Let me introduce you to Kelly. She’s spent a lot of time, money and effort training to be a therapist, has offered her services for free for a while and now feels ready to step into private practice.
Like most people, dipping her toe into the unknown feels a little daunting, but the desire to help people is greater than her fear, so she pushes herself out of her comfort zone and starts the marketing process.
One day, she is shocked to see negative comments on her Facebook Page.
Eek! What now?
For many therapists just being on social media is an achievement. Being visible in business is a must you - can't be a counsellor if no one knows you're there!
But it can feel uncomfortable, especially when just starting out.
You may worry what people will think of you, or worry what people will say about you.
Sometimes Imposter Syndrome may rear it’s ugly head (read more about Imposter Syndrome here) and you’re struck down with a fear that you'll be uncovered as the fraud you are and that you don't really know what you're talking about (all rubbish, of course!).
Or you may have a general lack of confidence and a feeling of not being good enough.
However, you want to make your practice work, so you step outside your comfort zone and do it.
YAY! Well done you!
But then someone leaves a negative comment on your Facebook Page.
Maybe they're not happy that they have to pay for therapy, or maybe they say that counselling doesn't work.
And there you have it, your biggest fear jumping up and slapping you clean around the face.
That’s what happened for Kelly: someone was unhappy that private counselling isn't free.
And this is especially hard for us, because as private practitioners many of us feel that frustration - we want to help as many people as possible no matter what their income, and we know that sometimes the reality is that people without the income to pay for private therapy just don’t get the help they need.
This can feed into your own worries about charging people, and about whether we you're worth the money (you are).
Negative comments are hard to take at any time in any situation.
But to have somebody say something publicly on your social media that questions your motives is frustrating, because all the counsellors I know are moral, ethical and caring and work very hard to enable positive change in clients.
So here are some ways for you to handle the situation.
Unless the negative comment is a complaint from a client then it won't be about you personally.
Social media makes it easy for people to write things they wouldn't dream of saying in person, which means they’re more likely to express negative thoughts or take out any anger inappropriately.
Sometimes they don't even see you as a person - you're just a name on a screen and they forget that you're a real person with feelings.
So if they're expressing anger, then it's anger at a situation rather than at you personally
Therefore a comment about private practice therapy being expensive or elitist isn’t a personal reflection on you, its frustration at the situation.
It may be tempting to ignore the comment but that's not the right thing to do.
As with any comments on social media, aim to reply as quickly as possible.
Ignoring the comment can make the situation worse - if the reader feels ignored or dismissed they will feel more angry.
You may feel hurt, upset, angry or all 3 by a negative comment on your social media account and that's normal.
However it is vital that you remain professional in the way you respond. Remember, other people will be able to see what’s said
I recommend using the person's name when you respond to a negative comment.
It reassures them that you are a real person and that you're valuing their opinion even if it's difficult to hear.
So use their first name, and sign off with your first name for example ‘Hi Sam thank you for your comment. [short reply]. Take care, Jane’
It can be very tempting to justify yourself, for example if somebody objects to paying for counselling you might feel tempted to explain your running costs, or the cost of training, or the benefits people will receive.
But by being defensive you are opening a conversation when you want to close the conversation down.
That said, not all comments need a response, in which case the best way to deal with them is to hide the comment. Do this as early as you possibly can.
It may be tempting to delete the comment but again but is more likely to inflame the person that left the comment and make things escalate
Although I don't recommend deleting people's comments, if you’re unlucky enough to have someone trolling you i.e. deliberately trying to wind you up just for the fun of it, don't be afraid to delete them so they can’t comment on your page.
You don't have to put up with that negativity. No one does.
You may be lucky enough to never have a negative comment on your Facebook Page. However for most people this is something that can crop up occasionally, so by thinking about it in advance you can think about ways you might want to respond.
If you feel concerned or shaken up, or have been adversely affected by a comment on your social media you don't keep it to yourself.
Talk to a friend or your supervisor. The Grow Your Private Practice Facebook group is the perfect place to go if you need to get some reassurance or vent your anger, or for somewhere more private, the Grow Your Private Practice Club
So what can Kelly do?
If I were Kelly and had a negative comment on my Facebook Page, I'd reply as soon as I could to say:
'Hi [name], thank you for your comment. I understand your frustration. However, anyone needing to access therapy can find free or low cost options in their local area. Take care, Jane'
So if you get a negative comment on your Facebook Page don't panic! It's not personal, and you can totally handle it!
Jane lives in beautiful Lincoln with her 2 boys and rescue dog. When she's not talking about herself in the third person, she's usually found with her feet up and eating Maltesers. Sometimes she even shares them with friends.