I have to breach confidentiality – part 2

Disclosures requiring that confidentiality be breached are rare. A little preparation should permit you to focus upon supporting your client through the process, preserving your therapeutic rapport.

In part one, we considered how to react when a breach of confidentiality seems necessary, how to prepare for such an eventuality and what to say to the client.

Now we will consider how to continue your involvement with your client once you have had to breach their confidentiality. We will also consider how to proceed when your decision to breach confidentiality is reached outwith the session, whether independently, directed by your supervisor or required by law (eg: by a court order).

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I have to breach confidentiality – part 1

Disclosures requiring that confidentiality be breached are rare. A little preparation should permit you to focus upon supporting your client through the process, preserving your therapeutic rapport.

For UK therapists there are three occasions on which it is mandatory that confidentiality be overridden for the greater good: when the client is a risk to themselves, when the client is a risk to others and when there are children at risk; respectively, the therapist must inform the Responsible Medical Officer, the Police and the Social Services.

Particular services and professions may offer more specific guidance and place additional duties upon therapists, but it is likely that you will encounter at least one, if not all, of these eventualities.

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Disclosure is promoted by permission not to speak

Giving clients permission not to speak encourages disclosure. Explicitly granting the freedom to subvert our power frees the client to tell us what they need.

The first time is to check out the therapist, the second is to tell you the real problem.

I was given this advice in training and for years it seemed to be true. Now, in my practice at least, it is the exception rather than the rule.

The balance of power in therapy lies with the therapist. We decide when, where and for how long is each appointment. We set the boundaries and grant exceptions. The client must work within our framework.

Clients can exercise control by withholding information or themselves. Failure to attend is the ultimate means of regaining control of therapy. More subtly, the client can, without overtly challenging the therapist, keep back important facts for as long as they choose.

Full disclosure can occur in the first appointment if the client has permission to withhold. I tell clients “if there are any questions you don’t feel comfortable answering, that’s OK”. It is now rare for clients to surprise me in the second appointment (unless I forget my line).

The underlying process may be that, having been given permission to withhold, the client can now exercise control by disobeying you…and telling all. This appears manipulative but this accusation would be genuine only if the permission to withhold were false, given only to manoeuvre the client rather than arising from a genuine respect for their privacy.