In recent years, more and more of an individual’s personal information may be found online. Although this remains a problem for professionals and non-professionals alike, the discovery of online information by a client poses challenges for clinical therapists.
This problem was highlighted earlier this year in an article titled, “Client Discovery of Psychotherapist Personal Information Online,” which was published in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. The researchers, Kelly Kolmes and Daniel O. Taube, explored the challenges for therapists in the digital age. Using a sample of 332 psychotherapy patients, Kolmes and Taube attempted to measure the reactions of patients to information found online about their therapists. The patients experienced a range of reactions including neutral, positive, and negative reactions.
“Clients have a greater likelihood of coming across personal information about their psychotherapists that may be off-putting or damaging to treatment,” the authors write. Such information may include political online activities that the therapist may remain engaged. Moreover, the authors write, “Professionals are also increasingly involved in online activities, including developing websites’ participating in online discussions on social media and listservs; writing and commenting on professional blogs; and requesting and providing online consultations via email ists.”
Although these may not include all activities online, these abovementioned activities do constitute a large example of online behaviors that clients may have access to.
Kolmes and Taube found that “psychotherapist privacy may be comprised on the Internet and that personal and professional boundaries are becoming blurred.” In other words, the therapist—in the digital age—is becoming less in control of their personal information. What remains interesting, too, is that “these [online] discoveries follow intentional searches for the psychotherapist’s information.”
The findings of Kolmes and Taube remain clear: More and more patients are discovering personal information about their therapists, and that information is becoming more accessible through online searches. Factors such as “curiosity” remain the driving reasons for patient-initiated online searches for therapist personal information. The researchers also make clear that a “blank slate” no longer exists with regard to the personal information of the therapist.
There remains good news, however: Not all of the clients reacted negatively to the information they discovered online about their therapists. Indeed, according to Kolmes and Taube’s findings, “most people reported neutral to positive impacts.” For those who did report negative reactions to information obtained online, however, “it may have been experienced as especially wounding.”
The message remains clear, then. Professional therapists must remain cautious of their online activity. The information that they volunteer in the digital world may become present in their actual worlds. Therefore, it remains important that professionals remain professional online.
Kolmes, K., and Taube, D. (2016). Client Discovery of Psychotherapist Personal Information Online. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 47 (2) 147 – 154.