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3 Comments

  1. Megan
    March 22, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

    I want to add my two cents to the discussion of therapists looking at client’s profiles.

    On more than one occasion, I’ve heard from individuals who have suffered greatly from therapists snooping on client’s social media.

    With the vast availability of information online about any particular person, it becomes easy, and often unavoidable in most situations.

    Yet there is a problem that is cropping up more and more.

    If you google “clients that stalk therapist,” you will find a wealth of information relating to how clients overstep boundaries in the therapeutic relationship.

    Accusation include: looking up therapist online to get information, trying to add a therapist as a friend on facebook, twitter, google, etc, writing negative reviews online about the therapist, or becoming romantically attached to them and stalking them online.

    If you turn around and google, “therapists who stalk clients online,” you see how this subject hasn’t been as extensively broached.

    The possibility for a therapist (who after all, is human) to overstep the therapeutic relationship by snooping on clients online is a huge concern for many people I talk to. Yet the focus is always on how patients are unhealthy and how therapist only use it as a tool in therapy.

    There is an inherent power inequality in therapy. This can be used in healthy ways. On the flipside: this can be used in unhealthy ways-but a problem still exists.

    Therapist, because they know a considerable amount about psychology due to education and training, are often able to camouflage their unhealthy behavior when dealing with clients.

    I am not saying all therapists do this, or that all therapists are bad. There are many professional and helpful therapists who do have the clients best interest at heart. The world is not black and white.

    What I am saying is, what I am finding out more and more is that therapists have the ability to snoop or stalk clients online under the pretense of being helpful ( or having the clients best interest at heart) all the while engaging in unhealthy collection of information online…without the client’s knowledge…and knowing exactly how to document this in the notes to not be held accountable.

    It would be foolish to assume that client’s stalk therapist online, yet believe that it’s not possible for therapist to do the same to a client’s online.

    it is because of this power inequality, and dilemma…that I strongly encourage a set of strict and explicit rules regarding the use of online information about client’s. I agree, that there may be situations that warrant snooping without client knowledge. I also agree, that abuse of this ability may be happening as we speak, and is hurting vulnerable clients.

    Therapist who are asked by clients to read online information for help is appropriate.

    Therapists who first obtain (explicit) permission from a client to look at information online to help a client is appropriate. Explicit meaning-that it was verbally brought up in therapy in the form of a question, and was agreed upon by the client ahead of time.

    Notice-this does not include implicit agreement through legal contract that involves client signature before starting therapy.

    Snooping on clients online, without explicitly informing them, and without having a darn good reason for doing so (that includes loss of life or abuse) is EXTREMELY unethical. This should be addressed appropriately.

    Like I’ve said, I’ve heard some disturbing stories, and have experienced it first hand. As professionals, it is a duty to look into how those behaviors could be undermining the therapy relationship.

    Reply

    • drkkolmes
      March 23, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

      Dear Megan,

      You may find, of interest, my recent paper with Dan Taube, Ph.D., J.D. on psychotherapist’s viewing the online information of their clients. It also references a number of studies that have been done on clinicians who view their patient’s information. You can find a copy, for free, at this link: https://drkkolmes.com/docs/kolmestaubepprp2012.pdf

      You’ll also be happy to know that we are about to attempt to publish our paper on psychotherapy patients who have sought out their psychotherapist’s information online. It was extremely rare that this was a case of stalking or that it came from anything other than curiosity, although clients expressed a range of feelings about having looked, and some did experience discomfort.

      I agree with you that the power imbalance is an extremely important distinction and that most clients are genuinely seeking professional information and may be surprised by personal information they find. Clinicians who are using this to supplement their assessment or diagnosis absolutely (in my opinion) should be informing clients they are doing this, and it would be best done as a collaborative process.

      Thank you for your comments!

  2. Megan
    April 1, 2014 @ 5:08 pm

    Thank you so much for the paper, and your work. I found it very interesting, and comforting to some extent… in the fact that for years I thought I was the only person who had experienced this.

    Reply

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