I recently spent some time with a colleague and the idea of video conference counselling came up. Both being technology buffs, we dove right into the idea without hesitation. As we discussed, it became clear to me that there were real ethical arguments to support the idea of integrating technology with therapy. Unfortunately, the fears around the little known realm of technology in counselling creates a demanding barrier of entry, stifling enthusiasm to attempt online therapeutic practice. Hoping to fan some burning embers of excitement, I present three ethical considerations for the use of technology in counselling:
Cost has always been a struggle for people who need mental health assistance. Both the direct cost per session as well as indirect costs can affect people’s budgets, adding pressures to the decline of one’s mental health. For example, taking time off work or out of the day may not always be feasible for people, especially if you have children to take care of, and during a contracting economy where every day matters in the eyes of your employer. The struggle to balance self care, and life responsibilities is very real. Online counselling could reduce the cost of office space rental, parking space rental, and utilities in the office. The savings from such a transition could help to increase access for some clients.
Physical access can be limited due to a person’s living arrangements, or life circumstance. Many people cannot afford a convenient mode of transportation to attend a counselling session. For example, in rural areas, the problem can worsen with some people having to depend on the therapist’s mode of transportation into their area before they can acquire mental health services. The dependency could lead to spotty access at best, and an inconsistent therapeutic relationship at worst. For counsellors working within a rural area, a plethora of other ethical concerns can arise, such as multiple relationships, limits on resources, isolation, and community expectations. Online counselling could not only offer larger variety of therapists for the rural clientele who can specialize, but can subdue altogether some of the ethical issues around rural therapeutic practices.
Dangers for Clients
Laws and culture are different in every country. In some countries accessing mental health services can become dangerous due to the mental health development of that nation. It may be entirely impossible for segments of the population to seek help safely for fear of mistreatment or becoming caught up in the judicial system. Making no comments about the ethics of a nation’s laws and culture, people will require adequate mental health services regardless of wrongdoing or stigma. Online access to counselling can provide safe support for many people across the world who would otherwise be stranded with little to no adequate mental health resources.
There are other ethical concerns to consider on both sides of the fence, to either promote technology use in therapy or avoid it. For example, security is monumental when it comes to therapeutic practices. The therapist must ensure that his or her choice of digital tools are adequate for the task, such as encryption tools to protect client information and confidentiality. Some may also argue that more ethical dilemmas emerge with the mention of technological integration, such as issues of culture specific counselling. However, these conversations are healthy and crucial to have in our increasingly technological world. Competence and knowledge will be imperative when diving into these new mediums or dealing with them indirectly, but therapists ought not be dissuaded. Though technology is no panacea, it is a tool to assist and enable given the option and not meant to replace the efforts of on the ground, face to face services. The potential for higher outreach and advocacy can be worth every bit of effort.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA