Regardless of its legal ramifications, Internet therapy is currently offered. The efficacy of virtual therapy has posed concerns where the customer does not reach the counselor physically. A new approach in which psychotherapists interfere has been discovered in order to address clients’ psychological issues. This medium is effective to save the consultants time. In comparison to consumers who frequent their offices, they may sell their services in numerous countries. Ethical problems in the field impact this online advice. The text-based interaction is also named. The difference which exists between this forms of counseling and face to face is profound. When an interaction is made directly, it is possible to check the real condition of the person by physical observation. This is opposed to text-based counseling which does not adhere to all ethical issues. It is difficult to determine the causality of the challenges which the client faces. The paper will define internet counseling to shed light on the broad topic which has been discussed in various forums. Moreover, pertinent literature is reviewed to get clarity on ethical considerations in line of counseling.
Online counseling is offered irrespective of disagreement which exists between the psychologist and another theorist regarding its ethicality (Ander et al., 2017). There is continuous growth experienced in this area, with professionals rushing to offer their services online. Traditional counseling services are slowly being faced away, and being replaced by technological advancement (Bhola & Raguram, 2016). There is a great revolution in the field of information technology, which makes it easy to access the global attention. There has been an argument about the safety of the services offered online. Considering that the counselor does not meet with the client face to face, some essential ethics are not met. Critical components such as verbal and non-verbal cues are not used when services are offered through the internet (Ander et al., 2017). This is potentially harmful to both the patient and the service provider. Crane et al. (2012) argue that this method of service delivery is safe and effective. He points out that internet counseling is mostly done through emails. This is the most confidential way to passing information. The patients feel free to show any relevant information to the counselor. A relationship can be easily created, and a consensus met between the two parties. The central question is whether it is right to offer counseling services via the internet?
There has been an exponential growth of clients seeking online counseling services (Crane et al., 2011). The psychological experts are not ready to handle the speculated increase in number in the future. The current face to face services are declining while people are embracing online services which are faster and time-saving (Dennis et al.,2009). There are several organizations whose services are available to the public online. With this in mind, counselors are required to review their ethical standards to stay abreast of the changes which are occurring. Notably, handling of client physically is totally different from the text based interaction. Special skills are needed to test the emotions and feelings of the clients, which are the basis for offering the right solution to their problems. Additionally, growth in the field of internet counseling has necessitated the need for the professional and other bodies offering this service to adapt to the code of conduct. These are guidelines which direct performance of any professional (Harris et al., 2015). Ethical guidelines are pertinent to any counselor who aim to offer his service through the internet. The body which oversees psychological counseling has tailored drafted rules to be followed by all members.
The move was arrived at to avoid exploitation of the patients, who might fall into the hands of scammers. Heightened services attract other people, who are not trained in the area (Mason et al., 2016). They aim to squander money from vulnerable people who are desperately looking for solutions in their computers. Preliminary information shows that the services offered via the internet can be convenient. This is because someone requires a computer which is connected to the internet and comfortably exchange information with the expert in his or her home. It limits time wastage by traveling to a destination of the counselor (Morgan et al., 2016). Besides, experts can be accessed from a common point. One can choose the service provider depending on the cost or quality of the services offered.
There is a need to review the literature to help understand the effectiveness of online counseling. Moreover, ethicality of the practice is a point of concern (Mutwarasibo, 2016). As it alluded earlier, the interaction between the client and counselor is impossible in internet counseling. Clarity is sought to bring light into this topic, which is attracting the various attention of researchers. People are continually searching for online psychological services. Posse & Winkeljohn (2017) affirms that internet counseling continues to grow and few providers are ready to offer the services. He notes that this could be an opportunity gap in the market. The growth makes this comprehensive work more relevant in evaluating ethical considerations.
Online counseling refers to the psychological health services which are offered through the computer as a medium of exchange (Ricco & Sierra,2017). Emails are the most formative of communication through which the client interacts with counselors. This form of counseling is devoid of face to face interaction, and the two parties are in a different physical space (Pennington et al., 2013). There are some terms which are used to describe internet counseling such as online counseling, E-therapy, and web-communication. These words will be widely used in this project.
