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Any reputable online counselor should endeavor to secure correspondence and ensure the confidentiality of a therapeutic relationship – and should very likely outline the steps that she takes to ensure informational privacy on her website.

Practically speaking, with some minimal awareness and commitment to conserving privacy, the confidentiality of online therapy is easily maintained; but since the privacy issues of an internet based therapeutic relationship differ from an offline relationship, they deserve some consideration.

Online therapy affords the potential for great confidentiality, but only when undertaken with some minimal caution, both on your part and the part of your therapist.

Here is a very brief overview of some of the privacy issues associated with online therapy.

Protecting Your Privacy in Online Counseling

  • Do not engage in online counseling via an email account that is shared with anyone else.
  • Do not leave an email account that is used for therapy open where others may see your messages.
  • Be aware that unencrypted emails are sometimes “hacked”, and that if you desire true email confidentiality, you will need to use some form of email encryption software - as will your counselor.
  • Be aware that if using a work computer or work email for your therapy, your employer has a legal right to intercept your communications.
  • Be aware that some internet chat programs are encrypted while others are not. Does your counselor use an instant messaging service that is encrypted?
  • Ask what measures your counselor takes to secure stored data on her hard drive. How long is your information stored for?
  • Be aware that files downloaded to your hard drive may be vulnerable to spyware. Make sure to run up-to date anti virus and anti spyware software regularly.
  • Be aware that even after you delete files from your hard drive, that in many cases a knowledgeable person can retrieve these files.
  • You should understand that online counseling is a relatively new means of therapeutic delivery and so confidentiality laws may not always explicitly protect online counseling communications, especially when client and counselor reside in different jurisdictions.  If you are concerned that the information you reveal could be used against you in a court of law, you may want to ask your therapist about her obligations to reveal information while under legal subpoena.

Don’t be afraid of online counseling, but do be aware of the threats to your privacy and do take easy steps to safeguard your confidentiality.

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Page last updated Apr 06, 2011

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