What is Confidentiality
Confidentiality is just a fancy formal or legal way of saying secrecy about sensitive information. Sensitive information is information that in the wrong hands, can cause potential harm to relevant parties. What you discuss in counseling is sensitive information and thus it is confidential. Every professional counselor understands and goes to various lengths to make sure your information is secure. Below is some information about confidentiality in counseling.
What it looks like
In general, all healthcare professionals are required to keep your information confidential. So, the mental health field is no exception. In fact, this is a legal requirement. For example, according to Ghana’s Mental Health Act 2012 (Act 846) “Records which identify a person, the manner of behavior of the person as well as the diagnosis and treatment shall not be disclosed to another person or agency without the person’s written consent or the written consent of the personal representative of the person where the person is unable to give consent.”
Before you begin counseling/therapy, make sure confidentiality and its limits.
There are a number of things counselors/therapists do to maintain confidentiality in counseling. Counselors do not discuss your information with anyone… not even their kitchen stove! This includes their best friends, spouses, parents, pastors, etc. They also do not discuss your information with people who are close to you, without your written permission. Even the fact that you are in counseling/therapy is confidential. There are special forms called information release forms that you can use to determine who you would like to share your information with. These may include your insurance company for reimbursement, your doctor or other healthcare professionals treating you, and sometimes a close family member. Remember, unless you authorize information release in writing, everything is confidential!
Counselors often write brief session summaries called counseling/therapy notes. In some cases, the summary is audio an audio recording. There are very rare instances, e.g., institutions for the severely mentally ill, psychiatrists us video recordings for safety or research reasons. Regardless of the medium of recording, another way counselors keep confidentiality is to store information in a secure manner. We store your files on a password-protected device. These days, there is secure software that some counselors use to store client information. For hard copy (printed) documents, a lockable file cabinet is used to store your information.
Mental health professionals may go a step further by labeling your files in a way that does not make your name obvious. The same applies to hard (printed) copies of your documents.
As there are in all situations, there are limits and exceptions to confidentiality in counseling. If you disclose to your counselor that you intend to harm yourself, and the counselor can establish a justifiable risk, they will inform your emergency contact, family or the police. This is so that someone can monitor you for your safety. Likewise, if you express an intention to harm someone else, and is is a verified threat, your counselor will inform the appropriate party. With minors in counseling, because they are still under legal guardianship, a counselor may share general information about the counseling sessions with the legal guardians. Sometimes your counselor may need to get some supervision or consult with another mental health professional on your case. When s/he does this, s/he avoids using information that will identify you. Finally, if the court orders it, your records can be part of legal proceedings.