Confidentiality in counselling

In the contract that I offer my clients I include a reference to the ethical framework that I apply to my counselling. This is as laid down by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), to which there is a link on this web site.

BACP have announced that they are undertaking a review of this framework, the current version of which has been in place since 2002. The review is necessary due to developments in counselling and health and social care over the last eleven or so years.

BACP’s current ethical guidelines underline the importance for counsellors and psychotherapists of respecting the key values of the profession, following its ethical principles and remaining aware of the personal qualities necessary to be effective in their work. Just some examples of this are protecting the safety of their clients, continually updating their professional knowledge, honouring their clients’ trust, promoting their clients’ wellbeing, having a commitment to personal respect, and the ability to fully empathise.

The BACP framework includes many more examples of the principles, values and qualities necessary for working ethically. One issue in particular that concerns many clients who are considering counselling is confidentiality. Confidentiality lies at the heart of the trust that has to exist between counsellor and client in order for their work together to be effective. This is something that potential clients will need to feel reassured about before they can enter fully into a therapeutic relationship with their counsellor.

That said, there are limits to confidentiality in certain exceptional situations. Not all of these are clear-cut (because in some cases the counsellor will need to make a personal judgement about whether or not certain information should be disclosed). Examples of this are where it becomes clear that a serious crime is about to be committed or where the client is suffering from a treatable mental disorder that is likely to result in suicide; or where the client is being forced against their will into taking their own life. On the other hand, a counsellor is not legally obliged to disclose a client’s independent intention to commit suicide. There are also special considerations concerning the welfare of children and young people under 16.

Any concerns about the limits of confidentiality should be discussed with your counsellor at the outset. Typically, the only occasions when there will be any disclosure by the counsellor of what a particular client has brought to counselling will be during the counsellor’s own ongoing supervision sessions. All registered counsellors are required to have regular supervision, which is in their own and their clients’ interests. But even then the client’s identity would not be revealed, and supervisors too are bound by a commitment to confidentiality.

The very personal nature of what clients bring to counselling makes confidentiality essential. In many cases clients will have had past experience of confidences being betrayed and this will be a particularly sensitive issue. If this is a concern, it will help to discuss it as far as you feel able to do so with any potential counsellor before you start to work together.