This article is part of an online course: Digital and Social Media Ethics for Psychotherapists for 8 CE credits
DeeAnna Merz Nagel posted an entry today on the American Counseling Association’s blog entitled Is it okay to “Google” your client?. This is a great question, and a timely one, as it seems to be coming up with more frequency in both my professional circles and in my conversations with others who are using social media. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed by a journalist who was writing a piece on the issue of therapists Googling their clients.
I’m reposting my comments from the ACA blog below.
These questions have been coming up frequently with trainees and colleagues with whom I consult. I believe that if you are a therapist who is using Google to obtain additional information about your clients, then this needs to be formally integrated into informed consent and become an explicit part of your treatment agreement.
Googling clients or reading their blogs without their awareness is a subtle way of entering into a multiple role with them. The APA Ethics Code cautions us against entering into multiple relationships which can impair our objectivity, competence, and effectiveness in our primary role as psychologists. While it may not seem obvious on the surface, consider how doing these things invites us to be voyeurs, investigators, or audiences to our clients outside of their sessions with us.
In my work with clients, I obtain consent when I’m going to share (or collect) information from a third party. As I recently shared in a Twitter conversation on this topic, I think that the internet is now becoming a sort of third party, with additional client data becoming so easily accessible.
I like Kate Anthony’s comment above about Googling clients being like following them home. The example I often give is that of donning a disguise and following them to a bar where you can secretly observe their behavior. It is one matter if a client invites you to view their online content and it becomes integrated into the clinical conversation in some way. But it is an entirely different matter if we do this on our own, without the client’s awareness. I expect that these types of boundary issues on the internet will soon be addressed by ethics codes.
To add to my comment, I appreciate Nagel’s recognition that there may be some circumstances in which it makes sense to use Google in your work with your client perhaps as part of helping her understand her online presence. This, of course, would be a consensual and negotiated clinical application of an internet search in the therapy relationship. I also agree with her that collecting this information without explicitly making it part of the clinical conversation potentially places the clinician in a quandary about what to do with the information. Will it get used in the therapy? Will the clinician keep it to herself but use it to inform clinical impressions and diagnoses?
Today on Twitter, Dr. David Ballard asked if anyone had questions for Dr. Stephen Behnke, American Psychological Association’s Ethics Director about psychologists’ use of social media. My question was whether new ethical guidelines are being developed for integrating social media into practice of psychology? I imagine the answer is yes, and I’m hoping that Google searches are one of the issues that will be addressed in social media policies and future drafts of our APA Ethics Code.
Chamberlain, J. (2010, May) Is it ever OK for a therapist to snoop on clients online? Retrieved June 14, 2009 from http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/features/2010/client-searches.aspx
Nagel, D.M. (2009, June 25) Is it Okay to “Google” Your Client? Retrieved June 25, 2009 from http://my.counseling.org/2009/06/25/is-it-okay-to-%E2%80%9Cgoogle%E2%80%9D-your-client/
Scarton, D. (2010, March 30) Google and Facebook raise new issues for therapists and their clients. [Electronic version]. Washington Post. Retrieved March 30, 2010 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/29/AR2010032902942.html?hpid=moreheadlines
Zur, O. (2010, April 27) To Google or Not to Google…Our Clients? Retrieved May 11, 2010 from http://www.zurinstitute.com/blogs/index.php?blogid=15
© 2009 Keely Kolmes, Psy.D.
To cite this page: Kolmes, K. (2009) The Google question: Should therapists Google their clients? Retrieved month/day/year from http://drkkolmes.com/2009/06/26/the-google-question-should-therapists-google-their-clients/.