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Interacting with the Media 

Interacting with the Media
Interacting with the Media

Lilli Friedland

and Florence Kaslow

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Subscriber: null; date: 19 January 2020

Media psychology developed as a formal field to address the ethical and professional concerns of “on-air” TV and radio psychologists and those being interviewed by journalists. Currently, media psychology encompasses a much broader array of activities (Luskin & Friedland, 1998). Although professional standards and ethics are the same whether psychologists use the newer technologies or the traditional media, consumer and professional protection parameters have not yet been developed (e.g., to whom would the consumer make a complaint given that some licensing boards and mental health professions may not yet have promulgated standards for these modalities, and where these standards exist, they may differ across states).

Publicity By and About Psychologists

Public statements encompass but are not limited to paid or unpaid advertising of professional services, product endorsements, printed materials, comments used in print or electronic transmission, statements in legal proceedings, lectures and public presentations, published materials, or “online” communications (such as blogs, webinars). The psychologist is responsible for the content provided in any marketing brochure or public relations information. Most public relations, publishing, marketing, and media personnel are not familiar with psychologists’ ethical or professional standards and therefore may exaggerate claims or slant information to represent a particular point of view. As psychologists cannot usually control the information released by media personnel, they are urged to routinely offer a document describing their training and expertise to media personnel and publicists. Similarly, if the psychologist refers to research, the sources should be cited according to APA guidelines and sent to the media personnel, even though the research may not be directly used.

(p. 722) On-Air Media Psychology

There are helpful steps that psychologists can take when receiving a request asking for an interview or information: (a) If one is not an expert on the requested subject matter and there is insufficient time to acquire the requisite information, the psychologist should decline the interview and recommend an expert. (b) If there is insufficient time to locate a subject matter expert, the psychologist who was approached can offer to conduct a literature search quickly. The most significant findings and conclusions should be written, including citations, and submitted to the interviewer. Experienced media psychologists have noted that media personnel rarely refer to the research, yet the information given sometimes incorporates the overall findings in the reports.

Frequently, media psychologists are asked to comment on a mode of therapy or an individual psychologist. Psychologists should indicate that they are commenting about the general psychological issues or processes posed rather than a particular treatment given for a specific person’s symptoms or behaviors. Sometimes media psychologists are asked to opine about a particular individual, a psychotherapist or a well-known person. In this context, a psychologist should not diagnose or assess an individual with whom he or she has not professionally interacted. If there is a professional relationship, the psychologist cannot comment, as it violates the client’s confidentiality. Some psychologists are asked to agree about a statement or give an example of a public figure whose behavior is illustrative of a particular psychological problem. The circumspect professional does not do so because this does not fall within the realm of psychologists’ competencies and ethics.

Whenever psychologists work with media personnel, nothing is “off the recordorconfidential” for them; informal comments and expressions are often used in the final product. It is essential to maintain one’s professional stance and composure until one is out of range of all recording or reproduction equipment (Koocher, Norcross, & Hill, 2001).

It is neither appropriate nor ethical to compensate any member of the media in return for publicity or for being showcased. There is a distinction between advertisements (i.e., using an actor to speak about a product or service) and an infomercial (i.e., the situation in which an individual endorses and gives a testimonial about the particular service or product). Some infomercials are camouflaged as news programs. When psychologists are being paid for their services, this should be transparent, if relevant. If the professional is known as a psychologist, she or he can be seen as endorsing the product/service. Any information provided by the psychologist should be based on current research, practice, and ethical standards.

To consumers, the psychologist is seen as representing the profession; therefore, the information imparted must be accurate and current. Psychologists need to be aware of the real and potential effects on viewers of the media activities in which they participate: Is the psychologist seen as endorsing or condemning a behavior, attitude, or an individual? Is the psychologist’s stance a subjective one (based upon personal values or opinions) or an objective one (based upon research and prevailing community practice standards)? The positions stated should be objective and verifiable. In determining how to respond to media inquiries, the following questions should be asked:

  • What is the type of information requested? What is the context in which it will be used?

