink sessions, as a major part of friendship, that they know this Friend has been there when they were in tears, so of course they will be there for this Friend through countless depressing but worthwhile hours.

Another interesting topic is the content of status posts. Everyone on Facebook has at least one friend who posts just to say what s/he made, had for dinner or even put a photo in of the meal. In one case my gourmet friend posted several photos of the many courses of an elaborate meal and the menu; it went from the mundane to a work of art in progress to see this gourmet meal unfold. But there are those posts that sound like the person needs to let everyone know s/he just sneezed. What is involved in the psychology of the everyday ordinary aspects of life being “glorified” or at least expressed on the “news feed” of Facebook? Just raising the question…

There is also the Facebook “love/hate” relationship. One week you’re on and reading it daily and posting. Then suddenly something happens and you get a bout of  what I like to call “Faceebook overexposure”. “Suddenly I felt really weird and decided I hated Facebook and did not want to be on it, so I am leaving Facebook.” This is often accompanied by a goodbye post, which often sparks a lot of comments from friends suggesting/begging the person not to leave Facebook. Sometimes this is enough to get you hooked again. Or a week later, the soame person reports that s/he returned to Facebook, so easy to get back on with the sames profile and friends all saved and waiting for your re-conversion to Facebook. Some people treat Facebook like a messy on again off again relationship and then finally call it quits with it. There are other people who actually are totally internet savvy and may even have great websites and/or blogs or other internet presences who might even work in publishing or publicity or television other internet related fields who never go near Facebook. What kind of personality is completely immune to the Facebook bug. I have a few friends and relatives whose spouses are on Facebook but who themselves are not going to go near it.  And I cannot figure out any one characteristic that these people who share the Facebook allergy have in common. Someone’s got to do a survey on that topic: what makes a person immune to the magnetic pull of Facebook?

Yes, Facebook has become a therapy “topic” and is here to stay. Now it’s time for me to edit this post and then, of course, post the link to it first to Facebook and only after that, on LinkedIn…

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