Setting Boundaries: When Working with Clients
Social networking sites have become instruments of human interactions but can result in ethical dilemmas for the psychologist when working with clients, mainly when the delivery of the therapeutic service is governed by principles and code of conduct regarding such practices and behavior. Aside from the information that social media websites can provide about the client, online searches can provide the therapist with similar details that present the same ethical dilemmas (Taylor, McMinn, Bufford, & Chang, 2010). Also, the access to the profile can reveal records that can influence the decision of the therapist counselor regarding the methods and interventions. However, the implication of the use of technology when working with clients present several professional concerns that the principles and code of conduct that guides the actions of the therapist have yet to address (Harris &Robinson Kurpius, 2014). Therefore, the analysis of the events in the case study involving Dr. Arnold’s decision to conduct an online search would illustrate some of the issues that can create an ethical dilemma for the therapist and approaches that can be utilized for the prevention of these decision-making challenges.
In the case scenario, Dr. Arnold’s decision to conduct an online search of the teenager was due to her concern regarding the behavioral problems that client had displayed and warranted the consultation that the therapist provided to the juvenile court system. As an individual that was accused of the use of cyberstalking for his angry outburst and destructive behavior, the decision of the counselor, in this case, to conduct the online search was based on a genuine concern for her safety. For example, the client can use her details to perform a similar search of the personal information and use its acquisition to decide to harm the therapist. However, the principles and code of conduct of the American Psychologist Association regarding human interactions set boundaries that the therapist must observe to prevent her from violating its ethics. According to APA (2002), Section 3.10 of the guideline on informed consent mandates the psychologist to obtain informed consent from the client before conducting research or provide assessment, therapy, counseling, or consulting services through electronic means.
The analysis of this section of the principles for psychologists and code of conduct showed that first ethical issue is that Dr. Arnold is obligated to obtain an informed consent from the patient to conduct this type of research on this personality and behavior through the Internet (APA, 2002). It is one of the mandatory requirements of the profession that the psychologist must fulfill to avoid misconduct and its associated liabilities. For example, the informed consent form serves as the instrument to achieve this goal through the approval of the client. Privacy is the second ethical issue that would likely arise from the decision of the therapist in the scenario to search for the client’s details online since it might reveal information that the client might be unwilling to share with the therapist (Harrison et al., 2014). Although the service of Dr. Arnold was part of the proceedings in the juvenile court system, her actions are covered by the principles and the code of conduct on the role of informed consent during research for intervention.
Meanwhile, the evaluation of the actions of Dr. Arnold showed that the ethical violations can be prevented through evidence-based professional practices including the issuance of informed consent to the client (APA, 2002). In this context, the therapist would need to seek approval from either the court or the client through his parent, guardian, or attorney before conducting future online searches on the client. According to Harris and Robinson Kurpius (2014), the therapist is obligated to document the searches that have conducted without the consent of the client and inform the relevant authorities before proceeding to participant in the case. They further add that despite the justifications of the therapist for her actions, these steps are essential to prevent the ethical issues such as the bias towards the teenage client during clinical decision, which is also an example of harm to the patient. Therefore, the therapist is expected to discontinue the online search of the client’s details, document the current ones, and report the activity to relevant authorities before seeking informed consent to the continue the research on the teenager.
Furthermore, the assessment of the actions of the therapist in the case scenario showed that she exceeded the boundaries of her interactions with the client when she failed to obtain informed consent before conducting the research. Asay and Lal (2014) stated that the discovery of information from the social media profile of the client could have a significant impact on the therapeutic relationship between the individuals since the information on these sites are expected to be part of the assessment process. For example, the discovery of the methods that the teenager uses in engaging in his destructive behavior and aggression towards others can adversely impact the objective evaluation of the factors that are responsible for them during the performance of the consultancy service (Taylor et al., 2010). Therefore, the most appropriate steps that can be taken by Dr. Arnold in the future to prevent this ethical violation is the acquisition of the client’s approval for searching his online profiles on social networking sites through the search engines.
In conclusion, it is recommended that the therapist in the scenario implements a social networking policy that would explain the need for conducting an online search on the client before the beginning of the therapeutic relationship. Dr. Arnold can distribute this social media policy online to all the clients that access her services and use a platform to encourage them to ask questions before the commencement of the assessment and administration of the intervention. Finally, the social media policy can serve as the instrument for eliminating the ethical issues that might arise from informed consent and compromise of the client’s privacy and confidentiality.
American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 57(12), 1060-1073.
Asay, P. A., & Lal, A. (2014). Who’s Googled whom? Trainees’ Internet and online social networking experiences, behaviors, and attitudes with clients and supervisors. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 8(2), 105.
Harris, S. E., & Robinson Kurpius, S. E. (2014). Social networking and professional ethics: Client searches, informed consent, and disclosure. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(1), 11.
Taylor, L., McMinn, M. R., Bufford, R. K., & Chang, K. B. (2010). Psychologists’ attitudes and ethical concerns regarding the use of social networking web sites. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 41(2), 153.
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