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, TEXTS, COMPUTERS AND FAXES:
Note: Make sure that this section reflects your setting, situation, and practice, as well as the laws in the state you are licensed in and practice in and your licensing board regulations. It is very important to be aware that computers and unencrypted emails, texts, and e-fax communications (which are part of the clinical records) can be rather easily accessed by unauthorized people and, hence, can compromise the privacy and confidentiality of such communications. Emails, 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 emails, texts and e-faxes that go through them. While data on (therapist’s name)’s laptop is encrypted, emails, texts and e-faxes are not. It is always a possibility that e-faxes, texts, and emails 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 emails. Please notify (therapist’s name) if you decide to avoid or limit, in any way, the use of email, texts, cell phones calls, phone messages, or e-faxes. If you communicate confidential or private information via unencrypted emails, texts or e-faxes or via phone messages, (therapist’s name) 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, emails, voice mails, or faxes for emergencies.
TELEPHONE & EMERGENCY PROCEDURES:
If you need to contact (therapist’s name) between sessions, please leave a message at the answering service (___) ___-____ and your call will be returned as soon as possible. (Therapist’s name) checks his/her messages a few times during the daytime only, unless s/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. (Your town): (___) ___-____, 24-hour crisis line (your town): (___) ___-____ or the Police: 911. Please do not use email or faxes for emergencies. (Therapist’s name) does not always check his/her email or faxes daily.
SOCIAL NETWORKING AND INTERNET SEARCHES:
At times, (therapist’s name) 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 them with me. I do not accept friend requests from current or former clients on social networking sites, such as Facebook. I believe that adding clients as friends on these sites and/or communicating via such sites can compromise their privacy and confidentiality. For this same reason, I request that clients not communicate with me via any interactive or social networking web sites.