Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Training and Education in Professional Psychology (2011) 5(3): 160-166. Copyright 2011, American Psychological Association. DOI: 10.1037/a0024441. This is an authors’ copy, not the copy of record. Used by permission.


The emergence of Internet search and social media sites now permits therapists to obtain a plethora of personal information about their clients online. These behaviors raise a number of ethical issues related to client privacy, self-determination, and informed consent. The purpose of this study is to examine student therapists’ opinions and behaviors in regard to the use these websites to search for information about their clients. A national sample of 854 psychology doctoral students was surveyed in regard to their online activities, attitudes, and frequency of searching for client information online. Results showed that Internet usage is pervasive in this group, with the majority reporting daily use of search engine or social networking sites. Most participants reported that searching for information about clients online using search engines (66.9%) or social networking websites (76.8%) was “always” or “usually” unacceptable. Nevertheless, 97.8% of participants reported searching for at least one client’s information using search engines in the past year; 94.4% reported searching for client information on social networking websites. Overall, student therapists reported searching for 16.5% of clients seen in the past year, using either search engine or social networking sites. The ethical and training implications of these results are discussed.