Guidelines for the Practice of Telepsychology

Introduction

These guidelines are designed to address the developing area of psychological service provision commonly known as telepsychology. Telepsychology is defined, for the purpose of these guidelines, as the provision of psychological services using telecommunication technologies as expounded in the “Definition of Telepsychology.” The expanding role of technology in the provision of psychological services and the continuous development of new technologies that may be useful in the practice of psychology present unique opportunities, considerations and challenges to practice. With the advancement of technology and the increased number of psychologists using technology in their practices, these guidelines have been prepared to educate and guide them.

These guidelines are informed by relevant American Psychological Association (APA) standards and guidelines, including the following: Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (“APA Ethics Code”) (APA, 2002a, 2010), and the Record Keeping Guidelines (APA, 2007). In addition, the assumptions and principles that guide the APA's “Guidelines on Multicultural Training, Research, Practice, and Organizational Change for Psychologists” (APA, 2003) are infused throughout the rationale and application describing each of the guidelines. Therefore, these guidelines are informed by professional theories, evidence-based practices and definitions in an effort to offer the best guidance in the practice of telepsychology.

The use of the term guidelines within this document refers to statements that suggest or recommend specific professional behaviors, endeavors or conduct for psychologists. Guidelines differ from standards in that standards are mandatory and may be accompanied by an enforcement mechanism. Thus, guidelines are aspirational in intent. They are intended to facilitate the continued systematic development of the profession and to help ensure a high level of professional practice by psychologists. “Guidelines are created to educate and to inform the practice of psychologists. They are also intended to stimulate debate and research. Guidelines are not to be promulgated as a means of establishing the identity of a particular group or specialty area of psychology; likewise, they are not to be created with the purpose of excluding any psychologist from practicing in a particular area” (APA, 2002b, p. 1048). “Guidelines are not intended to be mandatory or exhaustive and may not be applicable to every professional or clinical situation. They are not definitive and they are not intended to take precedence over the judgment of psychologists” (APA, 2002b, p. 1050). These guidelines are meant to assist psychologists as they apply current standards of professional practice when utilizing telecommunication technologies as a means of delivering their professional services. They are not intended to change any scope of practice or define the practice of any group of psychologists.

The practice of telepsychology involves consideration of legal requirements, ethical standards, telecommunication technologies, intra- and interagency policies, and other external constraints, as well as the demands of the particular professional context. In some situations, one set of considerations may suggest a different course of action than another, and it is the responsibility of the psychologist to balance them appropriately. These guidelines aim to assist psychologists in making such decisions. In addition, it will be important for psychologists to be cognizant and compliant with laws and regulations that govern independent practice within jurisdictions and across jurisdictional and international borders. This is particularly true when providing telepsychology services. Where a psychologist is providing services from one jurisdiction to a client/patient located in another jurisdiction, the law and regulations may differ between the two jurisdictions. Also, it is the responsibility of the psychologists who practice telepsychology to maintain and enhance their level of understanding of the concepts related to the delivery of services via telecommunication technologies. Nothing in these guidelines is intended to contravene any limitations set on psychologists' activities based on ethical standards, federal or jurisdictional statutes or regulations, or for those psychologists who work in agencies and public settings. As in all other circumstances, psychologists must be aware of the standards of practice for the jurisdiction or setting in which they function and are expected to comply with those standards. Recommendations related to the guidelines are consistent with broad ethical principles (APA Ethics Code, 2002a, 2010) and it continues to be the responsibility of the psychologist to apply all current legal and ethical standards of practice when providing telepsychology services.

It should be noted that APA policy generally requires substantial review of the relevant empirical literature as a basis for establishing the need for guidelines and for providing justification for the guidelines' statements themselves (APA, 2005). The literature supporting the work of the Task Force on Telepsychology and guidelines statements themselves reflect seminal, relevant and recent publications. The supporting references in the literature review emphasize studies from approximately the past 15 years plus classic studies that provide empirical support and relevant examples for the guidelines. The literature review, however, is not intended to be exhaustive or serve as a comprehensive systematic review of the literature that is customary when developing professional practice guidelines for psychologists.