Clinical Writing: Additional Ethical and Practical Issues

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The recommendations by Sieck (2011, Obtaining clinical writing informed consent versus using client disguise and recommendations for practice, Psychotherapy, 49, pp. 3–11.) are a helpful starting point for considering the ethical issues involved in the decision to seek or not to seek informed consent from clients before writing about them. Sieck makes a compelling case for the idea that there are circumstances in which the most ethical choice would be to engage in clinical writing about a client without seeking informed consent, but instead disguising the client's identity. The present response raises a number of questions not considered in the article by Sieck. First, how should one disguise a case? Moreover, how should one assess whether the disguise is sufficient to preserve confidentiality while not distorting the clinical material to the point that the material is no longer useful to the field? Second, how can we estimate the likelihood of clients reading clinical writing, particularly in the age of the Internet? Given that psychologist-authored blogs that include reference to clinical material are beginning to emerge, it is crucial that we engage in a much deeper dialogue about the ethics of clinical writing. Third, how does the presentation of clinical material influence public perceptions of psychotherapy and confidentiality? If these public perceptions, in turn, could influence the likelihood of seeking psychotherapy, might these attitudes be important to consider in ethical thinking about clinical writing? Finally, where do we draw the line between clinical writing and single case study research (which requires informed consent)?

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