It’s not easy to make the decision to seek mental health treatment. Yet for many, it is a choice that has transformed or even saved their lives. While the traditional, in-office, model for therapy is still the default option people think of when deciding to seek help, online therapy is a proving to be an increasing popular and effective option for those seeking to overcome personal obstacles through the support of a licensed therapist.
Topics that are traditionally discussed in-person are now just as easily broached online. As long as you have Internet access, you can immediately connect, at the click of a button, with a professional therapist from the comfort and safety of your home.
But while convenience, effectiveness, and affordability are obvious reasons why someone may choose online therapy, many are deterred. Questions about the security and confidentiality of personal information can stand in the way of connecting with therapists online. If you find yourself hesitant to sign up with an online therapy service because you are worried about your personal privacy, keep reading to learn how the leading platforms ensure all of your information remains safe.
All Platforms Must Comply With Federal Guidelines
Just as you fill out paperwork when you got to your doctor’s office for the first time, you can expect the same when you begin online therapy. Prior to treatment, you will need to complete paperwork that includes highly personal and private information such as medical history and current medications.
Rest assured that all healthcare providers, including licensed online therapists, are legally held to abide by stringent guidelines determined by federal laws. You may be familiar with these government laws created under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA laws.
In addition, there are also state-level policies and laws applied to guarantee your information stays safe and your privacy remains protected. If you have any questions about an online platform’s privacy guidelines, go the extra mile to review their standards. Always be sure to check that an online therapy platform is HIPAA-compliant before signing up. You may also want to ask about their record-keeping practices to put your mind at ease.
Just as you would with an in-person therapist, at any time during your treatment you may discuss privacy guidelines with your online therapist. Regardless of how long you have been a client, you can always make sure they are upholding policies and procedures. If at any time you decide to end treatment, or simply change therapists on the same platform, discuss with your therapy provider how they will safely and securely destroy private information and data when appropriate.
Duty to Protect
Although a therapist is obligated to protect each patient’s confidentiality, it’s important to note that there are exceptions to this rule. This is known as the Duty to Protect law. A therapist, whether conducting sessions in-person or online, may have a responsibility to warn or disclose information to third parties if they feel their client poses dangers to themselves or to others (duty to warn).
Concerns regarding child or elder abuse are such examples. Because of the nature of online therapy, it may be tough for an online therapist to meet this ethical obligation. Not knowing a client’s exact geographic location or even their real name are just a few reasons this can be difficult.
Engaging in Standard Online Safety Practices
As a general principle, it’s wise to be cautious of security threats when it comes to all your online activity. Engaging in online therapy is certainly no exception.
Most leading online therapy platforms encrypt all communication to ensure your data is protected against cyber-attacks. But as with anything done online, therapists and patients should be aware of possible security threats to private information and data. These may include phishing schemes, computer viruses, hackers, unsecured software or inadequate security systems, unsecured Wi-Fi, device theft, and scams. Scary as these may sound, keep in mind that even a therapist conducting in-person therapy will likely log session information online, and that information may also be hacked with these same methods.
Be sure to choose a unique password for your online therapy platform. Keep your password safe and never share it. When logging on for each therapy session, be sure to use a secure wireless network and always take your session in a private, non-public location. Although online therapy makes it easy to talk to a therapist from anywhere in the world, a busy coffee shop, noisy office, or crowded shopping area are not ideal. A private location away from other people is always preferable.
Malicious online activity could happen at any time to both patient and therapist, but cyber security experts and software engineers are working hard every day to control and prevent it. They are equipped to productively combat against malicious objectives and work closely with online therapy platforms to make cybersecurity awareness, security, and prevention best practices a part of their culture. When deciding on a platform, check out their FAQ section to see for yourself how your safety and privacy stays protected.
If you’re seeking out on online solution for improving your mental health, don’t let your fears about privacy stop you. Many professional online therapy platforms are equipped with the newest and highest-grade encryption services to ensure you feel safe and secure to communicate openly and enjoy the convenience of engaging in online sessions.