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Ethical and Professional Issues with Computer-Related Technology

Article excerpt

Abstract. School psychologists have an ethical imperative to determine the ways computers can facilitate practice because of the potential to improve effectiveness and efficiency. At the same time, psychologists have a parallel imperative to consider carefully ethical and professional practice implications. The aspects of computers that render them most helpful also render them most vulnerable to ethical violations. With the increased use of computer-related technology, conflicts between and among professional ethics, principles of professional conduct, and personal values arise in every arena of practice. Psychologists should not replace traditional practice with technological advancements, but use them to augment practice. Ultimately, responsibility is nontransferable and remains with the psychologist. Fundamental ethical imperatives are the same in the use of computer-related technology as in any professional work.

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Computers and their related technology can be an enormous boon to the work of school psychologists. Their power, speed, and flexibility enable one to store, tap, and modify vast amounts of information. They are less prone to computational and clerical errors than humans, save time and energy, and open new methods of communication between professionals and clients. Applications of computers have been developing at an astonishing rate. Today's software, such as programs that translate from one language to another or that reliably grade student essays (Landauer, 1998), would have been considered science fiction a few years ago.

The integration of computer-based services with existing resources and services can be challenging (Sampson, 1999), but the provision of services, such as counseling on-line (Hampton & Houser, 2000; Maheu & Gordon, 2000) and using the Internet for test interpretation purposes (Sampson, 2001), is increasing enormously. Such practice has the potential to enable school psychologists to reach a broader audience (Harris-Bowlsby, 2000), and to make psychological services more readily available to underserved populations (Hampton & Houser, 2000; Lee, 2000). The Internet has a wide variety of psychological applications, such as providing help in evaluating options for therapy, information about specific psychological services, informational resources, ongoing personal counseling and therapy through e-mail, psychological testing and assessment, real-time counseling through chat and conferencing, self-help guides, single-session psychological advice through e-mail ore-bulletin boards, synchronous and asynchronous group discussions and supportive counseling, and psychological research (Barak, 1999). Psychologists may participate in these services as providers or may refer clients to them. With increasing regularity, school psychologists will encounter clients, parents, and teachers familiar with these services. In addition the Internet has the potential to revolutionize the training and supervision of school psychologists, ranging from increasing cultural competence (McFadden & Jencius, 2000) to using distance learning in training.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP, 2000), the American Psychological Association (APA) Ethics Committee (1995), and the APA Committee on Professional Standards and Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessment (1986) directly addressed ethical issues involved in psychologists' use of technology. A number of professional ethical principles are relevant (Heron, Martz, & Margolis, 1996; Hughes, 1986; Jacob-Timm & Hartshorne, 1998; Pryzwansky, 1993). NASP's Principles for Professional Ethics, in the Professional Conduct Manual (NASP, 2000), stipulate that school psychologists are fully responsible for technological services used. They must ensure confidentiality and privacy, take responsibility for decisions, and use technological devices only to improve the quality of client services. …