Journal Article

Social Work Practice in the Digital Age: Therapeutic E-Mail as a Direct Practice Methodology

Marian Mattison

in Social Work

Published on behalf of National Association of Social Workers

Volume 57, issue 3, pages 249-258
Published in print July 2012 | ISSN: 0037-8046
Published online September 2012 | e-ISSN: 1545-6846 | DOI:
Social Work Practice in the Digital Age: Therapeutic E-Mail as a Direct Practice Methodology

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The author addresses the risks and benefits of incorporating therapeutic e-mail communication into clinical social work practice. Consumer demand for online clinical services is growing faster than the professional response. E-mail, when used as an adjunct to traditional meetings with clients, offers distinct advantages and risks. Benefits include the potential to reach clients in geographically remote and underserved communities, enhancing and extending the therapeutic relationship and improving treatment outcomes. Risks include threats to client confidentiality and privacy, liability coverage for practitioners, licensing jurisdiction, and the lack of competency standards for delivering e-mail interventions. Currently, the social work profession does not have adequate instructive guidelines and best-practice standards for using e-mail as a direct practice methodology. Practitioners need (formal) academic training in the techniques connected to e-mail exchanges with clients. The author describes the ethical and legal risks for practitioners using therapeutic e-mail with clients and identifies recommendations for establishing best-practice standards.

Keywords: ethics; online practice; technology; therapeutic e-mail; risks

Journal Article.  5963 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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