The scope of ethics complaints to licensure authorities regarding online services

Gregory E. Baker (2006)

Heralded as a promising and emerging sector of practice, the provision of mental health services over the Internet is considered to be fraught with potential ethical risks. Although the literature contains substantial description and theory of potential ethical risks in this new service medium, little is known about the extent to which such potential pitfalls have materialized in practice. This study investigated the scope of ethics complaints that have arisen from services provided over the Internet by licensed professionals, with an emphasis on psychologists. A brief history of the convergence between professional psychology, related health professions, and Internet computer technologies is reviewed with a focus on ethical guidance and dilemmas. Licensure authorities of psychologists were surveyed to assess the extent to which services rendered via the Internet have resulted in ethics complaints. When very few Internet surveys were returned, an informal telephone survey was conducted with 17 Boards. The gap between ethical guidance and the realities of practice is address in light of the observed rarity of complaints. Implications are discussed for future decision-making regarding research, practice, and regulation of services provided over the Internet.