Do Patients Look Up Their Therapists Online? An Exploratory Study Among Patients in Psychotherapy

Eichenberg & Sawyer (2016)


Back­ground: The use of the Inter­net as a source of health infor­ma­tion is gro­wing among people who expe­ri­ence men­tal health dif­fi­cul­ties. The increase in Inter­net use has led to ques­ti­ons about online information-seeking beha­vi­ors, for example, how psy­cho­the­ra­pists and pati­ents use the Inter­net to ascer­tain infor­ma­tion about each other. The notion of psy­cho­the­ra­pists see­king infor­ma­tion about their pati­ents online (patient-targeted goog­ling, PTG) has been iden­ti­fied and explo­red. Howe­ver, the idea of pati­ents sear­ching for infor­ma­tion online about their psy­cho­the­ra­pists (therapist-targeted goog­ling, TTG) and the asso­cia­ted moti­ves and effects on the the­ra­peutic rela­ti­ons­hip remain unclear.

Objec­tive: This study inves­ti­ga­ted for­mer and cur­rent German-speaking psy­cho­the­rapy pati­ents’ beha­vior and atti­tu­des rela­ting to TTG. In addi­tion, pati­ents’ methods of infor­ma­tion gathe­ring, moti­ves, and suc­cess in sear­ching for infor­ma­tion were exami­ned. Fur­ther­more, pati­ents’ expe­ri­en­ces and per­cep­ti­ons of PTG were explo­red.

Methods: Over­all, 238 for­mer and cur­rent psy­cho­the­rapy pati­ents respon­ded to a new ques­ti­on­naire spe­ci­fi­cally desi­gned to assess the fre­quency, moti­ves, use, and out­co­mes of TTG as well as expe­ri­en­ces and per­cep­ti­ons of PTG. The study sam­ple was a non­re­pre­sen­ta­tive con­ve­ni­ence sam­ple recrui­ted online via several German-speaking the­rapy plat­forms and self-help forums.

Results: Of the 238 for­mer and cur­rent pati­ents who respon­ded, 106 (44.5%) had obtai­ned infor­ma­tion about their the­ra­pists; most of them (n=85, 80.2%) had used the Inter­net for this. Besi­des curio­sity, moti­ves behind infor­ma­tion sear­ches inclu­ded the desire to get to know the the­ra­pist bet­ter by attemp­t­ing to search for both pro­fes­sio­nal and pri­vate infor­ma­tion. TTG appeared to be asso­cia­ted with pha­ses of the­rapy in which pati­ents felt that pro­gress was not being made. Pati­ents being trea­ted for per­so­na­lity dis­or­ders appear to engage more fre­quently in TTG (rphi = 0.21; P=.004). In gene­ral, howe­ver, infor­ma­tion about the­ra­pists sought for online was often not found. Fur­ther­more, most pati­ents refrai­ned from tel­ling their the­ra­pist about their infor­ma­tion sear­ches.

Con­clu­si­ons: Pati­ents appear to engage in TTG to obtain both pro­fes­sio­nal and pri­vate infor­ma­tion about their psy­cho­the­ra­pists. TTG can be viewed as a form of client-initiated dis­clo­sure. It is the­re­fore important to include TTG as a sub­ject in the­ra­pists’ edu­ca­tion and also to raise awa­ren­ess wit­hin pati­ent edu­ca­tion. This inves­ti­ga­tion pro­vi­des the first fin­dings into TTG to begin debate on this sub­ject.

Zum voll­stän­di­gen Online-Artikel im Jour­nal of Medi­cal Inter­net Rese­arch:

Eichen­berg, C. & Sawyer, A. (2016). Do Pati­ents Look Up Their The­ra­pists Online? An Explo­ra­tory Study Among Pati­ents in Psy­cho­the­rapy. J Med Inter­net Res, 18 (1):e3. DOI: 10.2196/mental.5169.