The client-therapist relationship is one of the most well-established and important components of modern practice, and many professionals feel very strongly about their duty to preserve confidentiality and confine the relationship to discussions held during sessions. Yet in the digital age, when people are increasingly prone to looking up new contacts online in a quest for information or personal background, many therapists, counselors, and other professionals in the field may be engaging in online searches performed on their clients, an issue discussed in full in a recent paper produced at Harvard University.
The paper, which doesn’t cite any specific statistics on the number of therapists who may be taking part in the practice, but which estimates that over half of the professional population may well be involved, questions the ethical viability of Googling clients. Some therapists may feel that getting as much information about a client as possible is important for providing good work, and may also search for potentially helpful data on past violence or other legal problems. But many professionals, especially those with a classical idea of the therapist-client relationship, are likely to be turned off by the idea of this digital “breach,” though still others may feel that such searches are okay either with the client’s consent or in their presence.
The paper questions whether understanding the physical, rather than the psychic, reality of the patient’s world is really critical for providing adequate care, and speculates about whether the obtaining of undisclosed information may interfere with the worldview presented by the client during sessions. A complex issue being discussed in-depth for what may be the first time, client Googling is raising many voices throughout the fields of psychology and psychiatry, with advocates on either side of the spectrum. Whether Googling will become more accepted or be shunned by the community entirely remains to be seen.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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