Rules and Ethics for Online Therapy

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Online therapy is growing immensely, and plenty of people are using it to get the counseling that they need. Online counseling is similar to face-to-face interactions, but one thing that is worrisome to some about online therapy is the security.

You don’t want people to know about what goes on in the sessions, since they are private matters, and it’s important to understand the rules and ethics associated with online therapy. Here, we’ll go over the security, ethical issues, and any legalities that need to be honored when doing online therapy.


With anything online, you need to be aware of how security threats may happen in regards to data and your own personal information. From viruses to hackers, to even security software which doesn’t protect you from this and phishing, you need to be careful with this.

Telehealth is no exception, and you don’t want to expose your client’s credit card number, information about them, and any private details that are discussed during sessions.

Because of this, therapists need to have the right software. Before you do anything, you need to have software which is HIPAA and BAA compliant, since these are valid pieces of software to treat your patients.

You should be aware that you are at risk of potentially divulging information, so when finished, keep the sessions and any notes locked up.

Try to use data encryption when you are doing online therapy as well, and other security measures too. You should also be aware of any extra security steps that are on there.

With your computer, it’s best if you have one which is separate from the others in the household. Keep it locked up, since it does involve valuable information.

If needed, you should destroy private information when necessary.If there are issues with getting rid of information safely, look into the federal guidelines and see if you can get rid of it as needed.

Informed Consent

Next on ethical matters is informed consent. All therapists should obtain consent from their clients and respect their boundaries.

Informed consent helps prevent any problems with a session, and also will help someone know of the risks and the benefits that come with this before they do disclose it.

You should tell your client about the treatment you’re giving, any alternatives, and any potential risks and benefits. You should inform your client about payments, whether insurance covers it, what to expect,and how goals will be determined and met in therapy.

All of this should be done in the first session, just like you would with an in-0 person therapy session.

The Duty to Protect

Every therapist has an obligation to protect the confidentiality of a patient, but there are exceptions to this. This applies to both in-person and online therapy.

This is called duty to protect, and the therapist does have an obligation to warn a third party if they believe that the client poses danger to another person, especially in the events of child and elder abuse, or if the person poses a risk to themselves, as in the case of suicidal individuals. At that point, it may be good for therapists to step in and help.

One downside of the Duty to Protect however, is that it’s harder to show the real location of a client geographically as you could in session. Location tracking has come a bit far in recent years, but try to get a good feeling on where your client is so that if you are going to help someone,if they do need it, you can step in.

Guidelines and Codes

Finally, let’s talk guidelines and codes. Therapists can treat people from all over, but the thing is, you should be licensed and following the guidelines of the location in which they practice. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t practice, but you should check the requirements of your state to see if you can help others outside of your general area.

It is hard to enforce this in some cases, but that doesn't mean you should ignore these rules. That’s because, if you don’t follow the rules it can potentially create a risk of losing your license. So, if necessary,make sure you have the certifications needed, and the right credentials for practice in the state that you’re in.

a second part of this is of course following the ethical codes for those therapists online who are using telehealth to practice.

The codes are still in place when you’re working online,and you should make sure that you follow the policy for counselors who provide services which are long-distance. The NBCC offers all of this on their site, so before you begin, you should definitely read through these before you begin.

Keep Everything Up-to-Date

If your state offers a lifetime license for counseling,you can get that. You will however have to do a background check every five or so years.

For some licenses, especially if you plan on working with families or couples, you may need an LMFT. This has to be renewed every 2 years for you to continue practicing.

This applies to both online and offline counseling. The licenses that you get for practicing offline do work online, you do however need to continue to renew as needed, and complete the recommendations.

If you need to do continuing education, make sure not to forgo that too. Continuing education helps you stay abreast of everything in the field, and there are plenty of new changes happening to the world of therapy and mental health. It is important that, for you to practice ethically and effectively, you have all of this in place.

For those looking to start online therapy, a lot of the ethical rules of conduct are the same for those who practice offline therapy. But, it still doesn’t mean that it isn’t important, and you should make sure that you take the time to stay up to date on the new practices, and any new changes that are happening in your field.

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