Ethics in Counselling: Confidentiality

A learning journal as part of my counselling training:

Confidentiality is inherent throughout the BACP ethical framework for good practice in counselling and psychotherapy.  It can be found in two of the key ethical principles, namely:

  • Being trustworthy (i.e. honouring the trust placed in the counsellor).  According to the BACP ethical framework, counsellors who adhere to this principle “regard confidentiality as an obligation arising from the client’s trust” and “restrict any disclosure of confidential information about clients to furthering the purposes for which it was originally disclosed.”

  • Autonomy (i.e. respect for the client’s right to be self-governing).  According to the BACP ethical framework, counsellors who adhere to this principle, among other things, “protect confidentiality” and “normally make any disclosures of confidential information conditional on the consent of the person concerned.”

I understand how confidentiality is highly connected to respect and trust.  Indeed, confidentiality is possibly the primary contributing factor to allowing clients to open up.  It is then that they can start to build trust in the client/counsellor relationship and start to divulge more.  In this sense, confidentiality has to be in place for a client to gain a benefit from the counselling process since it is only through confidentiality that they can be truly authentic.  This authenticity can help them in their journey towards self-growth.  With this in mind, confidentiality can be seen as gift of respect.  I know that I personally feel respected when I can place trust in someone.  Indeed, confidentiality is part of the class contract devised at the beginning of the course, and this has helped me feel safe enough to present my true self among my classmates. As a result, I have grown and so have my counselling skills.  I don’t feel this could have happened without trust; this is in a learning environment, which emphasises just how vital it is within the counselling environment.

There are, of course, instances where confidentiality has to be breached, such as when a client might be at risk of causing serious harm to themselves or others.  I have been exploring areas whereby I might find it difficult to maintain confidentiality and I feel that it would only be in those cases whereby there is justification for breaching confidentiality, such as in situations of child sexual abuse or suicidal ideation.  On the other hand, as I write this I have realised I might actually find it a challenge to maintain confidentiality in the case of clients who have severe eating disorders.  For example, bulimia is a condition that might not show externally but which is likely to be causing serious harm internally.  My desire to help a client in such a situation would create challenges in terms of confidentiality.  This raises the question of how I would deal with this.  Speaking in advance of this happening, I would hope that I would remain confident that the person-centred belief that all humans are striving towards health and happiness is true.  This would give me the strength to trust in the client and their ability, through the counselling relationship, to decide for themselves that they might need medical help.

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Categories: Counselling, Personal/Professional Development, Psychology

Tags: , , , , , , ,

4 replies

  1. Hi Nicola, you have to be trustworthy, but above all else, you must protect yourself. If you have a client in a similar situation to one you were once in yourself, this will leave you vulnerable, and if you feel close to that point; for instance, if you find you’re thinking about this client out of therapy, then you must refer this client on to a colleague. To do your best for the client, you have to keep distance. That way keeping your own mind clear. Great post.

  2. Hi Susan, I don’t think I have ever directly told you how much I value your responses to my blogs. I learn an immense amount from you. Sometimes you confirm my thoughts and feelings, sometimes you make me think beyond them, and other times you offer new information that helps me learn. Thank you so much. I found this particular insight extremely useful in terms of some problems or challenges i might encounter in my work. You have made me realise when it might be necessary to refer a client for both their and mine best interest. Thank you.

    • Nicola, that’s so touching, thank you. Glad to be of help. I know because I worked as a hypnotherspist as you know. I’m having a break from it, as I did really well, but at the moment I’m enjoying working in our shop with my husband. I, like you came close to being vulnerable with clients who were ‘like’ me, suffering from anxieties which I might have had long ago. Keep up the good work, but look after yoursef first. Take care. xx

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