As a counsellor I have both a legal and an ethical duty to protect my clients’ confidentiality at all times. This extends to basic personal data like names and addresses as well as the more sensitive personal information that is inevitably shared during the course of therapy.
My Commitment to My Clients
- I will never share or sell your personal data for personal or commercial gain.
- I take every precaution to ensure that your personal identity or personal data is secure and not accidentally shared or disclosed.
- In order to comply with data protection laws I am registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office.
- I comply with the ethical and professional standards set out by the BACP.
- I provide all clients with a written contract setting out in detail the information I will hold on them, what it might be used for, and for how long I will hold it. You can view a copy of my Data Consent form here.
My supervisor is the one person with whom I regularly discuss the content of therapeutic sessions with. Regular supervision is an essential element of any counsellor’s practice. My supervisor is another experienced counsellor. They are there to provide me with support and guidance and to make sure that I am serving the best interests of interests of my clients at all times.
Normally, whilst my supervisor might know some of the intimate details of my clients’ therapeutic sessions, they don’t, as a general rule, know their identity. In the highly unlikely event that my supervisor did know one of my clients they have the same enforceable ethical and professional obligations to protect their confidentiality as I do.
Exceptions to Confidentiality
There are rare occasions when I might need to break a client’s confidentiality. By ‘breaking confidentiality’ I mean providing information about my client to another person. These are:
To Protect my Client from Serious Harm:
If I felt that a client, or third party, was at serious risk of harm then I would consider breaking confidentiality in order to protect that person’s safety or wellbeing. Where possible I would always try to seek the client’s consent before doing so but, if the situation were serious or urgent enough, I might break confidentiality without consent or even, in very extreme cases, against the client’s wishes.
This is not a decision I would ever take lightly and I would expect to be held accountable for that decision.
Examples might include a client:
- suffering from psychosis and severe mental distress who presents a clear danger to themselves or others
- announcing their imminent intention to take their own life
- who discloses information about a young child in a potentially abusive and unsafe relationship.
For Legal Reasons
I might have a legal obligation to pass on information about a serious crime if it is disclosed to me in the counselling room. Crimes where I have no choice but to share information include terrorism and drug trafficking. In other cases, even if I don’t have an automatic legal obligation to report the crime, I would still have to weight up the ethical implications of breaking confidentiality against the possible harm that keeping such information to myself might cause to others or to society in general.
Clients also need to be aware that there are circumstances under which I can be compelled to disclose information about them by the courts or law enforcement authorities.
Breaking confidentiality is a serious matter for any therapist and I would only countenance doing so after weighing up all the legal and ethical ramifications. This would include careful consideration of the BACP ethical framework and advice from my supervisor and other relevant, expert legal and professional advisors. These sort of decisions can be extremely complex but I make a commitment to all of my clients not to shy away from such complexity even if this might require courage and personal sacrifice.
As a member of the BACP I expect to be held accountable for any decisions I might make with regard to my clients’ confidentiality.
What Information Do I Hold on Clients?
I hold only such data about clients as is necessary to for the safe and efficient running of my counselling practice. My Data Consent form sets out in more detail what information I hold, for how long and for what purpose.
Client Confidentiality: In Summary:
I have a legal, professional and ethical obligation to do all I can to protect my clients’ confidentiality. I will never share information about my clients for commercial or personal gain but, on rare occasions, breaking confidentiality might be necessary to protect a client or others from serious harm or to comply with the law.
When I make decisions that might impact upon my client’ confidentiality I expect to be held accountable. I am always willing to discuss confidentiality and the limits to confidentiality with my clients.