Online counseling services are practiced by a number practitioners. The people who offer their services are not only counselors, but the word has been used to represent the diverse field of psychological counseling. Richard et al. (2016) note that people have various issues which they seek redress from these experts. Some of the services which are offered online are relationship wrangles, stress, sexual problems and many more challenges which human beings undergo through. He further notes that these problems are increasing daily. This means the services of the professionals are required because online clients have increased threefold compared to the past year (Trudeau & Charity, 2011).
Smith & Rovnak (2009) argues that there are two types of online counseling. One is synchronous. This is whereby the message is delivered in the real time. Communication is designed to seem real through the use of chat features on the phone or a computer. The second one is asynchronous. Exchange of communication is delayed in this form and might take some time to get the response (Spencer & Castano, 2007). An example is the use of emails. The feedback given via email can be short term or long term. This delay makes it difficult to assess the client in the right way. The clear distinction between the two illustrates the importance of immediacy when offering online services. It was noted in the earlier paragraphs that the importance of internet counseling is for convenience (Ander et al., 2017). If the time of handling the client is not reduced, then one would opt to use face to face services. It is ethical to give prompt service to mitigate negative repercussion. The faster the problems are solved, the better the service. Some of the challenges clients undergo are critical. Delaying the service can result in worsening of their conditions. The professionals are guided by the code of ethics to deliver their services at the right time and when needed (Bhola & Raguram, 2016). This misses in online counseling. Additionally, there exist some differences between internet counseling and telephone counseling. Online lacks some of the cues such as auditory (Bignel et al., 2012). This is very important, especially when the assessor wants to hear the real words from the victim. In line to this, internet counseling uses computer as the medium of exchange while telephone uses a phone.
Positive Implications of Internet Services
Dennis et al. (2009) argue that online counseling services are convenient and effective. It allows people to connect with the service provider quickly. Harris et al. (2015) further note that the increased use of online services improves the interaction of human beings. It should be noted that sometimes people fear to face the counselor face to face. Allowing them to be served in online platforms encourages disclosure of relevant information which they could hide when facing the experts. This has greatly been witnessed by the service providers, attributing successful sessions to the motivation of the client to offer information freely. Mason et al. (2016) claimed that one of the strongest aspects of online counseling is bringing services to the disposal of all populations. Advancement of technology has turned the world into a global village. All services are consolidated in one common place, which becomes easy to utilize. He affirms that people in remote and sidelined communities have been able to enjoy special services which they could be missing (Morgan et al., 2016). Currently, one can seek the advice from international specialist by a click of a button. They fear meeting the counselor physically fearing their confidentiality.
Possel & Winkeljohn (2017) noted the importance of internet counseling through email. He asserted that emails are good at keeping records. What the client or counselor writes can be traced back for reference purposes. Professional offering services online are expected to practice handling client, though text, since it is not easy (Ricco & Sierra, 2017). The complexity of debunking the real problems of the patient can only be deconstructed through adhering ethical standards stipulated by the governing body. One way to ensure quality services is through consultation with other experts (Richard et al., 2016). Before the counselor sends the feedback to the client, it is advisable to review the case with other experts in the same field. This is a good chance to eliminate misguiding information and serves an essential role of only focusing on the problem of the client. Mutwarasibo (2016) indicated the importance of client writing down their problems. From his observation, it enables him or her to externalize their problems and detach from those challenges. Since all information based on counseling is saved in emails, then it is ethically conducted.
Pennington et al. (2013) conducted research, seeking to understand the attitude of people who preferred online counseling. Forty-eight participants took part in the interview, which was conducted with no biases. They surmised that 85% of the people who had received internet counseling services were new to it. The major reasons they cited for preferring this over face to face were diverse. One, they indicated the need for anonymity. Most of them feared ridicule from surrounding people discovering their visitation to a counselor. Additionally, expertise, services were lacking from the local places, hence resorted to online. Most of the local councelor does not handle specific problems and therefore placing doubt in their services. Furthermore, the convenience was also identified as a contributing factor toward shifting to online services (Ander et al., 2017). Human beings are known for their busy schedules. People are interested in using the services which favors their time. The respondents asserted that traveling to meet the experts was by far wasting their time and finances. With the new invention, they were able to navigate and choose any provider who suited their time.
