The New Ethical Frontier of Psychological Ethics:
Digital Ethics for Therapists
Clinical Update February 2017
By Zur Institute
Many experts argue, and for good reason, that telemental health is undeniably the way of the future.The Internet and social networking are offering numerous new clinical opportunities as well as presenting us with new ethical challenges, especially for those who choose to provide telemental health or online therapy. The new challenges include extra-therapeutic online contacts between therapists and their clients, such as interaction on Facebook and Twitter, as well as communications via e-mail, videos and texting. Of course, security and privacy issues are paramount to telemental health. Questions also arise regarding what distinguishes personal from professional activities online. Without a doubt telemental health requires developing policies or informed consent related to online behaviors and interactions.
Conducting telemental health also introduces distinct concerns in regard to confidentiality, privacy, multiple relationships, visibility or self-disclosure for both clients and clinicians. We are also seeing some new research trends regarding clinicians and clients seeking out or stumbling upon one another’s information online.
Our revised continuing education course on Digital and Social Media Ethics provides a framework for understanding how existing ethics codes apply to our digital lives and behaviors. It provides a grounding in presenting one’s self ethically and professionally online. It also helps clinicians understand how they can address issues before they occur by creating policies that can be shared as part of informed consent.
This course will teach the participant to:
- Describe social media and summarize several popular social media sites and services;
- Distinguish between one’s personal and professional activities on the Internet;
- Identify the ethical challenges that may arise from engaging in activities on the Internet;
- Develop strategies for minimizing risk of ethical violations on the Internet;
- Appraise their use of e-mail, record-keeping, and mobile computing devices to prevent confidentiality breaches; and
- Construct a social media policy for one’s office to address potential boundary issues with clients.
- Review the different approaches and attitudes towards social networking between therapists and clients.
- Discuss the relevant ethical issues as they pertain to therapists’ web sites and social networking profiles.