One of the most suspect aspects of psychotherapy is the issue of confidentiality. Can the psychologist explain in the third person what the patient or client is telling him?
As we will see, except in exceptional cases, the answer is a resounding “no”. And no, it’s not just a moral standard that psychologists tend to follow because everyone thinks the same. As we will see, behind the profession lies a code of ethics which must be respected for several very important reasons.
Is what is said to the psychologist confidential?
During a series of psychotherapy sessions, it is inevitable to talk about sensitive topics: traumatic experiences, family conflicts, understandable or socially disapproved feelings, etc. This is something that is part of why therapy has a purpose; even disorders with more limited effects, such as certain specific phobias, give rise to moments that we wouldn’t tell anyone and that we don’t want to reveal.
The same is true if the problems to be treated are not disorders in themselves; if there is anything that makes us feel bad and that motivates us to go to a psychologist, it is still confidential information.
And if what we are looking for is not to face a personal problem, but to respond to a new need (such as learning a new skill for which we must train alongside a professional to advise) ? In these cases, it is also very likely that personal issues will be discussed. Since cognitive restructuring related to self-esteem and self-concept, for example, deepen the client’s most ingrained feelings and beliefs.
However, these are the reasons why clients and patients are interested in a discipline of strict confidentiality regarding what happens during the consultation with the psychologist.
His very existence would justify the professional feeling of a moral obligation not to explain anything to others, because although he offers a service, he never ceases to empathize. However, this is not the only reason psychologists impose on themselves the obligation to prevent information from leaving their consultation. The other half of this obligation is of an ethical and professional nature, not individual, but collective.
The principle of confidentiality in therapy
These sessions exist because they create a therapeutic bond based on trust. A big part of the added value of this type of service is having a place where all the reasons for fear, shame and anxiety can be expressed, to use this information to work on resolving the situation.
This is why, if the stability of this dynamic of the relationship between the professional and the patient or client is not respected beforehand, the work of psychologists would lose the foundation on which it is based. This would involve not only losing customers, but also it would spread a view of psychology that it makes sense to try to cheat the therapist or hide things from him, show him alone this information considered to be uncompromising.
In something like that, a few cases of therapists disseminating data would cause very serious damage to the profession as a whole. For that, the principle of confidentiality is no longer a commitment of the therapist in itself and with the patient with whom he works, but it is also with the rest of the colleagues who work there.
But confidentiality is not limited to what the patient explains in the sessions. Psychotherapists also treat specific data and documentation relating to their clients and patients as confidential, which is considered sensitive information. People don’t need to know at least the names of the people they work with to improve their well-being.
On the other hand, respecting the confidentiality of information provided by customers is a way of showing that the person to whom the service is offered is not judged. Do youWhy would a therapist keep revealing confidential information?, If not? Or because the topics covered seem trivial enough to be told, or because they are amused by certain anecdotes, or because they have little respect for the customer to give private information to those who ask for it. In any case, these situations would be symptoms of the lack of commitment to the professional career itself.
In what cases is confidentiality broken?
The code of ethics for psychologists stipulates that the priority is the well-being of patients and those around them. Therefore, the only situation in which a psychologist should be able to disclose private information to third parties patients, if they have strong evidence that either someone is going to be hurt directly or someone’s life is in danger. In other words, a context in which what is improved is a danger which is beyond the reach of the therapist’s intervention.
In the case of suicide risk, the problem to be solved may be related to it, so that confidentiality will be broken if it is felt that there is an immediate and concrete danger.