  • What type of psychological expertise is necessary to provide what is requested? Does the psychologist have expertise in this area? If not, is there another psychologist with the requisite knowledge to recommend? Will a literature search on the topic suffice?

  • What is the time frame for the interview or information? Is it sufficient for the psychologist to develop a cogent presentation?

If asked to participate on air, every effort should be made by psychologists to determine the media personnel’s sources, integrity, and previous history of types of guests and experts.

(p. 723)

  • Observe whether the host habitually interrupts the guest experts.

  • Determine the source for the story idea (a current headline or a standing topic).

  • Determine whether the host has a particular viewpoint that the show wants to substantiate, although current psychological knowledge does not confirm that position. If it will be a live program, become acquainted with the type of questions asked.

  • Be aware of the audience and gear the presentation to their level of interest and understanding. For example, if it is a woman’s television show, use examples aimed at the type of women who watch that program.

  • Note the manner that the host queries the experts. Does the host try to get experts to give definitive opinions or one-word answers to complex issues?

Develop a vision of the information about the subject.

  • Media personnel usually want simple, definitive answers to clear 30-second “sound bites.” Psychologists need to be trained or practice giving brief, yet accurate information.

  • The format of “real-time” programs is such that hosts control the focus.

  • Experienced media psychologists find that planning, rehearsing, and delivering the three to five most salient facts on the subject yield the most successful presentations.

  • The psychologist should offer the “talking points” he or she developed to the journalist.

  • The psychologists should alert media personnel of potential harm or need for referrals for program guests, audience, or staff if she or he becomes aware an intervention is warranted.

If the program or media personnel have a history of seeking sensationalism or being demeaning to guests, it is wise to refuse to be involved, no matter how tempting the invitation.

Media personnel sometimes request psychologists to bring guests, preferably one of his or her past or present clients. Even if the client were to give informed consent after having discussed the potential emotional effects of participating, the psychologist should not agree to take part if this is an essential condition for the media involvement (APA Ethical Principles, 2002). Psychologists should attempt to educate members of the media to the possible dual relationships (i.e., some patients are apt to say “yes” to please their therapist and this implied inducement can have negative long-term effects on guests when brought in by their treating professional). Additional issues exist if the client is a minor. The impact on clients of being “Telling all” on TV or other media can have a dire impact that may not necessarily surface for a long time (McCall, 1990).

Experienced media psychologists know the key to the successful media interview is to make the points, not necessarily answering the questions posed (APA, 2002). Therefore, if psychologists are asked questions that do not address information they deem essential on this subject, they can bring up their talking points by using bridges such as “the real issue…” or “the three issues involved are…” (Friedland & Kaslow, 2005).

Print Media

All of the principles cited earlier also apply when a reporter or writer contacts a psychologist. When contacted by a print journalist, the following procedures are suggested:

  • Only give an interview if you are knowledgeable about a topic/breaking story.

  • If the journalist stresses the immediacy of his or her deadline, try to be cooperative, but do not participate in the interview if you are not well prepared. It is their deadline, not yours.

  • If accepting a request, ask for a minimum of half an hour to organize your thoughts.

  • Ask the reporter to send you the article before it is submitted to go to press to review for accuracy. Many reporters will do so, if time permits.

  • Ask the author to arrange for a copy of the article to be sent. This does not always happen.

  • Keep comments short, straightforward, succinct, pithy, and free of jargon.

(p. 724) The Newer Technologies: General Considerations

The newer technologies are part of the expanding tools of the trade and psychologists need to learn their limitations and advantages. In using the newer technologies the psychologist may work outside the customary benchmarked practices of the profession. The wise psychologist will substantiate the underlying scientific assumptions when professionally involved in these new areas. Clarification of expectations (such as not being available 24/7) should be stated on Web site and intake/contract forms. Unless one is using secure/encrypted devices, texting, e-mailing, and postings are not secure and should not be used to convey any confidential data. If the device is not secure/encrypted, the client must be informed. It is recommended that the risks and benefits of using these technologies are included in the Informed Consent. It is essential to have backup plans in place and inform the client prior to using it in case there are problems using the technology. Before employing the newer technologies psychologists should consult with respected peers and/or ethics committees, documenting the process, safeguards, and procedures (APA, 2002; Kutner, 1997).

