MY PROFESSIONAL MEDIA POLICY1
Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP
Licensed Psychologist, Nevada (#PY0690) and California (#32338)
Originally published August 2018; Updated April 2022
Since earning my doctorate in 2006, my mission has been to use psychological information to help people. This document outlines how and why I work with the media. Please read it to understand my conceptual framework, intentions, and policies.
People are consuming and interacting with the media at increasingly high rates. As of January 2021, 4.66 billion people actively use the internet worldwide (Statistica, 2022). In the United States, 72% of adults use at least one social media site, with YouTube (81%) and Facebook (68%) being the most popular (Pew, 2021).
As people increasingly use the media for news, entertainment, and communication, psychologists must carefully consider how it affects their professional life (APA, 2021). This document details the reasons I work with the media, some of the ethical issues I encounter as a professional clinical psychologist because of my work in the media, and how I handle them. Although many ethical dilemmas I face are complicated without clear “right” and “wrong” answers, this document outlines my rationale and practices to minimize harm and maximize benefit to myself, my current and former clients, the public, colleagues, students, and the field at large.
By the term media, I’m referring to any internet-based or mass communication outlet that allows for interaction and dissemination of information. This includes social media sites, including networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn; media sharing networks like Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube; discussion forums like Reddit; my website (DrCortney.com); my blog (Naked Truth available on my website and on PsychologyToday.com); and business review sites (e.g., RateMyProfessor.com, Yelp.com). It also includes my work in mass media formats like appearing on radio and television programs or in newspapers, magazines, films, and podcasts.
WHY I APPEAR IN THE MEDIA
There are many important reasons I choose to engage with the media as a professional psychologist that benefit myself and others. These include:
- To educate and inform the public about mental health. As people become increasingly regular consumers of media, I use it to provide high-quality psychological information to the public.
- To help the public understand current events. When events occur in the world that are hard for people to understand—everything from war to political strife to mental health issues—I serve as an expert to help unpack and explain these realities from a mental health or psychological perspective.
- To advocate for mental health issues. I use the media to advocate for mental health issues and cultural transformation.
- For fun, enjoyment, and entertainment. Engaging with the media can be fun, engaging, and interesting for me and consumers.
- To enhance the reputation of the profession. I strive to increase the reputation of psychology as a field and clarify to the public what we do and why it is so important.
- To clarify misconceptions of mental health and illness. I strive to communicate accurate, honest information about mental health while dispelling myths that inaccurately portray our field or recent research.
- To promote my work. I use the media to disseminate my research findings, clinical knowledge, and recent projects.
- To advertise my services. I use the media to advertise my services and find work.
- To do research. Sometimes, I use the media to do research on social behavior and mental health.
POLICIES TO MANAGE ETHICAL RISKS OF MEDIA INTERACTION
Given these important benefits of working with the media, I actively choose to appear in social and mass media outlets. That said, there are various risks that comes from this interaction that I must consider with care (APA, 2021). Consequently, these are the steps I take to maximize the benefits of this work while minimizing potential harm.
- My Media Work is Always in a Non-Clinical Role
Although I am a clinical psychologist, not all my work is clinical in nature. Clinical work is generally defined as work in which there is a clear doctor-patient relationship. For me, this relationship is typically about providing psychotherapy or conducting an assessment to a client.
In a clinical relationship, there are some key factors that describe the nature of the work and that are governed and described by the APA ethics code, laws, and licensing boards. Specifically, in a clinical role:
- I’m in a professional relationship with a client because a service is being requested from me based on my knowledge of psychology;
- I have a one-way fiduciary relationship, which means the relationship exists only to serve the needs of the client;
- My work is confidential, meaning that I cannot share identifying information about my work with a client unless I have written consent to do so or an acceptable reason for doing so;
- The work requires informed consent, meaning that the client and I agreed to certain conditions and expectations about the nature of our working relationship. This includes a signed contract by me and the client at the time services are being offered;
- The client pays me for my professional services; and,
- Our work is typically focused on a goal or outcome that a client and I hope to achieve through our work together (e.g., overcoming a disorder, getting a diagnosis, working through early childhood trauma, understanding oneself at a deep level).
All of my work in the media is done in a non-clinical role. This means that I never appear with current or former patients or clinical clients in the media. Given the many ethical conflicts inherent in a clinical role/relationship outlined in this document (e.g., privacy, confidentiality, informed consent), at no time have I ever been interacted with a current or past clinical patient in a public media forum. I also do not interact with current or former patients on social media. For more specific information, see my Media Policy for Clients.
- I Strive to Keep My Professional Media Separate from My Personal Media
In addition to my clinical and non-clinical professional roles, I also have a personal life that is sometimes in the media. Consequently, there are times when information about me personally is visible in the media.
Whenever possible, I keep my private personal internet information separate from my professional information. There are times when my professional and personal interests are intertwined. For example, my mother died of terminal illness, and I have collaborated with her on writings/videos that promote end of life options. I also use self-disclosure when I speak about some topics. In situations like these, I am using something highly personally important and relevant to me to drive my psychological commentary on given phenomena. And I am choosing to share something about my personal life journey in the process because I believe it is beneficial to the public to do so. That said, I strive to maintain my personal digital information (e.g., interactions with friends, family) separate from my professional media presence. Please see my Media Policy for Clients for more specific information about how I handle social media interactions with former and current clients.
