Ethics: Self-Disclosure in Cyberspace

Alfredo E. Crespo, Ph.D. 


In their article on ethics in cyberspace, Birky and Collins (2011) pointout the multiple ethical, clinical, and cultural/environmental issues that can arise when therapists consider social networking, specifically with respect to "friending” on Facebook which opens up potential social-networking relationships with clients. Although they note that the APA Ethics Code (APA, 2010) does not apply to personal choices a clinician may make, the line between personal and professional relationships is blurring (Behnke, 2008). Birky and Collins reviewed the applicability of the Code’s General Principles and Ethical Standards and made recommen­dations for addressing the issues of ethical practice in the Internet era. Some of the relevant codes are 3.05, Multiple relationships; 2.06 a. Personal problems and conflicts; 3.10, Informed consent; 4.04 Mimimizing intrusions on privacy; and generally, the Principles A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence; and B, Fidelity and Responsibility
Not the least among the thorny ethical issues facing clinicians arises if the psychologist engages in on-line dating. Personal information that a clinician posts on a dating Website, e.g.,, becomes pub­lic information that one may never be able to retract. Recognition of that fact as well as thoughtfulness of whether the information is what the psychologist wants to disclose to potential and current clients are important considerations.
Recognition that personal choices such as on-line dating do not come under professional ethical standards should motivate the increasing number of psycholo­gists who participate to review the possible dilemmas that may arise. For example, a current or former client might respond to the psychologist’s profile or access the information unintentionally. Similar to the ethi­cal concerns discussed by Birky and Collins regarding Facebook, on-line dating requires careful review of the self-disclosures shared about the clinician on an on-line dating Website.
As Behnke concluded, "Ethics, values, culture and competence will be central to our ongoing discussions about psychology and the Internet” as the boundar­ies between personal and professional lines become increasing less distinct.
American Psychological Association (2010). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Washington, DC. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from
Behnke, S. (2008). Ethics in the age of internet. Retrieved from:
Birky, I & Collins, W. Facebook: Maintaining Ethical Practice in the Cyberspace Age. J. of College Student Psychotherapy, 25:193-203, 2011.