Negative Implications of Internet Counseling
Concerns have been raised concerning the heavy consumption of internet services to seek help. Bhola & Raguram (2016) noted that this trend lacks the use of cues which are important in helping a person with psychological problems. For the counselor to fully help the client, direct interaction is required. This would enable learn some truths which cannot be identified through texts. Face to face interaction enables the counselor to show empathy to the client and hence increase the probability of recovery (Crane et al., 2011). Some of the problems people present to a counselor require formal interaction with him or her. Most of the people get relieved the moment they are treated humanely. Another concern is increased use of computers. Migration to the world of computers has eased and effectively improved delivery of services (Dennis et al., 2009). However, prolonged reliance on the internet kills the social being of the person. Since anything required can be accessed online, people become isolated from interacting with others. This is even more dangerous since it can prolong depression.
A study conducted by Mason et al. (2016) among the university students concerning the issue of online counseling depicted an increased negative attitude. It involved 400 participants who were issued with questionnaires and allowed to raise their views concerning the new method of counseling. Findings indicated that 76% of the participants were uncomfortable with the new trend. According to their argument, they illustrated the ineffectiveness of internet counseling due to lack of the important interpersonal element (Morgan et al., 2016). They believed that face to face interaction evoked a certain level of efficacy since the experts can read all the traits expressed by the client. One of the weaknesses that arose from the result gotten showed that confidence of the client is lost when services are offered through the internet. This affects furtherance seeking of services in future. Dealing with people physically is different from virtual interaction (Possel& Winkeljohn, 2017). A discussion held by two people or more can boost the confidence of the person. This is the argument as suggesting possible ideas. Internet counseling deprives the client that chance.
Ethics are important to lead elements which guide the professional in offering their services in the right manner (Pennington et al., 2013). Every profession has its ethics which are followed to the latter. The field of counseling is one of the areas which is very sensitive. It involves handling diverse client, who have different problems. The experts are mandated to observe ethical standards to make sure quality of services is achieved for the benefit of the client. The current form of internet counseling is posing a dilemma. It is not clear whether these services should be offered or not (Richard et al., 2016). Ethical issues pegged to the services are questionable. Increasing online services have attracted concern from the public and organizations which regulate the services. The following paragraphs will discuss ethical issues of consideration.
The word is used to indicate the expertise in the area of profession. Counseling is one of the services which cannot be offered without proper training. Skills are needed to have ground to start the service (Trudeau & Charity, 2011). Before launching the services online, it is a requirement by the law to be trained in the areas one is handling. This is to prevent fraudulent activities which appear in online services (Smith & Rovnak, 2009). Much emphasis is laid on having the right qualification for dealing with a client out of sight since they can prove to be a nuisance. It requires someone with traits that can tolerate the deficiencies in some interpersonal cues with the client. It is a requirement of Federal Laws for any person willing to serve people to be registered by the relevant body. Spencer & Castano (2007) argues that the levels of competency are dependent on one’s longevity in service. He also notes that competency is not only based on one’s skills but also understanding the culture of the people they are serving. Online services offer space for all people to seek advice. There is the integration of cultures, with different stands and beliefs. Understanding various beliefs assists in determining the right way to handle the client (Ander et al., 2017). This is not taught in class but comes along after continued interaction with various people in line of work. Bignel et al. (2012) note that online services require a more sensitive diagnosis as opposed to face to face. Every word typed should be evaluated before sending since that is what the client relies on to get relieved.
