At the recent PAPU conference in Durban, a symposium on Cyber Psychology was attended by approximately a hundred people, many of them having to sit on the floor. The three presenters, Dr Hannetjie Edeling, a psychologist in private practice, Dr Helen Dunbar-Krige, a senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg and Dr Caroll Dewar Hermann,  a senior lecturer at the University of Zululand, discussed issues around the ethics of cyber psychology.

The aim of the symposium was to raise awareness of the pros and cons of online therapies and the ethical challenges that arise from the use of digital communications, specifically where work and private lives overlap. It was also to encourage ethical behaviour in any cyber setting and to provoke thoughts about required developments in this new field.

The thorny issue of the ethics of cyber dealings was discussed and the various pitfalls encountered whilst on line were highlighted in a presentation, particularly with regard to Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, e-mail and text-based therapies. Cyber-psychology is thought to be the future of Psychology and this phenomenon should be taken seriously. Therapists interested in using this new medium should familiarise themselves with all the unique demands arising from the use of tele-therapies. Finding one’s place and rhythm and the fit with the client and medium are part of the challenge for modern psychologists.

Some off the greatest ethical- and boundary challenges that arise for psychologists in the digital world are online disinhibition by clients, where people feel more free to say what they want or not online, bordering on inappropriate comments and easier disclosures than face to face. Trolls; sock puppets and fake representations of the self can also occur

Various other websites referring to ethical guidelines and it is advised that therapists familiarise themselves with the different requirements of their own country as well as those of other jurisdictions. Tilt Magazine, a free quarterly digital magazine, is a must to stay on top of new and innovative ideas.

Cyber-psychology  is here to stay and it is important that we train students and current psychologists how to behave ethically in this new territory.

There was overwhelming interest at the symposium in forming an interest group and/or a support group for therapists who are interested in cyber-therapies through PsySSA. We would like to hear from you, so please feel free to contact us with your experiences, concerns and queries.

Topics for in-depth discussion in later issues are:

  • Cyber Ethics
  • Cyber behaviour
  • Research and training
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