Every so often, I receive an enquiry from a television producer, a radio researcher, a book author etc.
The enquiry is often very polite and it asks me, quite nonchalantly, to discuss cases that I’m working with or to put the enquirer in contact with some of the people I’m working with in counselling.
An example like this would not be unusual:-
Hi – my name is Sally and I’m putting together a programme on ‘marriages where one partner has had an affair’. Would you telephone me on 000 000000 so that I can talk with you about getting in contact with some of your couples? Best wishes…
Firstly, I find myself delighted that my work, experience & marketing has allowed knowledge of my practice to reach someone who’s interested in the work that I do (although, clearly, someone might simply have Googled ‘any old counsellor who works with couples’).
Secondly, I put fingers to keyboard… to decline the invitation.
An example response like the following would not be unusual:-
Hi Sally – thank you for your message today. Because of the confidentiality and contracting that I practice with clients in counselling with me, I will not put you in contact with anyone I am working with – or have worked with – and I will not discuss any casework with you. If there are other ways in which I may assist you, please let me know.
This isn’t intended to be unhelpful, though clearly I am choosing to not provide any information that the enquirer has asked for.
And you might think: ‘why wouldn’t you just ask your couples/individuals/groups if they would like to speak to the person?’ and that would be a good point.
The counselling relationship has a primary purpose: which is to create together a form of safe ‘containment’ that protects the clinical work and gives the client(s) a safe place in which to work. It would be against my principals as a counsellor to “offer a safe containment until at least some TV producer asks to talk with me”.
Confidentiality doesn’t stop after a case is concluded, neither.
Most people find that the counselling relationship becomes a sanctum for them – and confidentiality is the outer casing that protects that container.
It’s my position that I will uphold my confidentiality contract with everyone who works with me where I have a choice (the law may supersede my position). Even when it may appear unnecessarily to uphold confidentiality: such as an ex-client writing to a solicitor to say that the solicitor can ask me to disclose our clinical work; in such a situation where I have no opportunity to discuss with the client any implications of such permission-giving, my answer will default to ‘no’.
Notwithstanding my professional position, I adhere to the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy’s Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling (http://www.bacp.co.uk/ethical_framework/) which includes sections on confidentiality:-
- Being Trustworthy: ‘…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: ‘normally make any disclosures of confidential information conditional on the consent of the person concerned’
- Respecting Privacy and Confidentiality: ‘The professional management of confidentiality concerns the protection of personally identifiable and sensitive information from unauthorised disclosure‘ and ‘Practitioners should expect to be ethically accountable for any breach of confidentiality.‘ and ‘In some situations the law forbids the practitioner informing the client that confidential information has been passed to the authorities, nonetheless the practitioner remains ethically accountable to colleagues and the profession.‘
So, thanks for your enquiry, but I decline to discuss my casework with you.