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Thesis

The ethical implications of email and psychotherapy

8 May 2012

Abstract

As technology continues to advance and proliferate, clinical psychologists and similar health professionals are faced with new and complex ethical considerations. In 2002, the American Psychological Association (APA) revised their Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. At the time of revision, only a small portion of the APA Ethics Code included guidelines regarding the use of technology. A comprehensive review of the literature indicates the need for greater acknowledgment of the impact of technology on the field of professional psychology, and underscores the necessity of establishing such standards as a means of ensuring beneficence and non-malfeasance. This literature review focuses on two domains of concern. First, synchronous and asynchronous communication should be explored further. Synchronous communication is instantaneous and includes mediums such as instant messaging and videoconferencing. Alternatively, asynchronous mediums such as email and text messaging have an inherent time delay. For this reason there are ethical considerations unique to client-therapist interactions occurring at different points in time. Secondly, more information is needed to better understand the benefits and limitations of computer-mediated psychotherapy. Areas that are typically of concern in psychotherapeutic practice include competence, confidentiality, informed consent, boundaries, record keeping, and the duty to warn and protect. Each of these areas warrant greater attention relevant to computer-mediated delivery and are explored in this literature review. Areas for future research are also identified.


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