Professional boundaries in the era of the Internet

Acad Psychiatry. May-Jun 2011;35(3):168-74. doi: 10.1176/appi.ap.35.3.168.


Objective: The era of the Internet presents new dilemmas in educating psychiatrists about professional boundaries. The objective of this overview is to clarify those dilemmas and offer recommendations for dealing with them.

Method: The characteristics of social networking sites, blogs, and search engines are reviewed with a specific focus on their potential to present problems of professional boundaries for psychiatrists.

Results: The professional boundary questions that have arisen in the expanded world of online communication can be subdivided into three areas: ethical concerns, professionalism issues, and clinical dilemmas. Only the first category involves true boundary problems as normally defined.

Conclusions: The expansion of the Internet has redefined traditional areas of privacy and anonymity in the clinical setting. Guidelines are proposed to manage the alteration of professional boundaries, as well as issues of professionalism and clinical work, that have arisen from the complexities of cyberspace. The author discusses implications for residency training.

MeSH terms

  • Blogging / standards
  • Communication
  • Humans
  • Internet* / standards
  • Physician's Role
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics
  • Privacy
  • Psychiatry / education
  • Psychiatry / ethics
  • Psychiatry / standards*
  • Social Support