The Mental Health Professional and the New Technologies: A Handbook for Practice Today

By Marlene M. Maheu; Myron L. Puller et al. | Go to book overview

3
E-Mail, Chat Rooms, and Other
Text-Based Environments

Moer's truism: The scenery changes only for the lead dog.

Involvement with digital electronics is becoming a prominent part of people's lives. Children's video games, adolescents' instant messaging, adults' e-mail and searches for health information, and the widespread indulgence in Web-mediated pornography consume a considerable proportion of cognitive and affective life in Western society (Cooper, 2002). Mental health professionals need at least a working knowledge of the technological world their clients inhabit. In addition to providing direct service online, mental health professionals will be consulting, continuing their educations, conducting research, and providing supervision and oversight to students and colleagues. Mental health professionals need to become adept at the mechanics of various online modalities and to understand how the new communication systems affect the process of receiving care and the outcomes of care received. Finally, and most important, mental health professionals need to know how people relate to the electronic health care system, to other clinicians, and to clients online.

Clearly, in appropriate circumstances, mental health professionals should be going online. This means not only availing oneself of the information resources present on the Internet but also actively using current technologies to care for and provide service to clients. Getting online is easy. Before investing in a virtual office, however, mental health professionals may first scout the territory, heed the tales of the pioneers, purchase and install the right equipment, and test their online skills on family, friends, and colleagues.

Once professionals venture into cyberspace, their worldwide image is as important as their offline demeanor, dress, office decoration, business-card design, and stationery. The online identity of mental health professionals is an expansion of their offline selves, not an alternative. An online presence can influence one's reputation, ability to deliver service, and other aspects of a career. Displaying a presence anywhere means that onlookers will scan for signs of competence, self-esteem, power, sensitivity, and other characteristics (Miller, 1995). Consumers are particularly concerned about the ethical practices and reliability of the professional behind the image.

Cyberspace began as a lawless frontier with unlimited opportunity and unfamiliar hazards. It is now rapidly integrating with the physical world. Purely virtual dot.coms are fading into the mist of romantic legend, to be replaced by hybrid “bricks and clicks” enterprises spanning both cyberspace and Einsteinian space. The usual requirements for professional skills and credentials, comportment, ethics, and protection of the client

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