The counselling profession comes with a unique level of responsibility. It’s never been more important to be careful with confidential details and ensure nothing is voiced outside of your counsellor-client conversations, even by accident. So, what are the most crucial things you need to consider?
Protect personal details
Your client needs to be able to trust you implicitly, and there are various rules that you are obligated to comply with to ensure that this standard is upheld.
In the UK, counsellors are required to abide by the BACP’s Ethical Framework. This highlights the need to keep records of key points discussed and make them easily accessible to the client, should they want them
For the purposes of GDPR, personal “records” include anything that directly identifies a client and anything that can identify a client when combined with other information.
One way to protect your clients’ personal data is pseudonymisation. If you store data about a client on both paper and electronic systems, you can store one set of data with a pseudonym that replaces personal information (such as a reference number instead of a name) and make it so that this can easily be tied back to your other source, but only by you.
Even after you’ve taken all the necessary steps to proactively protect yourself and your clients from the consequences of anything that might slip through the net, securing a strong counsellor’s insurance policy will give you that extra peace of mind.
Store all records securely
You need to consider carefully how you store your data and how long you store this. Make sure that you follow any stipulations made by your insurance policy so that you can make a claim if the need arises.
The best policy is to lock away any paperwork concerning the client in a locked cabinet, or better still, a safe.
In addition to fully securing your computer against cybercrime, you will want to ensure you delete all data on your computer that pertains to clients as soon as you do not need it anymore. It is not advisable to store data on memory sticks as these are easy to lose, but if you do, make sure you only use a memory stick with automatic encryption protection.
Get informed consent
In the first session with the client, make sure you follow the correct process for getting informed consent. If you are working with minors, ensure you get informed consent from the parents.
Run through the ways you will be storing data about your client with them first and make sure that nothing to do with your sessions is used for training purposes unless they have consented to this first.
Discuss nothing in public
If you work as part of a team of counsellors, it can be tempting to ask your colleagues for ideas and advice. Although you might think you can get around this by not specifying who the client is, this is a risky thing to do and best avoided.
It’s too easy to make an accidental slip and reveal something you shouldn’t. If someone tries to engage you in a conversation of this nature, it’s a good idea to try and change the conversation and talk about something else, particularly if this is happening in a public place.
Most counsellors also have a policy of not acknowledging clients, should they run into them in public. While this might seem a bit rude, if you set expectations at the start of the therapy process and explain that you will not engage with them if you see them in public, this will relieve the situation of any potential awkwardness.
Be aware of extenuating circumstances
It is best to set expectations regarding what will happen if a client tells you something that indicates an intention to physically harm themselves or others. Make sure they understand that in such a situation, the safety of the client and anyone around them will override the usual code of confidentiality.
Being aware of the policies and protocols in place to protect your clients is essential if you’re going to succeed as a counsellor. It gives you peace of mind and it gives your clients the confidence to tackle their issues face-on with you, knowing they can trust you to deal with confidential information in a professional, reliable manner.