Confidentiality within counselling refers to the premise that what you say to your counsellor stays with your counsellor. You do not expect a counsellor to discuss your case sat in a restaurant with friends. Indeed it may be this confidential relationship that attracts people to counselling. Counsellors should make efforts to protect and respect their client's privacy. This will include looking after personal details as well as records of counselling sessions.
Confidentiality is taken seriously by counsellors. However, there is no such thing as absolute confidentiality and it is misleading for a counselling service to imply this. There are a number of limitations that prevent total confidentiality which clients and potential clients should be aware of.
Counsellors have legal and ethical obligations which could cause a break in confidentiality. Legally, records can be subpoenaed if it is required by law. Also, there are some laws which demand reporting of child abuse or suspected child abuse. Here in South Australia, mandatory reporting is in place as part of the Children's Protection Act, 1993. Ethical decisions may have to be made when a counsellor feels other agencies need to be involved. For example, if a client is at a high risk of suicide. Such occurrences are rare and would be discussed with the client first, as long as this is feasible.
There are other possible situations where a client's case may be discussed with others. What if the client is under 18? Will their case be talked about with the parent? In such cases, the counsellor should have a clear guideline of how confidentiality will work and both parent and child should be aware of the situation. If the counsellor works for an organisation or a health centre, client information may be shared with relevant parties. Such discussions would be for professional purposes only, with the client's well being in mind.
A final point to note is that counsellors should undergo supervision and this involves discussing client cases. However the client's identity will be protected and the supervisor upholds confidentiality within that relationship.
Copyright Julia Barnard 2008
Julia Barnard is a professional counsellor living in Adelaide, Australia. She provides an online counselling service through her website http://www.makethechange.com.au , which offers counselling at a time and place that suits you. Julia also publishes a quarterly ezine and writes articles for the website aimed at enhancing well being and promoting good mental health.