5 Ways to be a Better Therapist for Clients that are Online and App Dating

Jeff Guenther on Aug 25, 2019

I can confidently say that 90% of my clients have used or are using online and app dating services. It’s the modern way to meet people. I used OkCupid before I met my wife. I dabbled with Match just a bit as well. But I never got to use the apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge. And I’m kinda jealous of my clients who get to swipe right and left while looking for love. However, I also have a front row seat for how much distress and neurosis it can cause. Even though I’m well equipped to help clients navigating the bumpy emotional terrain of app dating, I still feel like I could use some helpful tips (who couldn’t, right?).

This week I talked to Karel Chan, LPC on my podcast Say More About That. She is an authority on helping her clients feel empowered while online and app dating. During the interview, we talk about the dos and don’ts of online dating, how to remain guarded but not too guarded, how to manage expectations, how to handle being ghosted, what to do if a client finds their therapist on an app and so much more. You can listen to the podcast by clicking play below or going to Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Below are five tips (out of many) from the podcast that I found helpful. I think every therapist should integrate these suggestions into their practice if they see clients who are online dating. Which I would imagine is 99% of us.

Fully buy in and be positive

One of my favorite things that Karel says in the podcast, and what’s really the driving theme, is that if you’re going to online date, then you should really embrace it with a positive belief system. So many of my clients create profiles that are half filled out and not fully representational of who they are. Maybe they created the profile in desperation. Maybe it was filled out as a joke. Maybe shame is getting in the way of proudly displaying who they truly are. Whatever the case, if you half ass it, you probably won’t get very good results. So I like to ask my clients if they are being serious about their online profile and if they have joined the services out of inspiration. Because if fear and anxiety was the driving force, then we need to get to the bottom of that if they really want to give online dating a fair shake. Therapists should try to help their clients figure out if they are really buying in so that they can get the results they want.

Be guarded but not super guarded

Karel also talks about the tricky balance between having thick skin and not taking things too personal while also being open to finding love and developing an authentic connection. Online dating is filled with rejection. No matter who you are, there will always be some people that are going to pass by your profile and reject you no matter what. It happens to all of us. Some people might be brutally honest, or just downright mean, when they reject you. When this happens, it’s important to not take things personally and understand that this is normal. But if you’re so guarded that you can’t even trust someone who is giving you a compliment because you’re too afraid you’ll be let down, well you may want to unpack that a bit so that you can try to be open to real connection. Therapists should help clients find ways to be resilient during negative experiences and more open and trusting during positive ones.

You’re gonna get ghosted. Deal with it.

Ghosting is when you connect with someone online or in person and then they disappear and never contact you again. Poof! They’ve turned into a ghost. Whether it’s messed up or not, ghosting is a big part of online dating culture. It’s just easier to not get back to someone and move on to someone else or delete the app altogether. It’s important for therapists to talk to their clients about ghosting and how they plan to handle it. In the podcast, I tell Karel about a time I got ghosted and all the negative stories I came up with when I tried to figure out why it happened. Karel does a good job of reframing ghosting as having more to do with the ghoster instead of the ghostee. It’s important for therapists to frame this common phenomenon as a normal symptom of app dating that usually has nothing to do with the person getting rejected. It’s pointless to come up with a negative story when you can reframe it and move on.

When to meet in person

So many of my clients obsess over when to move from messaging online to meeting in real life. I wanted Karel to give me an official time of how long you should wait before meeting in person, but she wouldn’t. And that’s because there is no official amount of time before you should meet face to face. She recommends meeting in person with someone when you authentically feel like meeting them. And I like that advice. It’s liberating not to obsess over when you should ask to meet up. If you ask someone to meet and it’s too soon for them they’ll say so or maybe it just won’t work out. And maybe that means you’re a person who likes to meet sooner rather then later. That’s good to know about yourself. You should try to match with someone that feels the same way. Therapists can help their clients answer the question of when to meet in person by asking the client to honestly check in with themselves and follow their heart if they want to meet in real life. And if your client asks too early or too late then it probably wasn’t a good match to begin with.

Should therapists tell their clients that they are online dating too?

Karel encourages therapists to tell clients that they are app dating on a case by case basis. It depends on how much self-disclosure therapists feel comfortable with. Personally, I am a therapist that feels more okay with self-disclosure and I would tell a client that I was online if the client told me they were online dating as well. I think it’s similar to telling a new client that I might run into them if we live or work in the same neighborhood. I don’t want it to be a surprise if we bump into each other and I also want to let them know that I’ll be ignoring them whether or not I see them in person or on an online dating site. So if you’re a therapist you may want to send a friendly warning that your client might come across your profile. And because of that, you may want to be thoughtful about what you put on your dating profile.

While you’re here…

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Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.

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