The newer technologies enable interactions and communications between individuals and groups both locally and globally; therefore, psychologists need to consider a specific client’s language, ethnicity, and culture. Different licensing/credentialing requirements may apply, so it is essential to determine the standards of care required in the location of the client (which may change if the person moves, goes to school, or is on vacation). Information given to the media should be appropriate to the geographic/cultural area where the story will be disseminated.

It is essential to know whether the devices (e.g., computer, phone) are owned by the business for whom the client works. If that is the case, the employer has legal access to the device and its contents. Care must also be taken to ensure that if the psychologist’s devices are lost or stolen that (a) there is a backup for all the information and (b) that there are strong passwords. Psychologists are advised to consult their professional (malpractice) liability insurance policy to ensure that the planned services are covered. It is advised to consult with one’s own attorney to review documents.

Psychological Interventions and Information Given Out Using Newer Technologies

In an effort to educate the public, some psychologists have conducted or shown “live” or recorded therapy sessions on television, videos, webinars, or other forms of media. Ethically psychologists cannot work with current clients/patients in such a manner (and even working with former patients is questionable); therefore, it is advised that actors be used. The psychologist should be cautious to ensure that the characters portrayed do not resemble specific patients/clients.


The definition of the “therapeutic relationship” has undergone reexamination in part due to the use of the newer media technologies. Using these media raises issues of (a) verifying client’s identity; (b) awareness of the licensing regulations governing the psychologist (can he or she practice across jurisdictions if a client lives elsewhere?); (c) sensitivity to different ethnic or cultural populations, (d) authentication of informed consent and fee arrangements; and (e) understanding the risks to privacy and limits to confidentiality. Though patients must sign HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) forms to ensure they give their permission for their psychologist to share their personal information with other professionals or institutions, the confidentiality of their information is not necessarily ensured when using electronic tools. Recently huge confidential databases for defense contractors, media companies, health insurers, hospitals, and providers have been “hacked.” Even with (p. 725) strong security protection measures in place their data systems were compromised. Data, including client identification, progress notes, supervision, and billing, were breached. Psychologists are urged to inform potential clients/patients about these concerns and take all reasonable precautions to protect the clients. Whenever there is a question, consultation with peers is advised, as well as documenting the process with careful notes. Guidelines for telehealth have been recommended (Barnett & Zur, n.d.):

  • Provide online services only after completing an informed consent form covering essential information that every client needs to know prior to entering a professional relationship. Specify the limits of confidentiality in the online environment.

  • Verify that each client has the legal authority to consent to treatment or consultation and establish identity of client.

  • Document all online services in the same manner that in-person services are documented.

  • Use appropriate safeguards such as virus and firewall protection, passwords, and encryption.

  • Get authorization prior to services if the psychologist bills for a video or phone session.

  • Obtain needed training prior to providing actual services.

“Virtual communities” such as chat groups and online communities are ongoing entities on the Internet. These modalities serve as sources of support, gaming, education, and information. Ethical implications need to be considered by a psychologist prior to participating as a professional in “group therapy” or as an expert consultant online with individuals he or she has not met. The psychologist has no idea whom he or she is “treating” and if that individual is participating using his or her real identity and truthful symptoms.

Testing (forensic, clinical, consulting, or educational) using the newer technologies presents the problem of ensuring the test conditions are similar to those when the tests are given in a person-to-person setting and that the designated individual takes and completes the testing.

One-Way Communication


Blogging and micro-blogging are tools used by many people, including psychologists, to share spontaneous information, hypothesis-in-the-making (e.g., information not yet validated by a peer-reviewed process), research, or links that the psychologist’s or organization’s website wishes to circulate. Journalists frequently retrieve information from blogs and thus the psychologists should keep the “science/practitioner” perspective when deciding information to be posted. When in doubt, psychologists should request consultation or supervision.

