Everybody who works within a therapeutic setting must adhere to a code of ethics and ethical behavior if they want to ensure success. Disregarding this advice means pretty much guarantees that, at some point, a therapist will find themselves in the middle of some uncomfortable litigation procedure.
It is not difficult to get it right. We simply behave towards a client as we would like any professional person to behave towards us. So we would not exploit a client financially or sexually, for instance, neither would we engage in any form of work for which we had received no training.
We protect our client’s best interests at all times, which might mean referring them on to a more skilled practitioner, or back to their medical doctor if we have the slightest feeling that there is some physical condition which should receive orthodox medical investigation or attention. One of the most important aspects of ethics is… Confidentiality.
This must be absolute and complete!
This means that we would never discuss anything about a client with anybody else at all under any circumstances without that client’s written permission to do so. This can sometimes be necessary where somebody has consulted us for, say, pain control, and their doctor wants to know exactly how you worked with that client, in order to assess whether the therapy would be suitable for his other patients, for example.
We need to get our client’s permission first. There are many times when a therapist will think it is all right to do so without permission – for instance, if someone comes in and says: “My husband came to see you last year…” Under those circumstances, I would not even say: “Oh yes.” My only likely response would be: “Did he?” or “Ah,” or simply nothing at all. I would never admit that he had consulted with me, never mind admit what he consulted me for. It can be even more subtle; sometimes, somebody might telephone me and say something like: “This is John Smith’s wife.
He’s asked me to phone you to get his appointment time because he’s forgotten it.” Think about that for a minute, and consider the implications if I give ‘Matt’s wife’ that information. Firstly, I have no way of knowing that it is his wife I am talking to; I could be talking to a work colleague or anybody else.
Secondly, I will have confirmed that he is a client, or is still a client, which he may not wish her to know (she might have been suspicious, for any number of reasons, and be checking up on him). Thirdly, if he is an ‘ex-client’ who does not have an appointment with me, and I say so, it is still a breach of confidence – he may have insisted he is still ‘going for therapy’.
The only response to make under this type of circumstance is: “All right, get him to call me and we’ll sort it out.” If pressed, I could say: “I’m sorry, my professional association (instead, I could use ‘Code of Practice’) doesn’t allow me to discuss client details with anybody other than the client.” It is not difficult.
There are never circumstances when it is all right to discuss a client, or a client who is no longer seeing you, or somebody who has seen you but has yet to have her first session, with anybody else at all without their written permission. I take ethics very seriously I have a therapeutic relationship with all of our customers, even though it is somewhat different from the usual therapist/client relationship.
As such, we seek to maintain a standard of integrity, compassion and dignity towards all involved. Among other things, this includes treating people’s details private and confidential at all times