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Client confidentiality in therapy

Confidentiality in therapy is the requirement that therapists protect their client’s privacy by not disclosing the contents of the therapy sessions.

Client confidentiality comprises privacy of the content of the sessions, and also the fact that a person is a therapy client. Often, therapists do not acknowledge their clients if they run into them outside of the therapy room and will only talk to them if the client takes the initiative to talk with the therapist. This is to protect the client's confidentiality, as not everybody wants to reveal they go to therapy.

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When is a therapist allowed to break confidentiality?

There are certain limitations to confidentiality in therapy and the therapist is required to break confidentiality in specific circumstances. Breaking confidentiality means providing information about the client to another person.

Legal limitations

Therapists are required to break confidentiality for legal reasons in the following cases:

  • If a client discloses participation or information about acts of terrorism, the therapist has to report it to the authorities and can’t notify the client beforehand.
  • If a client reveals information about money laundering or drug trafficking, the therapist needs to tell the authorities.
  • Therapists may have to break confidentiality if they receive a court order, where a judge or coroner demands the release of therapy notes.

Policy requirement limitations

Although not obliged by the law, therapists have professional and ethical requirements. As such, other occasions where our therapists at Psychology Therapy might break confidentiality include the following:

  • Risk to self or others: When the therapist considers the client is a threat to himself/herself/themselves or others. It is worth noting that therapists will not automatically break confidentiality if a client reveals suicidal thoughts. This will only happen if the person declares an intent to act on those suicidal thoughts and has a plan in place. Usually, your therapist will discuss this with you before breaking confidentiality.
  • Safeguarding: Therapists may break confidentiality if they think a vulnerable individual is being abused. Safeguarding is an ethical responsibility and if a vulnerable person is being abused, the therapist is unlikely to share its intention to break confidentiality with the client.
  • Criminal offences: Therapists may break confidentiality if a client discloses an offence that is not being prosecuted by the authorities.
  • Clinical supervision: All professional bodies in the UK require therapists to attend regular clinical supervision. This means that they will have periodic sessions with another qualified therapist to discuss cases with them, to get further guidance and support. This helps your therapist to improve their work with you. Hence, your therapist might discuss their work with you in supervision, without identifying you to their supervisor.

Breaking confidentiality is a serious subject for any therapist. At Psychology Therapy we would only do so after weighing up all the legal and ethical considerations. This would comprise a comprehensive evaluation of the BACP ethical framework, advice from the therapist’s supervisor and if needed, other relevant, expert legal and professional consultants.

To sum up, at Psychology Therapy we have legal, professional, and ethical requirements to do all we can to protect clients’ confidentiality. In particular circumstances, breaking confidentiality might be needed to protect a client or others from serious harm or to conform to legal obligations.