Why Bother to Comment on the APA’s Guidelines for the Practice of Telepsychology?

APA's Telepsychology GuidelinesAPA Telepsychology Task Force has released its draft of Telepsychology Guidelines, and is asking for public comment.

When I served the APA’s Committee on Professional Practice Standards (COPPS) from 1998-2000 as their Telehealth Lead, part of our focus was to develop the APA’s “Guideline for Guidelines.” From that perspective, I am heartened to see the diligent effort put forth by these Task Force members. They have completed an thorough review of the relevant literature, which is the foundation for any good guideline. We then can trust that the guideline can serve as a valuable distillation of the current scientific literature.

Nonetheless, if you have any interest in expanding your work online, I strongly encourage you to take the time to respond to the APA’s request for public comment.

Why Bother to Comment?

As we describe in our courses at the TeleMental Health Institute, adherence to guidelines is not mandatory. Guidelines are suggestions. However, many professional association members may not realize that guidelines nonetheless can be used against you in a court of law by legal counsel for anyone suing you.

In other words, anyone suing you probably will hire an attorney who will cross-examine you about why you chose to ignore guidelines published by the professional associations to which you belong. If you have documented your rationale, you most likely will prevail. Without such documentation, you are treading in might be at undue risk.

If an association doesn’t publish guidelines for your particular area of specialization, you might actually be safer than if they do. One guaranteed way to sidestep any such liability is to abandon your membership to associations that promulgate guidelines that you consider unacceptable or impractical. However, that isn’t a long term solution, especially not if you care about your profession as well as yourself.

The best way to preserve our profession in the long term is to join the colleagues who share our disciplines, speak from our respective perspectives and work within our associations to meet our shared and changing needs. In fact, many of us working in technology and mental health have been working with a large group of telehealth leaders to advance a new division at the APA to develop a technology group focused exclusively on technology and psychology at the APA.

I therefore urge you to join me in responding to the Task Force’s request for feedback. Task Force members are dedicated psychologists who want the input of both the public and other psychologists who are using technology. If you disagree with any part of the draft, take an hour out of your busy schedule and speak up while you have a chance. You may have a different view, given your client/patients, your training, your circumstances. Their deadline for comments is October 26, 2012.

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