Digital Ethics 101

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

Is it OK for therapists to Google their clients? What is an appropriate response to a “Friend Request” from a client? Once we go beyond the initial negative responses, such as “Never!” or “It is unethical!”, we realize that these questions are complex and are among the hottest issues in the 21st century emerging field of Digital Ethics.

Please review our short introduction and some strong and varied opinions on the topic in our To Google or Not To Google article.

Examples of Informed Consent Statements Relating to Internet Searches

Following Dr. Marsha Linehan’s development of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), many clinicians breathed a collective sigh of relief. Finally, an effective approach to the treatment of this complex Personality Disorder was in hand.

While there is no clear standard of care in regard to psychotherapists Googling their clients, many psychotherapists and ethicists emphasize the importance of informed consent. Following are three examples of the “Use of Search Engines” in the “Social Media Policies” statements that are part of the “Informed Consent,” which are given to clients prior to the first session. These examples may help you formulate your own. Each example represents a different approach or attitude towards the issue:

  • At times I may Google my clients before the beginning of psychotherapy or during psychotherapy. If you have concerns or questions regarding this practice, please discuss it with me.
  • I neither search for clients on Internet search engines, such as Google, nor search my clients’ Social Networking profiles, such as Facebook, unless there is an acute crisis which involves safety issues.
  • While my present or potential clients might conduct online searches regarding my practice and/or me, I do not search my clients on Google, YouTube, Facebook, other search engines or online social networking sites. If clients ask me to conduct such searches or review their web sites or profiles, and I assess that it might be helpful, I will consider it.

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