I’ve been writing, reading and thinking a lot about the use of text messaging in counselling situations. Some of the articles I referred to in the past two blog posts discussed the need to develop policies and procedures for preserving privacy and confidentiality in text messages.
Let’s start at the beginning – the CCPA Code of Ethics states “Counselling relationships and information resulting therefrom are kept confidential” & “Counsellors follow all additional ethical guidelines for services delivered by telephone, teleconferencing, and the Internet, including appropriate precautions regarding confidentiality, security…”. (Sections B2 & B17)
I don’t have the answers. Just some thoughts about the issue as a whole.
I have an iPhone and Apple tells me my messages have end-to-end encryption, so “your messages stay safe and private”. Likely that’s true of other devices as well.
What about the billing? My monthly billing lists numbers called or texted to and the dates. Who sees your bills? Who sees your client’s bills?
Let’s look at a common scenario. I bet you’ve had this happen to you. You are in a meeting, your phone is on the table in sleep mode and then a text message preview shows on the screen. Anyone sitting near you can read the message and whom it’s from [well, they could if they have really good eyesight]. It might be “meet u @ 6” or “LOL” or, maybe, something even more personal. Maybe it’s not a big deal, but if the message was from your drug treatment program or your counsellor? That’s where it gets a bit tricky.
So what can we do?
We could choose to limit what we communicate about via text message. One counsellor’s intake form says – “Any communication by unsecured means (i.e., non-encrypted email, text messaging, instant messaging, Twitter, etc.) will only be used for scheduling or for clarifying questions related to the services being provided. If I send any messages involving personal information to my counsellor without encryption, I agree to waive my privilege to confidentiality”.
We can teach our clients how to take steps to preserve their own privacy and confidentiality. For example – changing the settings for text message previews, not recording text messages, setting passwords, and maybe even purchasing an app that further protects their privacy.
There are any number of apps that are designed to keep your text messages locked and secure or to encrypt them. One commenter on a ‘Secure your text messages’ site said “I can only think of three reasons you would need this level of security. Cheating on your spouse, drug dealing or you’re a spy”. Well, at least, counselling wasn’t the first thing they thought of which may offer a modicum of privacy for our clients. Though clients may find others looking at them askance and wondering what they are up to!
Like any of the emerging technologies we are playing catch up on how to incorporate text messaging into our practices in a meaningful and safe way. So let’s keep the dialogue open.
Dawn Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA