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The Role of Recording in Psychotherapy

Ask the Ethicist

Internet Editors Note: This is a follow-up article to a broad question of the Role of Technology in Psychotherapy.

Recording Technology

Before getting into the specifics of how to appropriately record a client, supervisee, peer, or research participant, I think it is important to ask why you are wanting to do this.  In psychotherapy we all must appropriately document the services we provide.  Are you thinking that recording the sessions is how you will document them?  If so, will you archive and maintain each recording in compliance with the requirements of relevant state and federal (e.g., HIPAA) laws?  Or, is there some other reason for making these recordings?  Whatever your objectives, it is important to ensure that making these recordings is the best (and most appropriate) way of achieving these goals.  If there are other options available to achieve your goals and objectives, they should be considered as well.

Informed consent

Should making these recordings be clinically relevant and important to do, then as you mention, it is vital that this is fully discussed in the informed consent process prior to making any recordings.  The other individual(s) should fully understand the reasons for making the recordings, how they may be used, how this potential use is relevant to the reasons you are meeting with them (e.g., how is making these recordings going to contribute to or enhance their treatment, supervision, etc.?), will they have access to these recordings and if so, how, how long will the recordings be maintained and where, and when destroyed, how will this be done?

As with all informed consent agreements it is important that the other individual’s consent be given voluntarily, that she or he is competent to give this consent (cognitively/emotionally as well as legally), that you actively ensure her or his understanding of what is being agreed to, and that the informed consent agreements are documented.  Further, consistent with the APA Ethics Code reasonably available options and alternatives should be discussed along with the relative potential risks and benefits of each along with the relative potential risks and benefits of refusal.  Finally, they should understand that they may rescind their authorization or consent at any time without penalty or adverse consequences.

Recordings and Supervision

The use of recordings in supervision is widely known.  Trainees regularly audio or videotape sessions with clients for their clinical supervisors to review, both prior to meeting for supervision and jointly in supervision sessions.  It can easily be seen how this use of recordings of sessions with clients  can be of benefit to the clients (as well as to the trainees).  But, due to the high likelihood of benefit to the clients an argument can be made that the use of recordings in this way is ethically and clinically appropriate, and consistent with the APA Ethics Code (as long as informed consent requirements are followed as discussed above).

But, the practice of recording treatment sessions by practicing psychotherapists, the practice of recording supervision sessions by supervisees, and the practice of recording peer supervision/consultation sessions by a member of that group are each less clear.  How will these recordings be used to benefit the members involved.  In peer supervision/consultation having recordings could be of value to group members.  Additional review of group discussions and feedback provided could be quite beneficial to participants.  How the recordings would be used and what benefit or value would result from having the recordings is less clear.  This would have to be clarified before making a decision about engaging in this practice.

In research, the use of recordings is a widely accepted practice.  Often, this is an integral component of the research.  For example, in studies of mother-infant interaction, the recordings are analyzed to discern significant patterns and dynamics.  The use of recordings is integral to the ability to conduct the research.  So, again, one must determine the relevance of the use of recordings, fully address it in the informed consent process, and ensure appropriate safeguards and security protections to minimize the risk of unauthorized access to these recordings.  Participant access to their records and any recordings made should be addressed in the informed consent process as well and compliance with institutional policies and federal and state laws are important as well.

In my next posting I will address the solicitation of research participants and the use of incentives to encourage participation in research.

Jeffrey E. Barnett, Psy.D., ABPP is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Loyola University Maryland and a licensed psychologist who is board certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology in Clinical Psychology and in Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. Additionally, he is a Distinguished Practitioner in Psychology of the National Academies of Practice. Among his many professional activities, Dr. Barnett is a past chair of the ethics committees of the American Psychological Association, the American Board of Professional Psychology, and the Maryland Psychological Association. He previously served on the Maryland Board of Examiners of Psychologists and has been a consultant to licensing boards across a range of health professions. His numerous publications and presentations focus on ethics, legal, and professional practice issues in psychology. Dr. Barnett is a recipient of the APA’s outstanding ethics educator award.

Cite This Article

Barnett, J. E. (2009, December). Ask the ethicist: The role of recording in psychotherapy.  [Web article]. Retrieved from http://www.societyforpsychotherapy.org/ask-the-ethicist-the-role-of-recording-in-psychotherapy



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