Client Confidentiality Policy
It is our intention that as far as is possible confidentiality between counsellor and client is preserved, and that the preservation of the therapeutic relationship is a primary and paramount consideration. What this means is that all confidential information counsellors have obtained from clients will normally be treated as confidential (with the exceptions indicated below) between the counsellor and client. There will be occasions, for example where there is a child or adult safeguarding issue (see details below), or where the counsellor needs guidance, where confidential information may have to be shared with the Lead Practitioner or Director. Any information shared will be done on a STRICTLY need to know basis, and any information shared will only be that which is essential for the required decision/action.
- The respecting of client confidentiality is a fundamental requirement for keeping trust. The professional management of confidentiality requires the protection of personally identifiable and sensitive information from unauthorised disclosure.
- Stepping Stones offers its clients the highest level of confidentiality consistent with the law and the codes of ethics of the BACP. This protects a client from the voluntary disclosure of confidences without the client’s permission unless we are legally or professionally required to do so.
- Counsellors must be willing to be accountable to their clients and to their profession for their management of confidentiality in general and, particularly, for any disclosures made without their client’s consent.
- The requirement to respect client confidentiality is also obligatory upon all members of Stepping Stones staff and workers, whether paid or voluntary. It includes all office staff, fundraisers, and Trustees as well as anyone contributing in any other therapeutic or organisational capacity to our work with or without direct client contact.
- The obligation to maintain confidentiality also continues after the counselling relationship has ended. Stepping Stones undertakes to ensure that all client records are kept secure so that only authorised persons can gain access to them. All confidential information will be filed separately with no names included.
- All members and ex-members of Stepping Stones staff or volunteers, whether counsellors, Trustees, paid workers or volunteers are required to protect the anonymity of all individuals who have been or still are clients of our service. This includes an obligation to refrain from all verbal or written references by which our clients may be identified, unless the client has given explicit written consent to do so.
See also the Communications Policy.
Circumstances under which confidential information may be disclosed.
Counsellors keep brief factual notes of counselling sessions – these will be retained securely by the counsellor until the counselling has ended when they will be returned to the Stepping Stones office and retained in confidential filing. These are the property of Stepping Stones and will be retained for seven years. Additionally counsellors may keep ‘process notes’ which have more detail about what happened in the session and the counsellor’s reflections on this. These notes will only be retained until the supervision session following the counselling session written about after which they will be destroyed.
- All counsellors are required to be in supervision. Information from counselling sessions, including on occasion confidential information may be shared with the supervisor. The counsellor will as far as possible maintain the client’s anonymity.
- All supervisors are part of the Stepping Stones team and are bound by the same levels/rules of confidentiality as counsellors.
- A solicitor’s letter requesting disclosure of client information is not sufficient to obtain disclosure of confidential client records. A court order is required before such material can be released. A client may be in favour of releasing counselling notes to the police or a solicitor for a court case, this should only be done after Stepping Stones’ official ‘Release of Counselling Notes Consent Form’ (which can be found in the Procedures and Guidance handbook) is filled in, signed and the requirements written in the form are fulfilled. Counsellors will make the potential implications of disclosure clear so that the client can make an informed decision. Counsellors can find guidance on this in the Procedures and Guidance hand book.
- A court order or a subpoena will mean that any records requested will have to be disclosed. This is likely to include both the formal Stepping Stones’ records and any counsellor’s process notes that exist at that point in time.
- A subpoena may require a counsellor to appear as a witness at a hearing or in court. Where possible Stepping Stones will seek to provide a court report rather than the counsellor having to appear but this may still be required. The counsellor should prepare for this by reviewing what information he/she is required to disclose in these circumstances. Stepping Stones will provide through supervision and the Lead Practitioner support to any counsellor faced with this.
Exceptions to confidentiality
All records including any process and other notes are available on request from clients – the only exclusion to this is information that we have obtained from third parties.
There are circumstances in which Stepping Stones cannot legally or ethically maintain confidentiality within the service. Where this is the case wherever possible, Stepping Stones will make every attempt to communicate with the client first explaining the reasons for the need to pass information on and to whom this will be given. These exceptions are listed below and would qualify as areas of authorised disclosure:
If information is disclosed that a child or children are at risk of significant harm, Stepping Stones has a duty under the Children’s Act to pass on this information to Social Services in order to do what is possible to see that the child is protected. Stepping Stones works within the All Wales Child Protection Procedures, as well as having its own Safeguarding Policy and separate practice guidance. Access to both these documents is available, upon request, from the Stepping Stones office.
If imminent serious harm to the life of self or another person is disclosed we have a duty to pass this on to the appropriate authority (GP, Police, Ambulance Service, Social Services etc.) in order to do all that is possible to see the person protected.
Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults
If there is a serious risk of harm/abuse to a vulnerable adult, Stepping Stones has a duty of protection. Information may need to be passed on to the Social Services in order to protect vulnerable adults who could be at risk. See Stepping Stones Policy Safeguarding Policy and separate practice guidance.
Offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1987
If information is given on any planned act of terrorism, Stepping Stones is, by law, obliged to report this to the Police without informing the person who gave the information.
As noted above, in the event of a Court case, the Judge has power to subpoena a client’s counselling notes, or request that a counselling report is provided as evidence for the case, or to require a counsellor to be a witness or give an oral statement.
Drug Money Laundering
Stepping Stones has a duty to disclose any information given in relation to the laundering of drug money.
Road Traffic Accidents
Stepping Stones does not have a duty to initiate disclosure of information known in regards road traffic accidents. However, if the Police contact us as part of such enquiries, we have a duty to pass on any information relevant to that road traffic accident.
If a Counsellor is formally accused of wrongful conduct, then the need for the Counsellor to divulge information about a client is recognised in order for the matter to be investigated. The breaking of confidentiality will be kept to a minimum, in consultation with advisors. The Counsellor will continue to have regard for the wellbeing of and their responsibilities to the client. There may be complaints of a different nature where confidential client information may have to be disclosed – under these circumstances a similar protocol will be applied. All information will only ever be disclosed on a need to know basis.