When a client or a patient begins to see a counselor, she or he needs help to cope with the present life changes or problems or any mental health condition. However, in some instances, the client might feel extremely vulnerable while revealing some of the extremely embarrassing feelings to the counselor. As a result, it remains essential for the counselor to establish a relationship of trust with the client by guaranteeing confidentiality through means such as keeping secrets during the entire counseling process (Min & Bakar, 2015). This study outlines the importance of confidentiality as well as discusses ways through which counselors can ensure confidentiality within and outside group formats.
Importance of Confidentiality
First, confidentiality remains crucial in ensuring that the counseling process remains effective. Individuals undergoing through traumatic experiences, stressful life changes as well as emotional symptoms of mental illness may appear unwilling to share some of the private feelings with the counselor or the strangers in a group unless they get assured that such secrets are safe. As Min and Bakar (2015) note a client that does not trust the members of the group or the counselor contains a higher probability of failing to be honest about their problems and feelings and thus may never acquire/receive the needed help to cure or cope with the issues impacting them. Also, such a client will most likely be reluctant in applying the recommended coping strategies. However, ensuring confidentiality for such a client will guarantee that the counseling process appropriately handles his or her problems and thus making it an effective endeavor (Aichinger, 2017).
Also, confidentiality is essential as it protects clients. The patient’s reputation gets guarded against reaching unauthorized persons. Although there is no guarantee that the group members will observe it, it ensures the client does not feel much vulnerable. According to Ware & Dillman (2014), the personal information shared during group counseling sessions might be potentially harmful to the client or even the group members when it reaches the public. Therefore, with confidentiality, such information remains private and hence eradicating any chances of causing harm to the client or the group members.
Further, it is notable that counseling is a medical profession subscribed to ethical statements and hence confidentiality remains a mandatory legal and ethical issue (Aichinger, 2017). As a result, it is an aspect that protects the professional reputation of the counselor. In fact, if a counselor breaches the concept of confidentiality, the client might file a legal suit to hold him/her accountable. In such a case, the counselor may suffer high costs, and in extreme cases, his or her license may get revoked. Therefore, confidentiality significantly protects the professional reputation of a counselor.
Although confidentiality remains essential, there are some cases where it is necessary to break it (Min & Bakar, 2015). For instance, a client may discuss anger management problems or feelings of depression with group members and a counselor and expect that they keep such information confidential. However, if the depressed client reveals a plan to undertake suicide or threaten to harm others, the counselor possesses a legal responsibility to break the confidentiality and alert the relevant legal or medical authorities to prevent the claimed danger.
How Counselors Can Ensure Confidentiality Within and Outside Group Formats
Counselors can ensure confidentiality both within and outside groups by maintaining the essential elements of confidentiality. However, the counselor and the group members or the counselee must agree on how to act towards every element. These aspects include disclosure, assurance, record keeping and consent seeking (Ware & Dillman, 2014).
Assurance entails promising the client and the group members that all information gathered or shared during the counseling process will remain confidential. Giving assurance makes the client and the group members feel safe, secure and are hence able to share and open up concerning their problems and personal issues (Aichinger, 2017). This ultimately makes the counseling process effective and establishes trust.
This element applies in instances where it remains ethically correct to reveal a patient’s information without her or his consent (Ware & Dillman, 2014). Nonetheless, the counselor must clarify with the group members or the client the confidentiality limits at the beginning of the counseling session. This is always the initial step of building a trusting client-counselor relationship.
Moreover, the counselor is always expected to seek permission or consent for the patient before any attempt to disclose any information shared in the group or with the client. Notably, the consent must be in written form. It is notable that this is always a professional requirement before any disclosure gets made. The act of consent seeking facilitates the counseling process by placing the client in control of the information that can be shared and what should not (Min & Bakar, 2015).
The objective of recordkeeping is always to enhance the continuity of the counseling sessions (Ware & Dillman, 2014). Nonetheless, sensitive and emotional information should never get recorded. Sufficient confidentiality must be promised and guaranteed in the recorded information. The counselor must ensure that these records are not accessible to third parties without the client’s consent.
Regarding confidentiality, counselors possess complex responsibilities towards their clients. They must ensure that they respect their clients by keeping all communications and information confidential when possible. However, in some cases, they should make judgments to breach confidentiality, especially when the client appears as a threat to others or her/himself.
Aichinger, A. (2017). Group Process Oriented Interventions. Group Therapy with Children, 4(06), 141-185. doi:10.1007/978-3-658-15813-2_7
Min, R. M., & Bakar, M. Y. A. (2015). Therapeutic factors in group counselling promotes self-development. Asian Social Science, 11(10), 113-119.
Ware, J. N., & Dillman, T. D. (2014). Concerns about confidentiality: The application of ethical decision-making within group play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 23(3), 173-186.