Jun 24 2009

The Ethics of Telephone and Email Therapy

Telephone/email therapy and other types of non-office communication with clients raises many ethical and legal questions.

The questions include:

  • the ability to accurately assess and diagnose
  • formulate and implement an appropriate treatment plan
  • respond to urgent needs, intervene when someone may be severely depressed and suicidal
  • ensure confidentiality (do you really know if someone isn’t listening on another phone?)
  • the therapist does not expose themselves to practicing without a license if they counsel someone who lives in a different state

When the telephone therapist has never met the client who lives 3000 miles away, does not really know the setting in which the client is using telephone or email systems, it might be nearly impossible to adequately guarantee the telephone therapy appropriately meets the client’s needs.

I had a personal experience with this when I first created my website several years ago. I advertised on google and mistakenly advertised to the entire country.

I began getting phone calls and emails from concerned and prospective clients across the country.

I quickly contacted them and told them I would help them get connected with therapists in their zipcode. I did this while making it clear I was not able to help them via telephone or electronic media.

Of course, I changed my advertising to local and have since stopped advertising on the internet altogether, so it has not been a problem.

While telephone and email therapy is an emerging issue, using existing ethical quidelines will help any therapist considering practice in this area.

For a link to an excerpt in a book on ethics which addresses this specific issue, click here.

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