During the recent ACPA Summer Leadership meeting in Long Beach, CA, Commission VII's statement regarding the services provided by mycybershrink.com was submitted to the Commission Chairs for their comment and review. In an overwhelming show of support, the Commission Chairs unanimously supported the following statement by Commission VII regarding the services advertised by mycybershrink.com.
Statement on the Services Provided to College Students by mycybershrink.com
(As unanimously endorsed by ACPA Commission Chairs, July 22, 2001)
The members of Commission VII are a diverse group of counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals. The mission of Commission VII: Counseling & Psychological Services is to provide leadership and support for professionals dedicated to providing counseling and psychological services in settings of higher education within the context of a student development philosophy. Commission VII is committed to promoting human development in community college, colleges, and universities by providing quality and ethical counseling and psychological services to students who are served by our membership.
Commission VII recognizes the current growth of communications technology and the increased development of alternative avenues of counseling and psychological services that are made available to the general public through such means (e.g., OnlineClinics.com). More specifically, Commission VII recognizes the increased visibility of mycybershrink.com on college and university campuses. Mycybershrink.com markets its services to college students as an alternative to campus or local area mental health counseling and psychological services. In its review of the information provided by the mycybershrink.com website, Commission VII would like to address ethical concerns associated with services provided to students in institutions of higher education. These concerns are based on the ethical principles of the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the American Psychological Association (APA).
In 1999, ACA established ethical standards for counseling on the internet (ACA, 1999). The following areas were addressed in the document: privacy information, informational notices, client waiver, records of electronic communications, electronic transfer of client information, the appropriateness of on-line counseling, development of counseling plans, continuity of services, boundaries of competence, verification of client competence to enter counseling and informed consent, and legal considerations. The guidelines were developed for use in association with the recent ACA Code of Ethics & Standards of Practice.
In 1997, the Ethics Committee of the APA issued a statement concerning psychological services delivered by telephone, teleconferencing, and the Internet. In a review of the 1997 ethics code, the Ethics Committee concluded that the code is not specific with regard to the delivery of psychological services by internet and has no rules prohibiting the offering of these services, though complaints regarding such services are to be reviewed on a case by case basis. These issues are under review and will be considered for further revision of the Ethics Code. Until such time, the Ethics Committee recommends that psychologists abide by the following standards to guide their use of providing psychological services via the internet: boundaries of competence, assessment, therapy, structuring the therapeutic relationship, informed consent to therapy, and confidentiality. Additionally, the following general standards are applicable: professional and scientific relationship, boundaries of competence, basis for scientific and professional judgments, describing the nature and results of psychological services, avoiding harm, fees and financial arrangements, and standards of advertising. As well, the APA Ethics Committee stated that psychologists who are considering providing psychological services via the internet, "must review the characteristics of the services, the service delivery method, and the provisions for confidentiality. Psychologists must then consider the relevant ethical standards and other requirements, such as licensure board rules" (APA, 1997).
Based on the ethical standards of the ACA and APA, Commission VII would like to address its concerns with the services that mycybershrink.com reports to provide to college students. Specifically:
"mycybershrink.com presents educational information related to certain current and/or controversial events on college campuses as well as the issues that can arise surrounding these events. The information contained in mycybershrink.com is for educational purposes only. The information is not intended to and does not provide professional advice for mental health counseling nor is it a substitute for professional mental health counseling or therapy."However, as advertised on their current homepage (www.mycybershrink.com), the public can "Get online therapy from our unique professional community. Whether you want to schedule an online session or learn more about online therapy, mycybershrink.com offers a viable solution."
In sum, Commission VII expresses serious reservations with the services provided by mycybershrink.com that are aimed specifically towards college students. The concerns presented here are not necessarily conclusive or exhaustive, but represent the Commission's initial response to the practice of counseling and psychological services offered by internet sites that advertise online counseling and psychological services. We hope that these concerns will be addressed by the operators and owners of mycybershrink.com and we welcome further dialogue on these issues and concerns.