Posted on Sep 11, 2017
Seeing a therapist has been shown to be very helpful for your mental health, especially when you are feeling stuck with some concerns in life. Despite this journey being beneficial, it is a process which will most likely require you to share information about yourself. In this article, we will be highlighting the important aspects of privacy and confidentiality during the sessions that you have with a therapist – and why it is important.
Imagine that you have made your first appointment with your therapist. When you are seated in the therapist’s office, you usually begin the therapy process by filling up some forms. These forms may require personal contact information for future appointments and possibly contact details of a person close to you (in case of emergency). Aside from billing information, what is important to note is also certain clauses which highlight your rights to your privacy and the confidentiality of the sessions that you are about to undertake with your therapist. This is an important part of therapy, as most clients are usually concerned with the possibility of other parties finding out about their personal lives. Worry not, as therapists are professionals and take your privacy and confidentiality very seriously. We are trained to respect your personal information and in order to cultivate a safe and trusting environment, we ensure that any information that you share with the therapist are not shared with anyone else. This is a necessary point of discussion with you before you begin sharing any personal details with a mental health professional.
Keeping records safe is an important part of delivering quality therapy services (Image Source).
There are several exceptions to this rule. If the client is a minor (i.e. requires parental/guardian consent), the parent or guardian technically has a right to know about the client’s personal information. Rightfully so, as parents of clients are usually concerned regarding the progress of therapy and how they could contribute in order to be helpful too. At the same time, it is important, especially for teenagers, to have a safe space to which they are able to share about their personal issues and to receive the necessary help and guidance. In this situation, the therapist would usually balance both parties’ needs by having a discussion with all parties and to come to agreement of what kind of information and to what extent shall be shared to the parents. This gives the minor a clearer idea of what he or she would be comfortable in sharing during therapy sessions, and to provide the parents the necessary information that could be helpful for them. As trust is important for therapy to work, parents usually understand and would allow a great degree of privacy between therapist and the client. Ideally, any exchange of information to the parents could also be done in collaboration with the client, as this reduces miscommunication and does not affect trust among all parties involved.
Another exception to this rule would be if the therapist’s assessment shows signs of significant risk of harm (i.e. life threatening) either to the client or others that the client may know. Under these circumstances, it is important to safeguard the personal safety of parties involved, and the therapist may be required to share some information to others (i.e. hospital services, close relative). This is usually done with full knowledge of the client, and is always done in the best interest of protecting the well-being of the client and others around the client. Lastly, an exception to this rule would also be possible if it is required by law. This may result as part of a needed procedure, in say, a criminal investigation by the police. Take note that these circumstances are rare, and will be unlikely to happen for a big majority of clients who sees a therapist.
Therapists practice a strict code of ethics to ensure the well-being of their clients, which includes whom they communicate information to. (image source)
Sometimes, a client may have certain medical conditions or may require medication, to which information that has been shared during therapy sessions can be helpful in effectively treating him or her. Exchange of information can also be helpful in legal cases where a description of the client’s mental health history is needed, or if educational placements for the client may require more information about his or her mental health. In these cases, a consent form will usually be provided to the client, to which the client would be able to give permission to the therapist to share what kind of information that is to be provided to this third party, and to what extent. The therapist would be compliant to the permission given by the client, and would not share beyond what is necessary for the procedures to be done effectively by these third parties – be it for medical, legal, employment, or educational purposes.
It is our duty as mental health professionals to care and protect our clients. If the need arises, information that is being shared is often done with a high degree of precaution to fully benefit our clients’ well-being. Please ensure that you speak to your therapist if you have any doubts regarding your privacy and confidentiality in sessions, and we hope that you have a safe and fruitful journey toward positive mental health!
Note: TheHelpTalk offers safety, privacy, and confidentiality in your interactions with our fully-certified therapists.