Forked lightening suggestive of nasty surprises that can happen when internet technology is used for confidential information without adequate expertise

Avoiding dangers in online therapy

Privacy breaches when using technology

* Don’t use Skype (or other platforms that are not designed for confidential medical information). Skype is encrypted in transit, but is recorded on the Skype servers in the US. A professional online therapist uses a platform such as Vsee that is compliant with PHIPA and other laws governing the confidentiality of medical records.

* Know that your phone messages and texts can be read from your phone, even after you have deleted them.

* Before putting anything confidential in an email, know who can read it. Gmail is encrypted in transit between two gmail accounts, and probably can’t be read by your IT department if you use the web interface; however it is recorded on the Gmail servers in the US. Hushmail or a similar service is better—so long as both parties have it and it is not forwarded to someone who doesn’t. A password protected communication should be safe unless your computer or smartphone (or your therapist’s) is stolen, in which case it can be read. A reputable counsellor’s computer should be encrypted – but don’t be afraid to ask.

* For more on privacy in mental health care, see
privacy in mental health care

Unqualified counsellors

A commercial outfit can have an expensive and professional-looking website and claim that the “professionals” they provide or list are “licensed”, “approved” etc. Licensed where? Can you check on it?

For a therapist who actually is licensed it would be foolish to be on such a website, because they could lose their licence. The licensing of mental health workers is at the state or provincial level. If you live in a state or province that registers mental health therapists (Ontario, Quebec and virtually all US states) it is illegal for someone licensed somewhere else to provide mental health services for you, and they will not be covered by malpractice insurance if they do.

Safety

Except as an adjunct to care you are receiving at your local clinic, distance counselling should not be undertaken by anyone who is unstable or has any condition that could pose a danger to self or others if it escalates—for example, addiction to hard drugs, anorexia, drunk driving, bipolar disorder, violent anger, or suicidal tendencies.