Term of Award

Summer 2024

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Dorthie Cross

Committee Member 1

Ryan Couillou

Committee Member 2

Lindsey Stone


Social media use increased substantially in recent years, spurring the growth of research focused on its association with mental health. Previous research examined the relationship between positive and negative aspects of mental health and social media use. Other studies explored the relevance of social media to professional practice of psychologists including the use of social media to reach populations with limited access to mental health services and ethical dilemmas arising from social media use; however, there is limited understanding of the pertinence of social media to concerns that clients discuss in therapy and therapist competence in handling these discussions. The purpose of the current study was to explore therapists’ ethical decisions and clinical judgments, as well as to examine factors like therapist age and personal experience using social media. 122 mental health professionals and trainees completed a survey with four vignettes of social media-related ethical and clinical situations (searching client social media, sharing personal views on social media, responding to client being cyberbullied, responding to client getting unhealthy dieting advice on social media), as well as questionnaires examining their self-reported experiences, beliefs, knowledge, and skills about social media and experience talking with clients about social media. Results revealed that social media use was common in the sample, and there was a negative correlation between participant age and level of social media use and knowledge about social media. In addition, findings showed divergence of participants’ ethical decision-making from professional guidelines, with participants’ choosing responses that were more cautious than guidelines. Also, vignette responses about whether to search a client’s social media were more cautious than participants’ own self-reported actual behavior, and findings revealed differences in participants’ searching behaviors based on their level of social media use. Several items assessing participants’ social media experiences, beliefs, knowledge and skills were related to vignette responses about sharing advocacy content and incorporating social media in therapy activities. Results with clinical vignettes overall showed willingness to discuss social media with clients. These findings contribute to an underdeveloped research area and inform ethical and clinical education and training regarding social media.

Research Data and Supplementary Material