From a practical perspective, the Internet and other communication technologies have affected nearly all areas of human life; and the helping professions are not an exception to this rule. In December 2007, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) published an article (“Therapy Today”, Vol 18 No 10) discussing the use of webcams and teleconferencing technology to conduct supervision sessions between mental health professionals.

But that is only one example. Nowadays, we increasingly hear about initiatives which aim to use these technologies to facilitate mental health treatment and/or support. Let’s take a look at a practical example: the passage below was published by Agence France-Presse in early February:

“JAPANESE police intervened to save the lives of 72 people who posted their intentions to kill themselves on the internet last year. The figure is up from 44 people in 2006 and comes amid rising alarm over suicide pacts in which strangers meet over the internet and promise to support one another as they kill themselves.

Police last year acted on reports of 121 internet users who suggested through message boards, chatrooms or other online functions that they would kill themselves, the National Police Agency said.

Of them, police talked 72 out of killing themselves, including nine who were actually in the midst of a suicide attempt. Another 33 cases were considered hoaxes or not serious, while in 16 cases police could not locate the individuals.

It did not give figures for the number of people who killed themselves without police intervention. In one case, police received a report of a suicidal email. With help from the internet service provider, police went to the writer’s house and found the person about to hang him or herself, the agency said without identifying the individual.

In another example, police visited the house of somebody who posted an announcement for a group suicide and found a vehicle with charcoal burners and masking tape inside.”

Although this extract shows an “unusually influential” effect of technology in an area of mental health (suicide), it is rational to assume that with time other technologies will play an increasingly important and influential role in facilitating helping professions.

But with such developments, several ethical issues are also likely to arise, and new ethical boundaries concerning the use of technology will likely be developed. Within this context we can ask ourselves: is technology a benefit or an ethical concern to our profession?

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