Psychotherapy is a private process that often involves the discussion of very sensitive issues. It is therefore necessary for both the therapist and the patient to understand and adhere to all the guidelines and the confidential issues regarding therapy. The ethics guiding therapy requires that any information shared between any therapist and clients should never be shared outside a therapy session with any other person. The only exception to this requirement is where one has a written permission from the therapist. All the information given during the therapy sessions must never be discussed or written about outside the sessions.
Ways that one could Accidentally Give Away Confidential Information
There are many ways in which one could accidentally give away confidential information. The most common one is through peeking at the records especially by those assisting the therapist at the office like his/her secretaries or other medical personnel. The information can also be given away through overhead conversations especially in cases where the conversations between a therapist and a client can be heard from outside their closet. Lack of proper authorization also leaves room for the members of an organization to have informal conversations about their clients.
Another way of losing confidential information is by failing to remove identifying information when presenting a case in a case conference or a staff meeting. This allows the clients identification to be revealed to the staff members. Finally, confidentiality is lost in cases where the mental health clinic or a therapist’s office is located where the public can easily observe the public comings and goings. Other cases may include cases where a client or a therapist accidentally sends a confidential e-mail to an unintended recipient.
The Legal Aspect of Confidentiality
The legal system acknowledges that there are certain situations in which the release of confidential information can benefit the client, society or the therapist. The first case is where a patient’s insurance coverage pays for any of the cost of his/her therapy. The second exception involves cases where the therapist is sued by the client of any unethical act. In such a situation, the therapist has the right to disclose the information for their defense. All the states also allow therapists to reveal the name of a client who is seen to pose danger to self or others.
Most states also require that the therapist report credible knowledge of any suspected child abuse. In some circumstances, a court may also compel a therapist to testify about what is discussed in the therapy. In certain cases, the therapy notes may be made available to any health provider treating the client for any purpose as is the case at the Veterans Health Administration in the United States.
Confidentiality and Dealing with Couples and/or Children in Therapy
In any case involving a couple, confidentiality may be more complicated. Any information given in the individual sessions should never be held in confidence from the partner. This means that the information obtained in individual sessions can be openly discussed in couples’ sessions. This is normally the case with most therapeutic couple related treatments. There may only be a few exceptions especially if specified by the therapist. Such reasons may also be discussed with all the participants. In a case where a minor is involved, the parent’s consent is important before any information is released.
The Therapist’s Duty to Warn Clients
There are times when every statement a client makes must be treated with a lot of seriousness. Such threats as a promise to commit suicide or murder should not be treated as mere words as they foreshadow what is likely to happen. On realizing such cases, it is the duty of the counselor to warn the client or the target. Counselors are expected to know when to hospitalize their clients and when to involve the law enforcement agencies.
In conclusion, even though the issues handled by therapists must remain confidential, it is clear that some exceptions are necessary. However, such exceptions must not only be stipulated in laws but should also be reinforced.