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E-Career Services: Ethical Considerations Revisited

As 2017 marks ContactPoint’s 20th anniversary, we wanted to take a look at the most popular sections of our website as well as the most-read articles through a series of blog posts, and reflect on what they say about how the field has evolved over the past two decades.

Dr Roberta Neault and Cassie Taylor

 

In 2012, Neault and Vande Kuyt wrote a ContactPoint article on the ethics of e-counselling, exploring considerations related to handling emergencies, confidentiality and competence. Although only five years have passed, there’s now a general comfort with, and use of, online technologies that didn’t exist in 2012. With advanced technologies that are more intuitive, address privacy concerns, and are easily accessible, it’s not surprising that career practitioners are exploring ways to expand their services through e-counselling or e-career coaching.

Johnson (2017) warned that “although this innovative set of practices provides new prospects, it is also important to be cognizant of the unique procedural and ethical issues that may arise when counselling via online platforms.” (p. 45). Luckily, there are supports for counsellors to help guide the integration of e-counselling services into their practice. Several counselling associations and regulatory bodies have addressed the use of digital technologies within their ethical codes (e.g., see A11, B17, and D5 in CCPA’s Code of Ethics [2007]) and/or specific standards/policies (e.g., see National Board for Certified Counselors’ [NBCC] Policy Regarding the Provision of Distance Professional Services [2016] and BC Association of Clinical Counsellors’ [BCACC] Standard for the Use of Technology in Counselling [2011]). The Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association’s (CCPA) Standards of Practice also includes a specific section for Services using Distance Delivery, Social Media, and Electronic Technologies (2015a, p. 35-37). Further, in 2015, CCPA established a Technology and Innovative Solutions Chapter which seeks to inspire “the legal and ethical use of technology to enhance the therapeutic experience of counsellors and clients everywhere” (2015b, p. 1)).

In reviewing these resources, several common ethical considerations emerged which we’ve summarized below.

1. Skill. The ethical principle of Boundary of Competence requires that career practitioners and counsellors only offer services within their scope of competence; how have you developed the specific competence to e-serve your clients?

2. Accessibility. Considerations include access to secure and reliable Internet, devices (e.g., computer, smartphone), time zones, and expectations re: turn-around time for asynchronous messages sent by email or text messaging systems.

3. Jurisdiction. Check with your insurer, professional association, and/or regulatory body to clarify coverage when offering e-services to clients outside of your local region; also be aware of, and comply with, requirements within your clients’ regions.

4. Appropriateness. Consider your client’s presenting issues and comfort with technology before engaging in e-services. Sometimes face-to-face or hybrid services offer a better solution; in other cases, referrals may be necessary.

5. Consent. Informed Consent requires that clients are fully informed about the risks and benefits of e-services. Ensure you understand both the benefits and challenges.

6. Technology. In selecting appropriate technology to support e-services, consider access, budget, features and protection of privacy.

7. Security. Consider how to protect your client’s privacy, safety and confidential information. In some cases, storing information on Canadian rather than American servers will be one essential component of this.

8. Technology Failures. Recognize and prepare for e-service interruptions due to power outages, Internet disruptions or computer/phone challenges. Ensure clients are aware of alternate ways to connect with you in case your planned method of connecting doesn’t work.

9. Emergencies. Ensure clients are aware of local service providers or crisis support lines in case of emergency, letting them know about anticipated turnaround times when they reach out to you asynchronously (e.g., by email). Consider adding reminders about emergency contact alternatives to signature lines and voicemail, as well as on your website.

10. Online Relationships. Online relationships can become complicated and easily misinterpreted, especially when engaging on social media. Consider setting policies for how to handle “friend requests” from clients and cautioning clients about unintentional breaches of confidentiality that occur from something as simple as “liking” a counsellor or career practitioner’s page.

Find an expanded description of each consideration on the Life Strategies website.

 

AUTHOR BIOS

Dr Roberta Neault, CCC, CCDP, GCDFi, is an award-winning, career development leader. As President of Life Strategies Ltd., Roberta co-developed the internationally recognized Career Management Professional Program, a fully online training program for career development professionals (CDPs). In her own practice, Roberta seamlessly blends emerging technology with traditional methods to coach/counsel clients; train CDPs, counsellor, and HR professionals across the globe; and collaborate on projects with colleagues from six continents.

Cassie Taylor, BAA, supports Life Strategies Ltd. on a wide variety of training, writing and development projects using technology to bridge geographic divides between dispersed team members, students and clients. As Manager, Cassie oversees the administration of the LearnOnline suite of programs, including curriculum revisions, course planning, and technical support for CDPs, counsellors and HR professionals.

 

References:

Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. (2015). Technology and innovative solutions chapter: Constitution and by-laws. Retrieved from http://www.ccpa-accp.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/TiCCConstitutionandBy-Laws.pdf

Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. (2015). Scope of practice (5th ed.). Retrieved from https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/StandardsOfPractice_en_June2015.pdf

Johnson, S. M. (2017). e-Counselling: A review of practices and ethical consideration. Antistasis, 7(1). 38-48. Retrieved from https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/antistasis/article/viewFile/25160/29509.

Neault, R, & Vande Kuyt, M. (2012). The ethics of e-counselling. Retrieved from http://contactpoint.ca/2012/12/the-ethics-of-e-counselling/

Lucie Morillon
Lucie Morillon is the Bilingual Content & Communications Co-ordinator for CERIC. With a passion for quality content, she connects with her online communities and provides strong resources to engage members – and always encourages new ones to get involved. She identifies, creates and curates the content destined for the ContactPoint website, the weekly CareerWise newsletter and Careering magazine.

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