Are you a digital native or an immigrant to the land of technology?
If you were born after 1987, you are most likely a digital native. You have grown up with technology and have little resistance to it. You do it naturally, without a lot of thought. If you are a digital immigrant, many things about technology can be overwhelming. As the millennials grow up and move into the job market, more and more experiences require computer savvy. If you want to apply for a job, you will most likely have to do so online. If you want to find a phone number, forget about finding a phone book. Need to apply for Medicare or social security? Most help is found online. Many of the day-to-day activities that used to be done through mail or through written application processes are not even available in these forms.
How do all of these changes affect professional counselors and other mental health professionals?
In a word, profoundly! Technological familiarity is now often required to submit insurance forms, to sign up for conferences, to maintain awareness of changes in the field. Journals which once were delivered through the mail now are delivered through digital means. Practitioners have a wide variety of information sources available, but also can be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information flooding in-boxes.
The most significant changes that are affecting the mental health field are those related to issues of confidentiality and informed consent. Confidentiality is the bedrock foundation on which the counseling relationship rests. Anything that threatens confidentiality is a threat to both the client and the counselor. Confidentiality requires very careful attention to any possibility of breach. However, many individuals, both counselors and clients, are very used to using emails and texting in order to quickly and efficiently reach others.
How do professional counselors handle these issues? The most important method is through informed consent – that is, through explaining the issues that relate to the use of emails/texting and social media to clients as soon as a counseling relationship is begun. Professional counselors are urged through their ethical standards to maintain a social media and technology policy and to explain it to clients. Counselors are also encouraged to use encrypted programs in sending and receiving emails or texts, if they actually agree to do so (some counselors do not).
Telehealth or telemedicine is another emerging area of concern. Suppose I am a counselor in Tennessee and a client in another state finds my website (another necessity for current practice) and wants to work with me through a video platform. First, unless I am licensed in the state where the client is, I cannot work with the client. Second, if I am licensed in that state, I must use a video platform that is HIPAA-compliant (Skype is not). Third, I must be knowledgeable concerning the resources in that client’s area in case of emergency. Fourth, I must have enough ability to work with technology to be able to access the client through another means if for some reason the video bridge fails at a crucial moment.
Technology is both an incredible blessing and a huge burden. My immigrant ability to speak tech is improving, but I will never be as adept at it as are millennials. Nonetheless, I will keep trying, because it is where the world is going.
What are your stories about technology? How do you manage the digital world? I would love to hear about it.
About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:
Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.” Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com
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