As someone who is passionately interested in how technology changes lives, I was intrigued by Gerald P. Koocher’s article “Twenty-First Century Challenges for Psychology.”
Koocher, former President of the American Psychological Association, argues that foreseeable technological changes will have such an impact on how psychology services are delivered that we need to rethink our professional ethics. Part of his paper focuses on the four categories of contracting, confidentiality, control, and competence.The first three of these seem pretty obvious to any professional who uses electronic means to communicate with clients; at its most basic there are whole rafts of legislation to do with the security of personal data, for example. And all psychology practitioners, regardless of specialty, need to agree to a legally binding contract of some sort with a client, for their own as well as for the client’s sake; this needs to include reference to use of electronically-mediated services where applicable.
Are New Standards of Care Necessary?
What I found particularly interesting about Koocher’s argument was his claim that the increase in the use of new technologies, and offering remote services in particular, will necessitate ‘new standards of care and professional competencies.’ Surely qualified and experienced psychologists the world over know the limits of their own professional field, and, if bound by a professional code of ethics would not consider infringing it by using new technology inappropriately? That said, from a risk management perspective, there’s no harm in ensuring that the professional code of ethics specifically addresses psychological services which are electronically delivered.
So that leaves those people (clients as well as practitioners) who are deliberately seeking to misrepresent themselves online. Koocher has a very valid point here; not only would we be taking on trust that the person on the other end of the line is who s/he claims to be, but do we have sufficient scientific evidence about the success rates of remote vs. traditional face-to-face interventions? Even assuming that the client and practitioner are who they say they are, inevitably there will be both risks and rewards in treating psychological illnesses remotely. So we need more research to assess what these are, and how they compare to current best (face-to-face) psychology practice before we embrace electronically-mediated interventions whole-heartedly.
What about Remote Positive Psychology Interventions?
But when it comes to Positive Psychology interventions, do we have the same risk/reward equation? If the aim of Positive Psychology is to help people who are already psychologically well flourish, do we really need to be overly concerned about how they interpret their scores on the on-line VIA Inventory or the Grit Survey, for example?
I understand fully Koocher’s point about do-it-yourself tests online, some of which are undoubtedly unreliable. But how could one legislate against these, even if one could identify them all? As with many things in the online world these days, there are and will always be the unscrupulous, so it’s a case of caveat emptor.
As for those people who are especially vulnerable and perhaps unable to distinguish the valid from the invalid,how can they be protected? Koocher obviously isn’t a passionate supporter of Positive Psychology, but perhaps the “well-known individuals” (he avoids naming them, but it may be possible to guess who he is referring to) in the PP field should in fact continue to market their own tests and research online as fully and frequently as possible. At least this way, those people who are seeking out online interventions to improve their well-being have a hope of finding the works of people like Seligman, Peterson, Fordyce, and Lyubomirsky, before they stumble across those which Koocher would prefer to outlaw. Many of these are available in the Authentic Happiness Test Center.
Koocher, Gerald P. (2007), Twenty-First Century Ethical Challenges for Psychology, American Psychologist, Vol 62(5), 375-384.
Walls with eyes courtesy of uBookworm