Once before I wrote a bit on this topic. Just how much should we use electronic media to work with clients? While most counseling takes place face to face, counselors speak with their clients using the phone, e-mail, texts, live chat, video conferencing, even through “second life” formats using avatars.
In the latest edition of the Pennsylvania Psychologist, I saw another little article reminding us counselors how to manage these electronic methods. Rachael Baturin suggests the following tips:
- Always clarify what kind electronic connectivity you will have and the nature of those interactions. For example, use of email to receive documents and make scheduling changes but wary of too long or too informal style emails. If you look like a friend (sharing personal stuff back to the client), it blurs boundaries
- Anticipate and respond to abuses of your policy (e.g., frequent texting, demanding emails)
- Avoiding the use of e-mails and texts for emergency contacts from clients. Use the phone or answering service for that
- Establish a general turnaround policy (how long you will likely take to respond to emails)
- Inform clients about privacy issues. Such as, use of work email to contact them, possibility of a shared email.
- Maintain a copy of every email or electronic contact. Or summarize them in the next case note.
- Use the standard text at end of email msgs to remind them of confidentiality and the possibility of errors in sending.
- Remember, tone of voice is missing in emails. Be sure to be extra careful about this
A couple of additional matters not mentioned:
Be clear on whether you bill for time on emails BEFORE you start emailing back and forth. Recognize that SKYPE or other kinds of video conferencing to other countries may not be as private as you might think. Other countries may do more to monitor NGOs and others serving abroad. If you get emailed journals, ask the person to use an agreed upon password for their Word documents. That way, if the email goes awry, no-one else can view the contents but you and your client.
Bottom line? Don’t be lulled into unprofessional activities on-line. Assume everything you send (chat, texts, email) may be printed out or shared with someone else. How would what you are saying or doing look to a court of law determining whether you acted in the best interests of your client and whether or not you held yourself to a high standard of care?