Ethics on

Alfredo E. Crespo, Ph.D.

Member, LACPA Ethics Committee

September 2013


In their article on ethics on cyberspace, Birky and Collins (2011) pointed out the multiple ethical, clinical and cultural/environmental issues when therapists consider social networking, and more specifically with respect to “friending” on Facebook and other potential relationships with clients through social networking.   Although they note that the APA Ethics Code (APA, 2002) does not apply to personal choices a clinician may make, the line between personal and professional is blurring (Behnke, 2008).  Binky and Collins (2011) reviewed the applicability of the Code’s General Principles as well as Ethical Standards and make 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


Psychologists are increasingly facing ethical, clinical, and cultural/environmental issues as for example, over 1/3 of couples who are getting married met online (  Not the least among the thorny ethical issues a clinician may now face arises from on-line dating.  Personal information a clinician may post about him or herself on a dating website, e.g.,, becomes public information that one may never be able to retract from cyberspace.  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.


With recognition that personal choices such as on-line dating do not come under professional ethical standards, the increasing number of psychologists who participate may do well to review the possible dilemmas that may arise.  For example, a current or former client may respond to the psychologist’s profile, or access the information unintentionally. Similar to ethical concerns discussed by Birky & Collins, regarding Facebook, on-line dating requires careful review of the self-disclosures shared about the clinician on the on-line dating website.


Though becoming a Clinical Psychologist does not mean that the profession’s ethical code automatically applies to personal choices, including how, who and when to date, the potential that, due to the sheer nature of the sensitive, deeply personal nature inherent in our professional role, especially as therapists, a personal decision to join a dating website should include a review of the ethical issues that may be anticipated when choosing to actively join on-line dating services and the assumption that everything posted may be read by clients.  As Behnke concluded, “Ethics, values, culture and competence will be central to our ongoing discussions about psychology and the Internet” (Behnke, 2008) as the boundaries between our personal and professional lines become increasingly 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.