Ensuring Information Confidentiality
One major goal of providing internet services is to ensure client’s information is protected from the third party (Crane et al., 2011). The psychologist is obligated to maintain a high level of data protection to prevent any form of leakage. They are required by the law to take precautions when offering their services. It is a requirement to ensure the computers which are used by the client and counselor to have security programs, which can be able to lock information from access by any other unauthorized person (Dennis et al., 2009). The use of encryption is embraced since it covers the emails in transit. This is a strategy to limit information to the two parties, which is a secure way of communication. Harris et al. (2011) argue that electronic security is a concern in the world. There is increased cyber insecurity where hacking is happening on a daily basis. He says that having a strong security system to protect data and information online is required. The counselor is encouraged to use protected computers to facilitate smooth flow of activities (Mason et al., 2016). It is also the requirement of the client to maintain safety on his or her computer to avoid receiving misguiding information. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the counselor to disclose information to the client on the best way to safeguard information in their computers. This is done to prevent blames which could arise in case of abnormalities.
Before starting online service, consent is required to clearly understand the type of client or expert one is dealing with (Morgan et al., 2016). Most of the internet counselors do not offer their services to people under 18 years. This is attributed by the complexities associated with young people. To avoid cases of dishonesty, validation is required before accepting any service provided on the internet platform. The anonymity of the website makes it difficult to ascertain the origin of the person (Possel & Winkeljohn, 2017). One way to approve the service provider is seeking their ID, which is a sure way to help locate them. Alternatively, one can use IP addresses to check their origin and relate with the information provided on the website. Any information triggering dishonesty can be used as a lead to disqualifying the service (Ricco & Sierra,2017). Consequently, the experts are required to make an arrangement with the client on the proper time to connect. This is key in helping the client plan for the same.
Avoiding False Information
Presenting oneself falsely is considered a violation of law (Pennington et al., 2017). The psychologist is guided by staunch principles which require them to out rightly represent themselves in a true manner. Any sign of irregularity is considered detrimental and hence the need to have the right information posted on their service website. They are required to advertise what they offer in an objective manner. Richard et al. (2016) noted that most of the websites for some of the organization contain more information than what they actually provide. They do so with the intention of attracting more customers. Another factor of consideration is presenting the right training and experience. The counselor should not in any way lie about their education. Review of websites offering the services needs to be done to get clarity of their services.
Prevention of Harm
Taking steps which are reasonable in handling the client help to reduce some of the risks associated with the job (Trudeau & Charity, 2011). Like any other profession, internet counseling is faced with a number of repercussions, emanating from the environment and client. The counselor is allowed to explain to the client regarding breaches of some requirements such as confidentiality. For a solution to be arrived at, text-based counseling involves enquiring some private matters from the client. This is because the experts rely on the words to make guided judgement. The clients should be made to understand the extent to which information would be sought. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the counselor to determine the best approach to get information from the client. Ability to use good language is needed to show sympathy for the virtual client (Smith & Rovnak,2009). However, they are also required to make the victim aware of possible data loss. Communication through emails can be futile when computers are attacked by virus or possible hacking. This information is needed to retain the confidence of the client.
The future of online counseling seems to be here to stay. Although the specifics of the discipline are yet to be determined, the increase of its use is a sure evidence that it is getting appreciation from various countries. A psychologist argues that online counseling is an appropriate option to replace the traditional form of counseling which is associated with a lot of complications. Face to face services sometimes are not effective. This is due to lack of experts in specialized services. Mostly, an individual claiming to offer counseling lacks a specific area of specialization. Internet services have come to resolve this problem by pooling together the expertise of diverse counselor in a common pool.
People can be able to choose the provider who suits their needs. However, these services are faced with problems of ethicality. It is not clear whether the counselors who offer them meets the requirement required by the law. This is the major point of concern which has attracted various reactions from researchers. The mushrooming services in online platform make people doubt of their credibility. People have diverted away from the face to face services which were once common. The influx of people seeking online services is thought to attract more fraudster since there is dire demand. The current number of organizations who have hosted their services on the internet cannot meet the needs of the populous clients. Some ethical considerations which need to be met while offering the services are; confidentiality, avoiding harming the client, ensuring competency and protecting important information. Internet counseling can be administered in an ethical manner if the professionals decide to actively advocate for quality. Professional bodies should be in a position to offer guidelines on the best way to offer services and continually keep watch of its experts. This would facilitate future growth in this sector.
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