Monday, February 25, 2013
Who’s Googling Whom?
An old patient wrote to me and said that she pre-ordered my book and couldn’t wait to read it. I assumed - actually incorrectly in this case - that she had found out about the book by googling me. It started me thinking again about the whole question of googling.
There was a time before Google existed – yes, there actually was such a time – that therapists assumed patients came in knowing nothing about them and vice versa. Then came Google. Initially, therapists felt violated and intruded upon if their patients looked them up. Now they’re more resigned. Information is available to everyone and anyone in a matter of seconds. There’s no escaping it.
So what does all this ready-made information mean for me and for patients? Should I assume that every patient googles me? Should I ask? I certainly can’t assume that a patient would necessarily tell me if he or she had looked me up or what questions the Google search might have raised.
I have a patient I’ve seen for quite some time who is always online. I’ve wanted to ask him if he’s googled me. But I’ve hesitated. If he hasn’t, would it put the thought in his head? For this particular patient I think googling me could be problematic. Although the truth is if he has googled me and hasn’t told me, that’s even more problematic.
And then there’s the opposite question, should a therapist google her patients? Should she google every new patient before she sees them? Should she google her existing patients? I’m actually quite clear about this side of the equation. For me, the answer is a resounding “no.” I believe that it is important for me to see the world through my patients’ eyes. I don’t want information that they haven’t yet told me. I don’t want to have a secret about their secret. I don’t want to wait breathlessly every session hoping they’ll tell me they’ve been married six times or that they were in a porn movie when they were sixteen. I want to discover my patients’ histories through their own words.
That’s not to say, however, that I’ve never had to fight against the temptation. In the early years of one patient’s analysis, I found myself thinking frequently about googling her. But I resisted, thinking instead about why this was a problem for me with this particular patient. Yes, she was particularly interesting, maybe even somewhat famous, but that didn’t seem a sufficient explanation. I’d had many interesting and sort of famous patients before. Then I realized it was because I felt that there was so much this patient wasn’t telling me. As time progressed, as she became more able to reveal herself in her sessions, my desire to google her completely vanished.
And maybe that’s why patients can be so invested in googling therapists. There is so much they don’t know, so much they want to know. All they have to do is log onto Google and type in their therapist’s name and their curiosity is satisfied.
What are your thoughts? Do you want to know more about your therapist? Do you Google your patients? I’d be interested in hearing your responses.