RSS Feeds

RSS (i.e., Rich Site Summary) is a format used to deliver regularly changing Web content. When using such information-dissemination tools, it is essential to ensure that data are referenced appropriately and ethically (some professional organizations and/or journals do not allow full articles to be distributed online even by the authors). Psychologists should check and receive permission, preferably in writing, for articles on RSS feeds from the authorizing service.

Digital or Virtual Worlds

A digital or virtual world is an interactive simulated environment accessed by multiple users interfacing online. Individuals participate in virtual worlds (Second Life, Whyville, Sims Online, World of Warcraft, Active Worlds Educational Universe, Mokitown, Everquest, America’s Army, etc.) to learn strategies, play games, role-play new identities, and for enjoyment. Avatars and virtual worlds are used effectively for organizational consulting, psychological treatment, educational learning, and assessment.

Video-postings on sites such as YouTube, FaceBook, and LinkedIn enable people to share both personal and professional information. Psychologists should cautiously present their (p. 726) information in a relatively simple format as different viewers may interpret what is portrayed quite differently.

Two-Way, Interactive Media Interactions


Video-conferencing has become a frequent communication modality for some psychologists, agencies, medical schools, and firms. Psychologists use this modality for giving information, for psychotherapy, supervision, testifying, consulting, or testing. To date, there are few video systems that keep information confidential by being highly encrypted or HIPAA compliant. All parties, including clients, should be told whether any recordings will be made using this technology prior to use.

Social Media

Social media such as FaceBook, Twitter, Google +, and LinkedIn, are primary modes of communication and connection. People reveal varying amounts of personal information on these social media sites, which each have different privacy settings. These settings can change without adequate warning to users. Some consumers have felt their privacy compromised at times and therefore psychologists need to be cautious and not assume that their own personal information will be concealed from clients. Some psychologists use social media for business purposes only as a way of disseminating information to the media, possible referral sources, and the public. Under these circumstances, posting only relevant professional data is advised. Psychologists need to keep in mind that “tagging” or facial recognition can occur.

The dynamics of using social media (e.g., quick responding, indicating one’s current location, personal lists and photos of friends and/or family, etc.) inherently discourage the thoughtful interactions for which psychologists pride themselves. It is urged that psychologists realize that personal information may be shared by clients, patients, referral sources, or media personnel and interfere with professional relationships (Kaslow, Patterson, & Gottlieb, 2011).

As psychologists will increasingly be using the newer technologies as tools in their practice, it is essential to always refer to ethical standards and accepted practice.

References and Readings

American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Washington, DC: Author.Find this resource:

    Barnett, J., & Zur, O. (n.d.). Guidelines for telehealth, e-therapy, online therapy: Do’s and don’ts for ethical practice. Retrieved from

    Friedland, L., & Kaslow, F. (2005). Guide to Interacting With the Media. In Koocher, G.P., Norcross, J.C., & Hill, S.S. (Eds.). Psychologists’ desk reference. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

      Kaslow, F. W., Patterson, T., & Gottlieb, M. (2011). Ethical dilemmas in psychologists accessing internet data: Is it justified? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 42(2), 105–112.Find this resource:

      Koocher, G. P., Norcross, J. C., & Hill, S. S. (Eds.). (2001). Psychologists’ desk reference. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

        Kutner, L. (1997). New roles for psychologists in the mass media. In D. Kirschner & S. Kirschner (Eds.), Perspectives on psychology and the media (pp. 173–192). Washington, DC: APA.Find this resource:

        Luskin, B. J., & Friedland, L. (1998). Task force report: Media psychology and the new technologies. Division of Media Psychology, American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

        McCall, R. (1990). Ethical considerations of psychologists working in the media. In C. B. Fisher & W. W. Tryon (Eds.), Ethics in applied developmental psychology: Emerging issues in an emerging field (pp. 163–185). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.Find this resource:

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