Professional support and guidance in cyberspace counselling : an ethical critique.
Zondi, Nomshado Lisa.
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This study investigated the ethical issues of using cyberspace counselling. Specifically, the study focused on ethical issues arising from migration from face-to-face contact to cyberspace counselling using telephone, email, Skype, Facebook and Twitter. It has been realised that since cyberspace counselling is still a new phenomenon, it is important to consider the ethical issues that surround it and how counsellors can adapt to this kind of counselling. The study was underpinned by two theoretical frameworks: consequentialism theory which considers the consequences of counsellors’ actions, and deontology theory which considers the duty that cyberspace counsellors have towards their clients. The study used the interpretivist paradigm and adopted a qualitative approach. Snowball sampling was used to select ten cyber counsellors. Data was collected through in-depth interviews with ten cyberspace counsellors in and around Pietermaritzburg. Content and narrative analysis were the main processes that were used to bring order, structure and meaning to data that had been collected. The study established various ethical issues associated with cyberspace counselling. These include: loss of urgency due to time delays, narrative and communication misunderstandings, and the limitations of cyberspace counselling in crisis intervention. The study revealed that cyber hacking may further expose a client to a breach of confidentiality. Insufficient contextual background information of clients may affect the quality of support provided. Where a client’s demographic information is unavailable, cultural understandings may not be considered thereby increasing the likelihood of putting the client at risk. An additional ethical concern is that counsellors’ skills and limitations may have an effect on the provision of best practice treatment. The anonymity of cyberspace counselling, while beneficial, may increase abusive contact and the opportunity to create a fictional character on behalf of the client. Ethics could be violated in situations where the counsellor does not know how to handle the anonymity of the client. The study recommended that ethical guidelines be created to guide cyberspace counsellors in South Africa and that cyberspace counsellors should inform their clients of the limited security of their correspondence. Clients can then make a choice about whether or not to continue with cyberspace counselling despite its limitations. Counsellors must receive adequate training on using cyberspace counselling and they should make use of an encrypted code for security purposes.