“I look forward to sleeping (*speaking) with you”: Technological Ethical Woes

Barbara Cadow, Ph.D. & Marcos B. Briano, Ph.D. - 2018 Summer Issue

As technological advances reshape the landscape of our social interactions and sources of information through the internet and social media applications, how concerned do psychologists need to be about the potential ethical issues that may arise from these technological advances?

Today approximately 70% of Americans utilize social media as “part of their daily routine” through various social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, etc.) spanning various age, racial, and gender demographics (Pew Research Center, 2018). The pervasiveness of social media presents ethical dilemmas for which we will provide guidance.

Texting & Emailing

The most important ethical issue with texting and email­ing is confidentiality (APA Ethics Code 4.01, American Psychological Association, 2010). You want to be sure that all communication between you and your clients remains confidential. Consider that is possible for someone to read or access your client’s text messages (i.e., sitting nearby or unlocking their smartphone). Keep in mind that sending any client information by email is subject to misdirected emails and hacking.

Text and email communication are part of client records, so keep copies of text messages sent to and from your clients in their file. This is especially true about your responses because these messages and may become evidence in a dis­ciplinary action or lawsuit. For example, if a client texts you in distress, the fact that you responded with instructions to call 911 or that you will call them immediately is crucial in demonstrating your ethical decision-making process.

Be mindful of appropriate and inappropriate uses for email­ing and texting in your professional capacity. Appropriate uses for texting and emailing may include: 1) appointment reminders; 2) short questions; and, 3) short updates about non-urgent clinical matters. Inappropriate uses may include: 1) highly personal subject matter; 2) urgent or time sensi­tive materials; and, 3) complex concerns requiring an extended exchange.

And, be careful. Remember that texting can easily be misunderstood and can result in autocorrect dilemmas, as il­lustrated in our title.

Searching & Social Media

There is another issue we should be aware of. The lack of privacy on the internet means that clients may discover all sorts of information about you - your address, photos, and oth­er personal information. Most clients research their therapist, but usually, do not divulge their online searches in treatment. Their searches could explain how they know certain things about you without your disclosure.

Therapists should never search for their clients online because the search could become evidence in the case of a lawsuit or disciplinary action. It might also change your relationship or attitude towards the client. If information about your client pops up in another context, it can be disclosed to the client in a therapy session.

Many of us are consumers of social media applications, therefore, it’s important to be proactive in establishing control­lable boundaries and to examine the potential risks/benefits in maintaining them.

What Should You Do?

HIPAA allows us to have email contact without meeting usual HIPAA standards when risks are fully disclosed. There­fore, include email and text policies in your Informed Consent. Best practices for emailing include disclaimers about: a) emer­gencies (Call 911); b) misdirected emails; c) limits to privacy; and, d) using encryption services or creating passwords for confidential documents in separate emails. Therapists should have also different email accounts for personal and profes­sional use.

Also include social media policies in your informed consent (Kolmes, 2010). Become aware of what information is avail­able about you on the internet by Googling your name oc­casionally. Know your social media privacy control settings, limitations of the terms/agreement, and updates, which could alter any of your former control settings.

Lastly, for more information, professional liability carri­ers often have the most up-to-date information about the use of technology in our field and are available to address your concerns. The LACPA Ethics and Education committee is also available for consultation.



Pew Research Center (2018, March 1). Social media use in 2018.  Retrieved from

American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct (2002, Amended June 1, 2010 and January 1, 2017). Retrieved from 

Kolmes, K. (2010).  My private practice social media policy. Retrieved from