The Evolution of Standards and Policies in Counseling Technology: Emphasis on the Internet
David J. Lundberg
Last summer, AACE's Technology in Counseling Assessment Survey addressed standards and policies in the use of assessment-related technology among members by asking two open-ended questions. We addressed this area broadly because there are many forms of technology being used in counseling assessment and because of the lack of specific technology standards. First, survey participants were asked what standards, policies or procedures they currently used, and second, what (other) ones would help in their practice. Approximately 51 % of the respondents to the survey made specific comments in these areas.
The single most common response regarding currently used technology standards was to follow already published ethical guidelines which apply. Various sets of standards or codes of ethical practices were indicated, the most common being the American Counseling Association (ACA) standards and the American Psychological Association (APA) standards. The next most common response was to use some form of local access control as a policy or procedure. These ranged from password protection when accessing computer information to physically locking up computer disks containing sensitive information. A variety of other standards or procedures were indicated including general ethics, checking the credibility of Internet sources, adherence to copyright laws, and simple scheduling of hardware use. Several individuals responded with a comprehensive series of standards. These generally fell into two categories: standards of practice for counseling assessment or policies for computer management (hardware and software procedures). An example highlighting standards of practice was the integrative use of a district or institutional technology agreement, joint evaluation standards, personal ethical standards, combined with testing program standards. One example focusing on computer management emphasized strict licensors constraints, policies on e-mail and Internet usage, and centralized installation and procurement of hardware and software.
When survey participants were asked what other technology standards, policies or procedures would be helpful in their practice, the responses generally fell into two categories. Of those responding, most indicated the need for more standards (e.g. Internet policies, Joint Commission assessment standards, ACA technology standards, clarification of response bias with electronic surveys and testing, and standards for the ethical use of technology in general). The second set of responses asked for more specific procedures in the areas of electronic testing, comprehensive data integration, video conferencing, and for better technology in general.
At the same time as our survey, standards and policies in the area of counseling-related technology were evolving markedly. A big splash was created last fall as the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) took the initiative to develop "Standards for the Ethical Practice of Web Counseling" (NBCC, 1997). The NBCC standards were formulated specifically for the quickly emerging environment of counseling via the Internet. There is a direct effort with these guidelines not to duplicate non-Internet standards contained in other codes of ethics. Additionally, in October 1997, the National Career Development Association (NCDA) approved its 'Guidelines for the Use of the Internet for Provision of Career Information and Planning Services"(NCDA, 1997). Contained within NCDA's fairly extensive guidelines are procedures to be followed in the career assessment area. Briefly, these include: 1) evaluating on-line inventories or tests to assure that their psychometric properties are the same in computer delivery as they are in print form, 2) abiding by the same ethical guidelines when administering or interpreting on-line instruments as when face-to-face or in print form mode, 3) protecting confidentiality of results, 4) referral to a qualified counselor in the client's particular geographic area, if appropriate, and 5) validating on-line instruments for self-help use, if appropriate. Please refer to the NCDA guidelines for a more detailed explanation.
NBCC and NCDA moved to begin to meet a critical need in the technology arena, standards for counseling-related activities via the Internet. At the same time, AACE's technology survey validated the prominence of the Internet in several ways. Survey respondents indicated that Internet data searching was their most common method of technology use of the 14 forms of assessment technology listed on the survey form. Internet data searches were also indicated as both the most effective and most cost-effective methods of technology used by the survey participants.
Our survey gave respondents three electronic means to answer the survey in addition to direct mail response. It was interesting that among the 20% of survey participants who responded electronically (i.e. by fax, e-mail, or by Website survey form), the majority of that group used the Internet Website option.
The Internet is upon us in a big way, both in our society and in our profession. It is a wonderful tool, it will not go away, and we certainly cannot hold it back. It seems wise to pursue and use it in appropriate, professional, and structured ways.
National Board for Certified Counselors (1997). Standards for the ethical practice of Web Counseling. NBCC Website [On-line]. Available: www.nbcc.org/wcstandards.htm
National Career Development Association (1997). NCDA guidelines for the use of the Internet for provision of career information and planning services. Columbus, OH: Author.
May 3, 2001