Who are you really talking to? Is there really such a thing as confidentiality in online counseling?

This is a common concern for clients.  ‘If I send my information to someone on the internet, how do I really know how my information will be used?’

Well, do you wonder how your primary care physician will use your information? Or your dentist? Chances are that you probably give out the information without giving it a second thought.  We use the internet all the time for paying bills and making purchases- both tasks that involve divulging personal information.  How is online counseling any different?

Many online counselors take extra measures to insure vital information is only exchanged via encrypted and secure services.   Chat services can be conducted via dashboards that utilize encryption that safeguards what is said during a session.  Emails are sent via email services that also allow both the therapist and client to encrypt the exchanges.  If you ask me, this is more security then leaving my information at my dentist!

What are some of the security measures to consider?

The Online Therapy Institute proposes a few areas to explore:

Using Firewalls
A firewall is something that you can use to keep others from hacking into your computer. Most security programs on a computer system have this as a built-in feature. You can check the settings for your program to see if it is enabled. If it is disabled, you can easily enable it to increase the security of your system.

Password Protection
Be sure that everything that you are using is password protected – this is a good tip for both therapists and clients.  Using a password for your computer system or laptop can ensure that you are the only one accessing personal information. This can help clients feel safe sharing their information with a therapist and can help therapist increase the chances their client’s information is being protected.

Workplace Computers & Key-logger Programs
A concern with the workplace computers is that administration can look in on your emails and basically whatever you are doing on the internet. Programs, such as key-logger programs, are used to track the sites someone has visited, what they did while visiting the sites and who they interacted with while there.  This is a very real concern, not only for clients and therapist, but for individuals involved in abusive relationships as this is a common method used by abusers.    If at all possible, reserve anything that you do not want someone else knowing about for when you are home.  When you are home, be sure to run a virus scan and security check – this will investigate and determine if your computer is safe or let you know if the system is comprised.

Again, these are only a few of the things to consider. What else do you think is important? What concerns would you have?

Belky Perez Schwartz is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Coral Gables, Florida – learn more about her on her website or visit her clinician profile on Breakthrough.com.

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