Recently, some discussion has sprung up in the Netherlands around whether psychiatrists or psychologists should google their patients. The Dutch Association of Psychiatry (NVVP) says that information that has been put on the Internet, is public, so anyone should be able to view it, including psychiatrists. On the other hand, the Netherlands Institute for Psychologists (NIP) disapproves of the googling of patients by psychologists, because it can impact the treatment relationship negatively. It is also reasoned that the information relevan to treatment should come from the patient directly.
That is where it gets a little troubling: some patients simply do not or cannot give the information relevant to their treatment. Googling without consent is, in my opinion, not productive in this case, but information gained elsewhere, such as online, may sometimes help in this case. For one thing, the fact that my high school tutor read my online journal back in 2004 opened the doors to my eventually seeking help for my issues. I would never have been able to communicate these issues any other way.
On the other hand, does the end justify the means? Six years later, I feel that both of us overstepped our boundaries by sharing my online journal, because that way, he was dragged into emotional issues no teacher should have to help a student deal with. To be specific, he was the first who knew that I have insiders. It was not his job to deal with that, and the fact that he tried anyway, had some negative consequences. Maybe mental health professionls have a broader array of issues that is their job to help clients deal with, but still, boundaries can be overstepped here.
Currently, I give professionals consent to read my blog. I most likely wouldn’t have odne so if I’d still written as personal a journal as I did in 2004, because of the fear that we would again overstep our boundaries. Then again, the fact that the information that is on the Internet, is public, is the reason I avoid writing highly personal things on the Internet these days. In so far, I agree with the NVVP. However, I think most people are more careful, but a few are less careful than I am, and people with mental illness are especially vulnerable in this respect.
A last issue is of course the fact that the information people put online, no matter how careful or careless they are, was not intended fo rprofessionals to read, and may therefore be misinterpreted. Information may also be outdated or inaccurate, and most likely will be irrelevant to treatment. Is it ethical for a mental health professional to know about a patient’s sex life, what they ate for lunch today, or what they just spent E10,000 on, when there are no other indications for sexual issues, eating disorders, or a spending problem?