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Monday, August 16, 2021

Therapist Targeted Googling: Characteristics and Consequences for the Therapeutic Relationship

Cox, K. E., Simonds, L. M., & Moulton-Perkins, A. 
(2021).  Professional Psychology: 
Research and Practice. Advance online publication. 


Therapist-targeted googling (TTG) refers to a patient searching online to find information about their therapist. The present study investigated TTG prevalence and characteristics in a sample of adult psychotherapy clients. Participants (n = 266) who had attended at least one session with a therapist completed an anonymous online survey about TTG prevalence, motivations, and perceived impact on the therapeutic relationship. Two-thirds of the sample had conducted TTG. Those participants who were having therapy privately had worked with more than one therapist, or were having sessions more often than weekly were significantly more likely to conduct TTG; this profile was particularly common among patients who were having psychodynamic psychotherapy. Motivations included wanting to see if the therapist is qualified, curiosity, missing the therapist, and wanting to know them better. Nearly a quarter who undertook TTG thought the findings impacted the therapeutic relationship but only one in five had disclosed TTG to the therapist. TTG beyond common sense consumerism can be conceptualized as a patient’s attempt to attain closeness to the therapist but may result in impacts on trust and ability to be open. Disclosures of TTG may constitute important therapeutic material. 

Impact Statement

This study suggests that there are multiple motivations for clients searching online for information about their therapist. It highlights the need for practitioners to carefully consider the information available about them online and the importance of client searching to the therapeutic relationship.

Here is the conclusion:

In this study, most participants searched for information about their therapist. Curiosity and commonsense consumerism might explain much of this activity. We argue that there is evidence that some of this might be motivated by moments of vulnerability between sessions to regain a connection with the therapist. We also suggest that the discovery of challenging information during vulnerability might represent difficulties for the patient that are not disclosed to the therapist due to feelings of guilt and shame. Further work is needed to understand TTG, the implications on the therapeutic relationship, and how therapists work with disclosures of TTG in a way that does not provoke more shame in the patient, but which also allows therapists to effectively manage therapeutic closeness and their own vulnerability.