Ethical Concerns with Cyber-Psychology

Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past several decades, affording clinicians the opportunity to provide services in more unique and far reaching way ways than ever before. However, these advancements have not come without risk. “Unfortunately, professional psychologists have also identified a number of disadvantages associated with the increased use of technology in psychological practice, including difficulties in managing electronic database and communication security, unauthorized access to client data, inappropriate disclosures of identifying information, and unethical interactions in the social-media context,” said Jason Van Allen of the Clinical Child Psychology Program at the University of Kansas. “To further complicate matters, regulatory, ethical, and legal standards in psychology are not advancing at the same rate as technological advances. This technological adoption and infrastructure mismatch is associated with a variety of potential challenges and concerns (e.g., psychologists operating without guidance from the professional organizations or with a consensus of the professional community).”

In order to identify how compromised ethical and regulatory guidelines have become with cyber-psychotherapy, Van Allen surveyed 28 psychologists and assessed their responses to virtual conditions using the Critical Incident Technique (CIT). “Overall, survey responses suggest a variety of technology-related concerns among practicing psychologists,” said Van Allen. “Responses were frequently associated with inappropriate access and/or dissemination of client data, and challenges with the use of social media.”

The American Psychological Association is aware of these concerns, but has yet to issue its own guidelines for ensuring client confidentiality and ethical adherence in a virtual world. “Overall, responsibility for ethical and professional integration of technology in practice lies with individuals,” said Van Allen. “Although psychology governance can do more (and is taking initial steps at this time) to provide guidance, psychologists would benefit from assessing the security of their electronic communications, from establishing social-media policies for themselves or their organizations, and from proactively weighing the risks and benefits each time they consider incorporating new technologies in their professional activities.”

Van Allen, Jasono, and Michael C. Roberts. “Critical Incidents in the Marriage of Psychology and Technology: A Discussion of Potential Ethical Issues in Practice, Education, and Policy.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 42.6 (2011): 433-39. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Leilani


    December 24th, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    To think that these sortys of concerns are just now popping up are amazing to me. Have we all not been worried for some time now about the kind of info that is so readily accessible for others to see online. And add to this info about our mental states-news like this could be so harmful for some if it were to evr get out nd be shared! Think about employment ramifications, even the damage that it could do to personal relationships. I do not want any information about me shared online, and I think that more and more others are going to begin to feel the same way.

  • Karl


    December 24th, 2011 at 7:13 PM

    I am concerned that someone would be offering treatment to me via the internet. I have to be able to sit down and talk with someone face to face before I would be ready to give them that kind of impact on my life. I don’t like this at all. Sometimes when things seem too good to be true or to easy then that probably means that they are.

  • sheila


    December 25th, 2011 at 8:48 AM

    But you know that this is the direction that everything is taking today. If you can’t get down with the use of technology and the reality that it is here to stay, then I think that the future is going to hold some tough realities for you.’

    And think of how much more accessible online therapy and counseling makes getting therapy to those in need. There are some people who may not have help in their neck of the woods, or may be too scared to leave the house. But to find this available to them online is something that will help them tremendously.

  • Therese


    December 26th, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    These concerns are nothing new but in the same respect they are not going to go away. I have a feeling though that much of this online is a trend, somethink that it is the next greatest thing and they will soon find out that it isn’t, that success rates are not the same so this will fall out of favor. I know that we just have to hope that it will fall out of favor before it does more harm than good.

  • Lottie


    December 27th, 2011 at 5:34 AM

    how would you know that the person you have foubd on the internet is the real deal?

  • Q.D


    December 27th, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    I don’t think its too much of a threat,the issues we come across here.Yes,technological advancement has given a lot of benefits and yes it is not perfect either.But it sure has bigger positives than negatives.

    Of what use is my medical data to someone who doesn’t even know who I am?!

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