E-counseling is becoming one of the most popular forms of therapy, especially after the Coronavirus pandemic. It is also known as online/internet counseling, Teletherapy, and virtual therapy. Although it is becoming quite popular, a lot of people have concerns. It is because whenever you do anything online, there are security issues and privacy concerns that will pop in your mind. Of course, you don’t have to worry about these when meeting a therapist face-to-face, but online you will have to think about security and privacy.
Also, there are some legal and ethical issues that can get a little complicated when it comes to online therapy. Therefore, if you are just starting online therapy, you have to make sure that the therapist or the online platform you are using will protect your privacy and follow the appropriate protocol.
Online Therapy Security
Everything online has potential risks, and online therapy is not an exception. Therefore, as a therapist or a patient, you must be aware of the threats to your confidential data and info. These threats include hackers, damaged devices, unsecured files, computer viruses, and phishing schemes. You don’t have to worry; there are many sensitive practices online in this digital age. They include shopping and banking. They all treat security and privacy as a top priority, and you should always pick an online therapy platform that does the same. If you are getting online therapy, you would not want to stress over security and privacy. It could be stressful and scary to think about your information and banking information being exposed or stolen and shared with anyone.
Therefore, because of how sensitive this information is, both individuals and therapists who are seeking online therapy should be aware of the tech they are using and its limitations. Both parties should do what they can to keep everything secure and avoid having any privacy-related stressors to the sessions.
Therefore, you should always download updates and use secure software and apps, which will reduce the risk of a security breach. It would be best if you always keep an eye out for any new apps or technology that can help you maintain the security levels at the top tier. In addition, like with any online endeavor, you should be extremely careful when sharing any personal information, and not share anything that is not required or anything that you do not feel comfortable sharing.
Security and Privacy Guidelines
The APA (American Psychological Association) has certain guidelines for therapists that use telecommunication to treat their patients. These guidelines also work for those who are using Teletherapy services. These precautions include:
- Understanding the technology in use, and any needed security measures.
- Electronic communication has a higher risk of becoming exposed.
- Always use robust and hard to guess passwords as well as data encryption and any other measures required to guarantee safety and security.
- Pay attention to your social media usage, because even your search history can become a security risk.
- Therapists should securely and safely destroy any data and information when it is appropriate.
- Online therapy platforms should always follow the HIPAA federal guidelines.
Before engaging in Teletherapy with a therapist, you should discuss these issues first. You need to be sure that the therapist is following mandated safe technology practices.
Online Therapy Platforms and Applications
There are plenty of online therapy platforms nowadays that host a wide array of therapists in different fields. These platforms usually offer a subscription-based service. These services connect you with a therapist with ease. They will only get some background info about your personal and mental health, and they will match you with a therapist. You can access the platform through a mobile, a tablet, or a laptop with a few clicks. They include Talkspace, BetterHelp, and Regain.us, among others.
What is Informed Consent?
All therapists on online therapy platforms should obtain informed consent from their clients and make sure that they respect all professional boundaries. Informed consent is a legal procedure that would ensure that the client or the patient knows the possible risks and benefits of any healthcare intervention. They must give the informed consent before permitting the healthcare professional to treat them, and before disclosing any info.
The elements of the informed consent include informing the patient about the treatment’s nature, other potential treatments, in addition to the risks and benefits of the treatment. It is the same, whether the treatment is online, or face-to-face. On the other hand, before you give informed consent, there are a few questions that you should get the answer for; they include:
- How much will the therapy cost?
- When will you be required to make payments?
- What are the results you can look forward to?
- Does the insurance cover the costs?
- What will happen if you do not feel satisfied with the provided service?
- How will you know if the goals of the therapy are met?
The Duty to Protect and Warn
Whether offering services online or in-person, the therapist has an obligation to protect the patient’s privacy and confidentiality. That is called The Duty to Protect. On the other hand, there are specific situations where the therapist will have to disclose certain information about the therapy and the patient. For instance, they must report if the person poses a danger to themselves or someone else. They will also do that if there is a child or an elderly in danger of being abused. It is called the Duty to Warn. It can be impossible for the therapist to do that for online therapy patients, as they might not know the patient’s real name or location. Therefore, some platforms require the patients to disclose some information in case of an emergency. The therapist will not have access to such info unless they believe there is an emergency.
Caution Is Required at Online Therapy
Therapists can treat patients from all around the globe, which is one of the great advantages of e-therapy. They should always adhere to local and state laws and regulations. Unfortunately, the global nature of online therapy can make such codes challenging to ensure and enforce. Therefore, you should always investigate the therapist’s credentials and certifications and previous reviews before engaging in the treatment.
When it comes to ethical codes, there are several associations that post their guidelines. For instance, there is the NBCC (National Board of Certified Counselors). It is one of the licensing organizations that have a strict policy when it comes to counselors and therapists who offer online treatments.