Reflection on 10 Guidelines for Confidentiality

Posted on Jan 21, 2012 in COETAIL, Featured Content, Reflections on Counseling

I recently published a post sharing 10 Guidelines for Maintaining Confidentiality in the Digital Age. In many ways this is a blue ocean that is largely left unclarified in the codes of ethics for counselors/psychologists. The therapeutic alliance relies on unique circumstances with regard to confidentiality and disclosure of information to allow deeply meaningful conversations to occur and transformative processes to be enacted. Without a reasonable guarantee of safety, it is unethical for either of these processes to be attempted.

The suggestions included in that post were of value to consider as basic competencies with technology but only partially representative of the biggest threats I see to client confidentiality in school counseling. While the possibility of a rogue thumb drive exposing a counselor’s computer to cyber attack exists, it is far more likely for a computer to be misplaced or left  open with sensitive information on the screen or easily accessible. Similarly, it is also a possibility that a stranger could want access to student case records but sensitive information could be most damaging if released into the community within which the individual lives. While certainly it is prudent for school counselors to confirm that our cloud based data management providers have taken reasonable security measures, it is most important that we enact fundamental patterns to    protect information from impacting our students where the live and operate.

Good counselors are by nature, completely oriented around quality. We are sometimes painfully aware that we work with people’s deepest fears and weaknesses. We carry an enormous responsibility as our daily interactions relate directly to our client’s most significant aspirations and dreams. We are free to care deeply about our clients and expected to help to the maximum of our abilities. We are also highly trained in our capacity and conduct extensive research and supervision before receiving our degrees. We thoroughly research and consult with other practitioners when our role takes us into new areas that extend beyond our experiences and scope of practice. We are meticulous in our approaches to listening and reflection. Given these various factors, it is no wonder that we also feel some instinctive push to create the most thorough documentation possible. It is at this point that we need to remind ourselves of our most basic function which is to provide effective service for our clients. This objective is not necessarily helped and may even in some cases be harmed by exhaustive record keeping.

Record only that private information necessary for the provision of continuous, coordinated service (CPA, 2000)

At every turn we need to remind ourselves of the above principle and keep in mind that often the highest quality decision involves the discretion not to record more than is necessary to help. It is a junctions like these that we see, too, how technology is never divorced from our humanity and that confidentiality isn’t merely about encrypted sites or strong passwords but about sensitivity and judgement. – AC


1 Comment

  1. Monna McDiarmid
    March 23, 2012

    As your closest colleague at our school, I am sharing a brain with you on this issue. I could not agree more regarding the importance of extending the care with which we hold peoples’ confidences (in both senses of that word) into the digital part of our world.

    I remember reading a blog of a high school counselor in the USA – one of the only counselors I have found online, to be clear – and she was sharing incredibly private stories told to her by students in her counseling office. Honestly, I thought that my head might explode. She listed no email address so I crafted a carefully-written comment asking if she had the students’ permission to share their dreams and fears on her online space. She never replied.


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