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Additional Ideas for Therapists' Statements
Regarding Googling, Social Media, and Emails

This page is part of an online course on Digital Ethics, offered by the Zur Institute, Inc. for CE credits.

 

Therapists may want to consider adding any of the statements below into their Office Policies (or Informed Consent) that they give clients prior or during the first session.

Examples Of Informed Consent Relating To Therapists Googling Their Clients

While there is no clear standard of care in regard to psychotherapists Googling their clients, many psychotherapists and ethicists emphasize the importance of informed consent.

Examples of the "Use of Search Engines" in the "Social Media Policies" statements that are part of the "Informed Consent," given to clients prior to the first session are:

  • At times I may Google my clients before the beginning of psychotherapy or during psychotherapy. If you have concerns or questions regarding this practice, please discuss it with me.
  • While my present or potential clients might conduct online searches about my practice and/or me, I do not search my clients on Google, YouTube, Facebook, other search engines or online social networking sites. If clients ask me to conduct such searches or review their web sites or profiles and I consider that it might be helpful, I will consider it.
  • It is NOT a regular part of my practice to search for clients on Google or Facebook or other search engines. Extremely rare exceptions may be made during times of crisis. If I have a reason to suspect that you are in danger and you have not been in touch with me via our usual means (coming to appointments, phone, or email) there might be an instance in which using a search engine (to find you, find someone close to you, or to check on your recent status updates) becomes necessary as part of ensuring your welfare. These are unusual situations and if I ever resort to such means, I will fully document it and discuss it with you when we next meet. (For a complete sample of Private Practice Social Media Policy by Dr. Kolmes, go to http://www.drkkolmes.com/docs/socmed.pdf .The complete sample is provided as article #27 in the Digital Ethics online course.)

Examples Of Informed Consent Relating Broad Range Of E-Mails, Digital Concerns And Social Networking

The following are example of relevant sections from Zur Institute sample of Office Policies and other Clinical Forms.

EMAILS, CELL PHONE, COMPUTERS AND FAXES:
Note: Make sure that this section reflect your setting, situation, and practices. It is very important to be aware that computers and unencrypted e-mail, texts, and e-faxes communication can be relatively easily accessed by unauthorized people and hence can compromise the privacy and confidentiality of such communication. E-mails, texts, and e-faxes, in particular, are vulnerable to such unauthorized access due to the fact that servers or communication companies may have unlimited and direct access to all e-mails, texts and e-faxes that go through them. While data on (therapist's name)’s laptop is encrypted, e-mails and e-fax are not. It is always a possibility that e-faxes, texts, and email can be sent erroneously to the wrong address and computers. (Therapist's name)’s laptop is equipped with a firewall, a virus protection and a password, and he backs up all confidential information from his computer on a regular basis onto an encrypted hard-drive. Also, be aware that phone messages are transcribed and sent to (therapist's name) via unencrypted e-mails. Please notify (therapist's name) if you decide to avoid or limit, in any way, the use of e-mail, texts, cell phones calls, phone messages, or e-faxes. If you communicate confidential or private information via unencrypted e-mail, texts or e-fax or via phone messages, will assume that you have made an informed decision, will view it as your agreement to take the risk that such communication may be intercepted, and he will honor your desire to communicate on such matters. Please do not use texts, e-mail, voice mail, or faxes for emergencies.

TELEPHONE & EMERGENCY PROCEDURES:
If you need to contact DR./Ms./Mr. xxx between sessions, please leave a message on the answering service (707) xxx-xxxx and your call will be returned as soon as possible. DR./Ms./Mr. xxx checks his messages a few times during the daytime only, unless he is out of town. If an emergency situation arises, indicate it clearly in your message and if you need to talk to someone right away call Psychiatric Emergency Services.(Santa Rosa): (707) xxx-xxxx, 24-hour crisis line (Sonoma): (707) xxx-xxx or the Police: 911. Please do not use e-mail or Faxes for emergencies. DR./Ms./Mr. xxx does not always check his e-mail or Faxes daily.

SOCIAL NETWORKING AND INTERNET SEARCHES:
At times I may conduct a web search on my clients before the beginning of therapy or during therapy. If you have concerns or questions regarding this practice, please discuss it with me. I do not accept friend requests from current or former clients on social networking site, such as Facebook. I believe that adding clients as friends on these sites and/or communicating via such sites is likely to compromise your privacy and confidentiality. For the same reason, I am requesting that clients do not communicate with me via any interactive or social networking web sites.

 
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