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Canadian Psychological Association Code of Ethics as Applied to Online Therapy

Have you been told that we don’t yet have guidelines for legal or ethical practice online? Nothing could be further from the truth. If you are yearning for solid research looking at ethics in telemental health or online therapy, I strongly encourage you to read the recently published article in a special issue of “Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne” (vol. 52, #3).

Code of EthicsThe journal issue offers 12 articles about the Canadian Psychological Association Code of Ethics and its assumptions, applications, international influence. One of those articles is about technology. The author cites some of the most highly respected and influential research and theory in telemental health and online counseling or online therapy.  His article is excerpted below by Ken Pope.

I’d suggest that you use this particular article as a quick and handy “road map” for ethics. If you plan to work in this field, you may want to not only read this article, but also read the articles this summary article cites and other work by these authors.  (Our own Online Clinical Practice Management (OCPM) model is cited several times in the original article, and is offered at the TeleMental Health Institute training as a shorthand for those practitioners who want to learn the basic rules and regulations quickly and easily.)*


New technology, old issues: Demonstrating the relevance of the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists to the ever-sharper cutting edge of technology

Nicholson, Ian R.

Abstract: “New technology brings with it new opportunities for the practice of our profession. However, this technology is also a double-edged sword in that it can also cause problems for our profession and those we serve. The Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists (3rd edition) provides a foundation for approaching the issues that can arise in its use.

It is argued that psychologists need not wait for specific rules and guidelines regarding the ethical use of new technologies; rather, psychologists can utilize the Canadian Code of Ethics for Psychologists immediately to address many of the issues involved. There is a wide range of areas in which ethical issues can arise. The focus in this paper is on three specific examples (online personal information accessibility, web-based advertising, and electronic data storage).

These examples illustrate both the ethical issues involved and demonstrate the potential for how the Code can be used to think through and manage or resolve the issues. After a discussion of the three examples, the ongoing relevance of the Code to meeting the ethical challenges of continuously evolving technologies is discussed.”

Excerpt: “One topic that has had considerable attention is online counselling, also known as e-therapy or telepsychology (e.g., Barnett & Scheetz, 2003; Kanani & Regehr, 2003; Marks & Cavanagh, 2009; Rummell & Joyce, 2010).

However, many other topics can be found, such as computerized online test scoring services (Fisher & Fried, 2003), e-mail teleconsultations (Bergus, Emerson, Reed, & Attaluri, 2006; Car & Sheikh, 2004), searching online for client information (i.e., “Googling your client”; Clinton, Silverman, & Brendel, 2010), online client discussion groups (Humphreys, Winzelberg, & Klaw, 2000), the use of online psychological assessments (Butcher, Perry, & Hahn, 2004; Naglieri et al., 2004), the management of negative reviews published online through provider-rating sites (Luo & Smith, 2011), e-mail communications with clients (Gutheil & Simon, 2005; Kassaw & Gabbard, 2002), electronic health records (Iacovino, 2004; Jain & Roberts, 2009; McSherry, 2004; Richards, 2009), cross-border regulatory considerations (Koocher & Murray, 2000; Smith, 2010), online test sales and auctions (Lobello & Zachar, 2007), the need to educate the public about the uneven quality of online health information (Goldner, 2006), online reimbursement and billing (Maheu, 2003; Ragusea & VandenCreek, 2003), client blogs (Tunick & Mednick, 2009), and online threats to test security (CPA, 2009; Ruiz, Drake, Glass, Marcotte & van Gorp, 2002).”

Ian R. Nicholson, London Health Sciences Centre, 339 Windemere Road, London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 5A5

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