Psychology is developing guidelines for
practitioners in this rapidly changing area.
BY TORI DEANGELIS
Interested in practicing virtual reality therapy? If so, it’s important to get up to speed on the latest legal and ethical developments so you’ll be sure to serve your clients safely,
legally and effectively.
For starters, know that there is little consistent guidance
across states on how psychologists should use these and other
forms of electronic communication such as email, Skype and
various forms of videoconferencing, says Deborah Baker, JD,
director for prescriptive authority and regulatory affairs in
APA’s Practice Directorate. (See more on APA’s work to create
telehealth guidelines in the June Monitor.)
“While technology is pushing ahead at a rapid pace,
psychology licensing laws have not yet caught up,” she says.
That’s true in other fields as well, she notes: All health and
mental health-care professions are wrestling with many of the
That said, experts in the field are beginning to develop
guidelines to help psychology practitioners stay within their
legal and ethical limits.
One of the biggest unresolved issues concerns telepsychology
across state lines. Email, videoconferencing and avatar therapy
all allow psychologists to reach patients anywhere, but state
licensing laws generally do not permit out-of-state psychologists
to provide telepsychology services to consumers, says Baker,
who helped conduct a 50-state review of telehealth laws in 2010
pdf). For most states, that means you may need to be licensed
both in your own state and in your clients’ state in order to
practice with these modalities, she says.
There are exceptions, though. For example, many states
have guest licensure provisions that allow out-of-state-licensed
psychologists to provide services for a short period of time —
ranging from 10 to 30 days in a calendar year — under specified
conditions. In addition, the Association of State and Provincial
Psychology Boards ( www.asppb.net) has created a credential
called the Interjurisdictional Practice Certificate that facilitates
temporary practice in other jurisdictions.
Providing distance therapy within your own state is simpler,
and can help you reach people who wouldn’t otherwise have
access to services — rural residents or people with certain
disabilities, for instance — and clients who want to receive
services from home. In this case, you can confidently provide
services as long as you abide by all applicable licensing
requirements and professional standards of care, including
understanding the technology you’re using (more on that
below), Baker says. A few additional steps can ensure you have