- I Comment on Issues Not Specific People
I am often asked to comment on current events or specific people’s life struggles (e.g., relationship issues, eating issues). I cannot ethically comment on someone I have not evaluated in a clinical role/relationship; and, if I had a clinical relationship, I could not break confidentiality. What I can do, however, is talk about a general issue that someone is struggling with in a meaningful, informed way. For example, when public suicides occur, I cannot comment on any individuals who killed themselves, but may comment on suicide in general (warning signs, prevalence, etc.). Consequently, in the media, I am always commenting on an issue or topic and not on a specific person.
- I Comment Only on Topics I am Competent to Discuss
Consistent with the APA ethics code, I only speak about issues and topics about which I have sufficient education, knowledge, and training. If I am asked to speak in the media about a topic for which I do not have sufficient competence, I do not accept the request and/or make a statement on the topic.
- I Disclose Conflicts of Interest
As a professional, I’m ethically obligated to disclose a situation in which I have multiple interests (financial or otherwise) that could impair or affect my objectivity or ability to work professionally. For example, if I am seeking funding from a private agency to do a specific research project, it is possible (consciously or not) that the information be presented in a way that enhances the possibility of receiving approval from the funding agency or getting published in an excellent journal. In such situations, psychologists are encouraged to be honest about any interests (professional or personal) that may cause professional conflicts to ensure that the public and other parties are aware.
I have a couple of potential conflicts of interest: 1) I worked as a consultant for Shire Pharmaceuticals on a project educating mental health professionals about Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and the first FDA-approved drug used to treat BED called Vyvanse; 2) I’m a consultant for and investor in an online support organization for people struggling through a romantic breakup called EXaholics.com; 3) I’m the sole owner of Choose Honesty, LLC, which is the organization through which all of my professional work occurs; and 4) I’m a writer and promote much of my research and clinical findings.
Although I strive to base my opinions on theoretically-grounded, empirically-supported data, given my relationships with these topics/organizations, it is possible that I may be consciously or unconsciously influenced by these relationships. For example, I may be more prone to promote EXaholics or Shire in a more positive light because of my professional relationships with these companies.
- I Strive to Minimize the Mistaken Appearance of Therapy There are times when what I say or do in the media may “look like” psychotherapy to the public when, in fact, it is not, never has been, and never will be psychotherapy. For example, I was interviewed in a documentary film on the environment and transgender issues called Denial (see http://denialdocumentary.com). No one in the documentary or related to the documentary was a current or former patient. I was interviewed in an office as an expert of psychotherapy and lying, and there was no clinical relationship at any point. That said, people who saw the film may question whether I was the therapist for someone in the documentary (which I was not).In situations when I’m interviewed in the media, I strive to minimize the appearance of “therapy” for the audience to the degree possible while still speaking in a professional way on a topic of expertise. For example, in addition to stating clearly in this document that my work in the media is not clinical in nature (i.e., if I appear in the media what I am doing is not therapy), I directly tell people who interview me that I am not working in a clinical role with them and state that fact on camera when possible.
- I Strive to Maintain Healthy Boundaries
As a professional psychologist, I work in many settings and wear many hats. Since earning my doctorate in 2006, I’ve worked as a clinician, as a researcher, as a teacher, as a mentor, as a supervisor, and as a consultant. In each of those setting I have a different role. Because my professional life is very diverse, in media sometimes I serve as educator, sometimes a colleague, and sometimes even a friend. I strive to set boundaries that reflect my role and relationship with each person in an ethical and responsible way.
My primary goal as a psychologist is to increase people’s knowledge of themselves and others that improves the health of individuals, organizations, and society. In the media, I strive to do this by educating the public in a compelling and entertaining way about topics relevant to psychology. My media work is never clinical in nature—it is information, educational, and entertaining.
Consistent with the APA ethics code, there are five general principles that I strive to uphold in all my work. These are: 1) to strive help those I work with and do no harm; 2) to establish trust by upholding professional standards of conduct; 3) to provide accurate, honest information; 4) to be fair and trustworthy; and 5) to respect the rights of all humans with dignity. In all of my work, including work that is in the media, these general principles guide my decisions.
Thank you for taking the time to review this document. If you have questions or concerns about any of these policies and procedures, or regarding our potential interactions on the Internet, please email me at CW@DrCortney.com.
American Psychological Association, APA Committee on Professional Practice and Standards. (2021). Guidelines for the Optimal Use of Social Media in Professional Psychological Practice. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/about/policy/guidelines-optimal-use-social-media.pdf
American Psychological Association (2010). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/ethics-code-2017.pdf
Kolmes, K. (2018). Social Media Policy of Dr. Keely Kolmes, downloaded July 1, 2018 at http://drkkolmes.com/social-media-picy/.
Statistica, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide/