Ethics Codes On Confidentiality In Psychotherapy and Counseling
For a complete comparative list of different Codes of Ethics on a variety of topics, click here.
By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.
This article is part of an online course on Confidentiality.
It focuses on the ethics of confidentiality and provides updates on the Codes of Ethics.
Table Of Contents
Links to the Codes of Ethics Online
American Art Therapy Association, AATA
American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, AAMFT
American Association of Pastoral Counselors, AAPC
American Counseling Association, ACA
American Mental Health Counselors Association, AMHCA
American Psychiatric Association, ApA
American Psychological Association, APA
California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, CAMFT
Canadian Psychological Association, CPA
Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification: Code of Professional Ethics
Feminist Therapy Institute, FTI
National Association for Addiction Professionals, NAADAC
National Association of Social Workers, NASW
National Board for Certified Counselors, NBCC
United States Association for Body Psychotherapy, USABP
This document is a part of an online course on confidentiality and focuses on the sections of the Codes of Ethics of the major professional organizations that deal with confidentiality.
It is also designed to ensure that California psychologists, MFTs and LCSWs are provided with the relevant and most current and up-to-date information regarding the applicable professional codes of ethics and California Law.
Ten major codes of ethics are discussed in this paper. The relevant sections of these codes to record keeping and informed consent will be presented and direct links to the codes online will be provided.
Top of Page
Links to the Codes of Ethics of Mental Health Professionals
- American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, AAMFT
- American Association of Pastoral Counselors, AAPC
- American Counseling Association, ACA
- American Mental Health Counselors Association, AMHCA
- American Psychiatric Association, ApA
- American Psychological Association, APA
- California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, CAMFT
- Canadian Psychological Association, CPA
- Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification: Code of Professional Ethics
- National Association for Addiction Professionals, NAADAC
- National Association of Social Workers, NASW
- United States Association for Body Psychotherapy, USABP
Top of Page
American Art Therapy Association, AATA
1.0 RESPONSIBILITY TO CLIENTS
1.3. Where the client is a minor, any and all disclosure or consent required is obtained from the parent or legal guardian of the minor client, except where otherwise mandated by law. Care is taken to preserve confidentiality with the minor client and to refrain from disclosure of information to the parent or guardian that might adversely affect the treatment of the client.
1.11. Art therapists strive to provide a safe, functional environment in which to offer art therapy services.
This includes: f. allowance for privacy and confidentiality;
Art therapists protect confidential information obtained from clients, through artwork and/or conversation, in the context of the professional relationship while clients are in treatment and post-treatment.
2.1. Art therapists treat clients in an environment that protects privacy and confidentiality.
2.2. Art therapists inform clients of the limitations of confidentiality.
2.3. Art therapists do not disclose confidential information for the purposes of consultation and supervision without client's explicit consent unless there is reason to believe that the client or others are in immediate, severe danger to health or life. Any such disclosure must be consistent with laws that pertain to the welfare of the client, family, and the general public.
2.4. In the event that an art therapist believes it is in the interest of the client to disclose confidential information, he/she seeks and obtains written consent from the client or client's guardian(s) when possible before making any disclosures, unless there is reason to believe that the client or others are in immediate, severe danger to health or life.
2.5. Art therapists disclose confidential information when mandated by law in a civil, criminal, or disciplinary action arising from such art therapy services. In these cases client confidences may be disclosed only as reasonably necessary in the course of that action.
2.6. Art therapists maintain client treatment records for a reasonable amount of time consistent with state regulations and sound clinical practice, but not less than seven years from completion of treatment or termination of the therapeutic relationship. Records are stored or disposed of in ways that maintain confidentiality.
3.0 ASSESSMENT METHODS
3.6. Art therapists take reasonable steps to ensure that all assessment artwork and related data are kept confidential according to the policies and setting in which these assessments are administered.
8.0 RESPONSIBILITY TO RESEARCH PARTICIPANTS
8.5. Information obtained about a research participant during the course of an investigation is confidential unless there is authorization previously obtained in writing. When there is a risk that others, including family members, may obtain access to such information, this risk, together with the plan for protecting confidentiality, is to be explained as part of the procedure for obtaining informed consent.
13.0 REFERRAL AND ACCEPTANCE
13.1. Independent practitioners of art therapy, upon acceptance of a client, specify to clients their fee structure, payment schedule, session scheduling arrangements, and information pertaining to the limits of confidentiality and the duty to report.
14.0 ART THERAPY BY ELECTRONIC MEANS
14.1. Art therapists who offer services or information via electronic transmission inform clients of the risks to privacy and the limits of confidentiality.
Top of Page
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Ethics Code, 2015
Standard I RESPONSIBILITY TO CLIENTS
Marriage and family therapists advance the welfare of families and individuals and make reasonable efforts to find the appropriate balance between conflicting goals within the family system.
1.2 Informed Consent.
Marriage and family therapists obtain appropriate informed consent to therapy or related procedures and use language that is reasonably understandable to clients. When persons, due to age or mental status, are legally incapable of giving informed consent, marriage and family therapists obtain informed permission from a legally authorized person, if such substitute consent is legally permissible. The content of informed consent may vary depending upon the client and treatment plan; however, informed consent generally necessitates that the client: (a) has the capacity to consent; (b) has been adequately informed of significant information concerning treatment processes and procedures; (c) has been adequately informed of potential risks and benefits of treatments for which generally recognized standards do not yet exist; (d) has freely and without undue influence expressed consent; and (e) has provided consent that is appropriately documented.
1.13 Relationships with Third Parties.
Marriage and family therapists, upon agreeing to provide services to a person or entity at the request of a third party, clarify, to the extent feasible and at the outset of the service, the nature of the relationship with each party and the limits of confidentiality.
Standard II CONFIDENTIALITY
Marriage and family therapists have unique confidentiality concerns because the client in a therapeutic relationship may be more than one person. Therapists respect and guard the confidences of each individual client.
2.1 Disclosing Limits of Confidentiality.
Marriage and family therapists disclose to clients and other interested parties at the outset of services the nature of confidentiality and possible limitations of the clients' right to confidentiality. Therapists review with clients the circumstances where confidential information may be requested and where disclosure of confidential information may be legally required. Circumstances may necessitate repeated disclosures.
2.2 Written Authorization to Release Client Information.
Marriage and family therapists do not disclose client confidences except by written authorization or waiver, or where mandated or permitted by law. Verbal authorization will not be sufficient except in emergency situations, unless prohibited by law. When providing couple, family or group treatment, the therapist does not disclose information outside the treatment context without a written authorization from each individual competent to execute a waiver. In the context of couple, family or group treatment, the therapist may not reveal any individual's confidences to others in the client unit without the prior written permission of that individual.
2.3 Client Access to Records.
Marriage and family therapists provide clients with reasonable access to records concerning the clients. When providing couple, family, or group treatment, the therapist does not provide access to records without a written authorization from each individual competent to execute a waiver. Marriage and family therapists limit client's access to their records only in exceptional circumstances when they are concerned, based on compelling evidence, that such access could cause serious harm to the client. The client's request and the rationale for withholding some or all of the record should be documented in the client's file. Marriage and family therapists take steps to protect the confidentiality of other individuals identified in client records.
2.4 Confidentiality in Non-Clinical Activities.
Marriage and family therapists use client and/or clinical materials in teaching, writing, consulting, research, and public presentations only if a written waiver has been obtained in accordance with Standard 2.2, or when appropriate steps have been taken to protect client identity and confidentiality.
2.5 Protection of Records.
Marriage and family therapists store, safeguard, and dispose of client records in ways that maintain confidentiality and in accord with applicable laws and professional standards.
2.6 Preparation for Practice Changes.
In preparation for moving a practice, closing a practice, or death, marriage and family therapists arrange for the storage, transfer, or disposal of client records in conformance with applicable laws and in ways that maintain confidentiality and safeguard the welfare of clients.
2.7 Confidentiality in Consultations.
Marriage and family therapists, when consulting with colleagues or referral sources, do not share confidential information that could reasonably lead to the identification of a client, research participant, supervisee, or other person with whom they have a confidential relationship unless they have obtained the prior written consent of the client, research participant, supervisee, or other person with whom they have a confidential relationship. Information may be shared only to the extent necessary to achieve the purposes of the consultation.
Standard III PROFESSIONAL COMPETENCE AND INTEGRITY
Marriage and family therapists maintain high standards of professional competence and integrity.
3.2 Knowledge of Regulatory Standards.
Marriage and family therapists pursue appropriate consultation and training to ensure adequate knowledge of and adherence to applicable laws, ethics, and professional standards.
3.4 Conflicts of Interest.
Marriage and family therapists do not provide services that create a conflict of interest that may impair work performance or clinical judgment.
3.11 Public Statements.
Marriage and family therapists, because of their ability to influence and alter the lives of others, exercise special care when making public their professional recommendations and opinions through testimony or other public statements.
Standard IV RESPONSIBILITY TO STUDENTS AND SUPERVISEES
Marriage and family therapists do not exploit the trust and dependency of students and supervisees.
4.7 Confidentiality with Supervisees.
Marriage and family therapists do not disclose supervisee confidences except by written authorization or waiver, or when mandated or permitted by law. In educational or training settings where there are multiple supervisors, disclosures are permitted only to other professional colleagues, administrators, or employers who share responsibility for training of the supervisee. Verbal authorization will not be sufficient except in emergency situations, unless prohibited by law.
RESEARCH AND PUBLICATION
Marriage and family therapists respect the dignity and protect the welfare of research participants, and are aware of applicable laws, regulations, and professional standards governing the conduct of research.
5. 3 Informed Consent to Research.
Marriage and family therapists inform participants about the purpose of the research, expected length, and research procedures. They also inform participants of the aspects of the research that might reasonably be expected to influence willingness to participate such as potential risks, discomforts, or adverse effects. Marriage and family therapists are especially sensitive to the possibility of diminished consent when participants are also receiving clinical services, or have impairments which limit understanding and/or communication, or when participants are children. Marriage and family therapists inform participants about any potential research benefits, the limits of confidentiality, and whom to contact concerning questions about the research and their rights as research participants.
5.5 Confidentiality of Research Data.
Information obtained about a research participant during the course of an investigation is confidential unless there is a waiver previously obtained in writing. When the possibility exists that others, including family members, may obtain access to such information, this possibility, together with the plan for protecting confidentiality, is explained as part of the procedure for obtaining informed consent.
TECHNOLOGY-ASSISTED PROFESSIONAL SERVICES
Therapy, supervision, and other professional services engaged in by marriage and family therapists take place over an increasing number of technological platforms. There are great benefits and responsibilities inherent in both the traditional therapeutic and supervision contexts, as well as in the utilization of technologically-assisted professional services. This standard addresses basic ethical requirements of offering therapy, supervision, and related professional services using electronic means.
6.3 Confidentiality and Professional Responsibilities.
It is the therapist's or supervisor's responsibility to choose technological platforms that adhere to standards of best practices related to confidentiality and quality of services, and that meet applicable laws. Clients and supervisees are to be made aware in writing of the limitations and protections offered by the therapist's or supervisor's technology.
6.4 Technology and Documentation.
Therapists and supervisors are to ensure that all documentation containing identifying or otherwise sensitive information which is electronically stored and/or transferred is done using technology that adhere to standards of best practices related to confidentiality and quality of services, and that meet applicable laws. Clients and supervisees are to be made aware in writing of the limitations and protections offered by the therapist's or supervisor's technology.
Standard VII PROFESSIONAL EVALUATIONS
Marriage and family therapists aspire to the highest of standards in providing testimony in various contexts within the legal system.
7.5 Avoiding Conflicts.
Clear distinctions are made between therapy and evaluations. Marriage and family therapists avoid conflict in roles in legal proceedings wherever possible and disclose potential conflicts. As therapy begins, marriage and family therapists clarify roles and the extent of confidentiality when legal systems are involved.
Standard VIII FINANCIAL ARRANGEMENTS
Marriage and family therapists make financial arrangements with clients, third-party payors, and supervisees that are reasonably understandable and conform to accepted professional practices.
8.3 Notice of Payment Recovery Procedures.
Marriage and family therapists give reasonable notice to clients with unpaid balances of their intent to seek collection by agency or legal recourse. When such action is taken, therapists will not disclose clinical information.
Top of Page
American Association of Pastoral Counseling, Effective 2012
PRINCIPLE IV CONFIDENTIALITY
As members of AAPC we respect the integrity and protect the welfare of all persons with whom we are working and have an obligation to safeguard information about them that has been obtained in the course of the counseling process. We have a responsibility to know and understand civil laws and administrative rules that govern confidentiality requirements of our profession in the setting of our work.
A. All records kept on a client are stored under lock and key and are disposed of in a manner that assures security and confidentiality. Records should be maintained for the number of years required appropriate government regulatory statues.
B. We take reasonable steps to ensure that documentation in records is accurate and reflects the services provided. Such documentation is intended to facilitate provision of services later by other professionals, meet institutional requirements, ensure accuracy of billing and payments, and ensure compliance with law.
C. We recognize that confidentiality belongs to the client. We treat all communications from clients with professional confidence and take reasonable precautions to protect confidential information obtained through or stored in any medium. These precautions include an awareness of the limited confidentiality guarantees of electronics communication.
D. Except in those situations where the identity of the client is necessary to the understanding of the case, we use only the first names of our clients when engaged in supervision or consultation. It is our responsibility to convey the importance of confidentiality to the supervisor/consultant; this is particularly important when the supervision is shared by other professionals, as in a supervisory group.
E. We do not disclose client confidences to anyone, except: as mandated by law; to prevent a clear and immediate danger to someone; in the course of a civil, criminal or disciplinary action arising from the counseling where the pastoral counselor is a defendant; for purposes of supervision or consultation; or by previously obtained written permission. In cases involving more than one person (as client) written permission must be obtained from all legally accountable persons who have been present during the counseling before any disclosure can be made.
F. We disclose confidential information for appropriate reasons only with valid written consent from the client or a person legally authorized to consent on behalf of a client. We obtain informed written consent of clients before audio and/or video tape recording or permitting third party observation of their sessions.
G. We do not use these standards of confidentiality to avoid intervention when it is necessary, e.g., when there is evidence of abuse of minors, the elderly, the disabled, the physically or mentally incompetent.
H. When current or former clients are referred to in a publication, while teaching or in a public presentation, their identity is thoroughly disguised.
I. We as members of AAPC agree that as an express condition of our membership in the Association, Association ethics communications, files, investigative reports, and related records are strictly confidential and waive their right to use same in a court of law to advance any claim against another member. Any member seeking such records for such purpose shall be subject to disciplinary action for attempting to violate the confidentiality requirements of the organization. This policy is intended to promote pastoral and confessional communications without legal consequences and to protect potential privacy and confidentiality interests of third parties.
Top of Page
American Counseling Association Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, Effective 2014
A.2. Informed Consent in the
A.2.b. Types of Information
Counselors explicitly explain to clients the nature of all services provided. They inform clients about issues such as, but not limited to, the following: the purposes, goals, techniques, procedures, limitations, potential risks, and benefits of services; the counselor's qualifications, credentials, relevant experience, and approach to counseling; continuation of services upon the incapacitation or death of the counselor; the role of technology; and other pertinent information. Counselors take steps to ensure that clients understand the implications of diagnosis and the intended use of tests and reports. Additionally, counselors inform clients about fees and billing arrangements, including procedures for nonpayment of fees. Clients have the right to confidentiality and to be provided with an explanation of its limits (including how supervisors and/or treatment or interdisciplinary team professionals are involved), to obtain clear information about their records, to participate in the ongoing counseling plans, and to refuse any services or modality changes and to be advised of the consequences of such refusal.
B.1. Respecting Client Rights
B.1.a. Multicultural/Diversity Considerations
Counselors maintain awareness and sensitivity regarding cultural meanings of confidentiality and privacy. Counselors respect differing views toward disclosure of information. Counselors hold ongoing discussions with clients as to how, when, and with whom information is to be shared.
B.1.b. Respect for Privacy
Counselors respect the privacy of prospective and current clients. Counselors request private information from clients only when it is beneficial to the counseling process.
B.1.c. Respect for Confidentiality
Counselors protect the confidential information of prospective and current clients. Counselors disclose information only with appropriate consent or with sound legal or ethical justification.
B.1.d. Explanation of Limitations
At initiation and throughout the counseling process, counselors inform clients of the limitations of confidentiality and seek to identify situations in which confidentiality must be breached.
B.2.a. Serious and Foreseeable
Harm and Legal
The general requirement that counselors keep information confidential does not apply when disclosure is required to protect clients or identified others from serious and foreseeable harm or when legal requirements demand that confidential information must be revealed. Counselors consult with other professionals when in doubt as to the validity of an exception. Additional considerations apply when addressing end-of-life issues.
B.2.b. Confidentiality Regarding
Counselors who provide services to terminally ill individuals who are considering hastening their own deaths have the option to maintain confidentiality, depending on applicable laws and the specific circumstances of the situation and after seeking consultation or supervision from appropriate professional and legal parties.
B.2.c. Contagious, Life-Threatening Diseases
When clients disclose that they have a disease commonly known to be both communicable and life threatening, counselors may be justified in disclosing information to identifiable third parties, if the parties are known to be at serious and foreseeable risk of contracting the disease. Prior to making a disclosure, counselors assess the intent of clients to inform the third parties about their disease or to engage in any behaviors that may be harmful to an identifiable third party. Counselors adhere to relevant state laws concerning disclosure about disease status.
B.2.d. Court-Ordered Disclosure
When ordered by a court to release confidential or privileged information without a client's permission, counselors seek to obtain written, informed consent from the client or take steps to prohibit the disclosure or have it limited as narrowly as possible because of potential harm to the client or counseling relationship.
B.2.e. Minimal Disclosure
To the extent possible, clients are informed before confidential information is disclosed and are involved in the disclosure decision-making process. When circumstances require the disclosure of confidential information, only essential information is revealed.
B.3. Information Shared With Others
Counselors make every effort to ensure that privacy and confidentiality of clients are maintained by subordinates, including employees, supervisees, students, clerical assistants, and volunteers.
B.3.b. Interdisciplinary Teams
When services provided to the client involve participation by an interdisciplinary or treatment team, the client will be informed of the team's existence and composition, information being shared, and the purposes of sharing such information.
B.3.c. Confidential Settings
Counselors discuss confidential information only in settings in which they can reasonably ensure client privacy.
B.3.d. Third-Party Payers
Counselors disclose information to third-party payers only when clients have authorized such disclosure.
B.3.e. Transmitting Confidential Information
Counselors take precautions to ensure the confidentiality of all information transmitted through the use of any medium
B.3.f. Deceased Clients
Counselors protect the confidentiality of deceased clients, consistent with legal requirements and the documented preferences of the client.
B.4. Groups and Families
B.4.a. Group Work
In group work, counselors clearly explain the importance and parameters of confidentiality for the specific group.
B.4.b. Couples and Family Counseling
In couples and family counseling, counselors clearly define who is considered “the client” and discuss expectations and limitations of confidentiality. Counselors seek agreement and document in writing such agreement among all involved parties regarding the confidentiality of information. In the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the couple or family is considered to be the client.
B.5. Clients Lacking Capacity to Give Informed Consent
B.5.a. Responsibility to Clients
When counseling minor clients or adult clients who lack the capacity to give voluntary, informed consent, counselors protect the confidentiality of information received—in any medium—in the counseling relationship as specified by federal and state laws, written policies, and applicable ethical standards.
B.5.b. Responsibility to Parents and Legal Guardians
Counselors inform parents and legal guardians about the role of counselors and the confidential nature of the counseling relationship, consistent with current legal and custodial arrangements. Counselors are sensitive to the cultural diversity of families and respect the inherent rights and responsibilities of parents/guardians regarding the welfare of their children/charges according to law. Counselors work to establish, as appropriate, collaborative relationships with parents/guardians to best serve clients.
B.5.c. Release of Confidential Information
When counseling minor clients or adult clients who lack the capacity to give voluntary consent to release confidential information, counselors seek permission from an appropriate third party to disclose information. In such instances, counselors inform clients consistent with their level of understanding and take appropriate measures to safeguard client confidentiality.
B.6.b. Confidentiality of Records and Documentation
Counselors ensure that records and documentation kept in any medium are secure and that only authorized persons have access to them.
B.6.c. Permission to Record
Counselors obtain permission from clients prior to recording sessions through electronic or other means.
B.6.d. Permission to Observe
Counselors obtain permission from clients prior to allowing any person to observe counseling sessions, review session transcripts, or view recordings of sessions with supervisors, faculty, peers, or others within the training environment.
B.6.e. Client Access
Counselors provide reasonable access to records and copies of records when requested by competent clients. Counselors limit the access of clients to their records, or portions of their records, only when there is compelling evidence that such access would cause harm to the client. Counselors document the request of clients and the rationale for withholding some or all of the records in the files of clients. In situations involving multiple clients, counselors provide individual clients with only those parts of records that relate directly to them and do not include confidential information related to any other client.
B.6.f. Assistance With Records
When clients request access to their records, counselors provide assistance and consultation in interpreting counseling records.
B.6.g. Disclosure or Transfer
Unless exceptions to confidentiality exist, counselors obtain written permission from clients to disclose or transfer records to legitimate third parties. Steps are taken to ensure that receivers of counseling records are sensitive to their confidential nature.
B.6.h. Storage and Disposal After Termination
Counselors store records following termination of services to ensure reasonable future access, maintain records in accordance with federal and state laws and statutes such as licensure laws and policies governing records, and dispose of client records and other sensitive materials in a manner that protects client confidentiality. Counselors apply careful discretion and deliberation before destroying records that may be needed by a court of law, such as notes on child abuse, suicide, sexual harassment, or violence
B.6.j. Reasonable Precautions
Counselors take reasonable precautions to protect client confidentiality in the event of the counselor's termination of practice, incapacity, or death and appoint a records custodian when identified as appropriate.
B.7. Case Consultation
B.7.a. Respect for Privacy
Information shared in a consulting relationship is discussed for professional purposes only. Written and oral reports present only data germane to the purposes of the consultation, and every effort is made to protect client identity and to avoid undue invasion of privacy.
B.7.b. Disclosure of Confidential Information
When consulting with colleagues, counselors do not disclose confidential information that reasonably could lead to the identification of a client or other person or organization with whom they have a confidential relationship unless they have obtained the prior consent of the person or organization or the disclosure cannot be avoided. They disclose information only to the extent necessary to achieve the purposes of the consultation.
Top of Page
American Mental Health Counselors Association Code of Ethics 2010
Principle 1: Recordkeeping
a) Mental health counselors create, maintain, store, transfer, and dispose of client records in ways that protect confidentiality and are in accordance with applicable regulations or laws.
b) Mental health counselors establish a plan for the transfer, storage, and disposal of client records in the event of withdrawal from practice or death of the counselor that maintains confidentiality and protects the welfare of the client.
Principle 2: Confidentiality
Mental health counselors have a primary obligation to safeguard information about individuals obtained in the course of practice, teaching, or research. Personal information is communicated to others only with the person's consent, preferably written, or in those circumstances, as dictated by state laws. Disclosure of counseling information is restricted to what is necessary, relevant and verifiable.
a) Confidentiality is a right granted to all clients of mental health counseling services. From the onset of the counseling relationship, mental health counselors inform clients of these rights including legal limitations and exceptions.
b) The information in client records belongs to the client and shall not be shared without permission granted through a formal release of information. In the event that a client requests that information in his or her record be shared, mental health counselors educate clients to the implications of sharing the materials.
c) The release of information without consent of the client may only take place under the most extreme circumstances: the protection of life (suicidality or homicidality), child abuse, and/ or abuse of incompetent persons and elder abuse. Above all, mental health counselors are required to comply with state and federal statutes concerning mandated reporting.
d) Mental health counselors (or their staff members) do not release information by request unless accompanied by a specific release of information or a valid court order. Mental health counselors make every attempt to release only information necessary to comply with the request or valid court order. Mental health counselors are advised to seek legal advice upon receiving a subpoena in order to respond appropriately.
e) The anonymity of clients served in public and other agencies is preserved, if at all possible, by withholding names and personal identifying data. If external conditions require reporting such information, the client shall be so informed.
f) Information received in confidence by one agency or person shall not be forwarded to another person or agency without the client's written permission.
g) Mental health counselors have the responsibility to ensure the accuracy of, and to indicate the validity of, data shared with other parties.
h) Case reports presented in classes, professional meetings, or publications shall be disguised so that no identification is possible. Permission must be obtained from clients prior to disclosing their identity.
i) Counseling reports and records are maintained under conditions of security, and provisions are made for their destruction after five (5) years post termination or as specified by state regulations. Mental health counselors ensure that all persons in their employ, and volunteers, supervisees and interns, maintain confidentiality of client information.
j) Sessions with clients may be taped or otherwise recorded only with written permission of the client or guardian. Even with a guardian's written consent, mental health counselors should not record a session against the expressed wishes of a client. Such tapes shall be destroyed after five (5) years post termination or as specified by state regulations.
k) The primary client owns the rights to confidentiality; however, in the case where primary clients are minors or are adults who have been legally determined to be incompetent, parents and guardians have legal access to client information. Where appropriate, a parent(s) or guardian(s) may be included in the counseling process; however, mental health counselors must take measures to safeguard client confidentiality within legal limits.
l) In working with families or groups, the rights to confidentiality of each member should be safeguarded. Mental health counselors must make clear that each member of the group has individual rights to confidentiality and that each member of a family, when seen individually, has individual rights to confidentiality within legal limits.
m) When using a computer to store confidential information, mental health counselors take measures to control access to such information. After five (5) years post termination or as specified by state regulations, the information should be deleted from the system.
n) Mental health counselors may justify disclosing information to identifiable third parties if clients disclose that they have a communicable or life threatening illness. However, prior to disclosing such information, mental health counselors must confirm the diagnosis with a medical provider. The intent of clients to inform a third party about their illness and to engage in possible behaviors that could be harmful to an identifiable third party must be assessed as part of the process of determining whether a disclosure should be made to identifiable third parties.
o) Mental health counselors take necessary precautions to ensure client confidentiality of information transmitted electronically through the use of a computer, email, fax, telephone, voice mail, answering machines, or any other electronic means.
p) Mental health counselors protect the confidentiality of deceased clients in accordance with legal requirements and agency or organizational policy.
q) Mental health counselors may disclose information to third-party payers only after clients have authorized such disclosure.
Top of Page
The Principles of Medical Ethics With Annotations Especially Applicable to Psychiatry 2010 Edition
A physician shall respect the rights of patients, colleagues, and other health professionals, and shall safeguard patient confidences and privacy within the constraints of the law.
1. Psychiatric records, including even the identification of a person as a patient, must be protected with extreme care. Confidentiality is essential to psychiatric treatment. This is based in part on the special nature of psychiatric therapy as well as on the traditional ethical relationship between physician and patient. Growing concern regarding the civil rights of patients and the possible adverse effects of computerization, duplication equipment, and data banks makes the dissemination of confidential information an increasing hazard. Because of the sensitive and private nature of the information with which the psychiatrist deals, he or she must be circumspect in the information that he or she chooses to disclose to others about a patient. The welfare of the patient must be a continuing consideration.
2. A psychiatrist may release confidential information only with the authorization of the patient or under proper legal compulsion. The continuing duty of the psychiatrist to protect the patient includes fully apprising him/her of the connotations of waiving the privilege of privacy. This may become an issue when the patient is being investigated by a government agency, is applying for a position, or is involved in legal action. The same principles apply to the release of information concerning treatment to medical departments of government agencies, business organizations, labor unions, and insurance companies. Information gained in confidence about patients seen in student health services should not be released without the student's explicit permission.
3. Clinical and other materials used in teaching and writing must be adequately disguised in order to preserve the anonymity of the individuals involved.
4. The ethical responsibility of maintaining confidentiality holds equally for the consultations in which the patient may not have been present and in which the consultee was not a physician. In such instances, the physician consultant should alert the consultee to his or her duty of confidentiality.
5. Ethically, the psychiatrist may disclose only that information which is relevant to a given situation. He or she should avoid offering speculation as fact. Sensitive information such as an individual's sexual orientation or fantasy material is usually unnecessary.
6. Psychiatrists are often asked to examine individuals for security purposes, to determine suitability for various jobs, and to determine legal competence. The psychiatrist must fully describe the nature and purpose and lack of confidentiality of the examination to the examinee at the beginning of the examination.
7. Careful judgment must be exercised by the psychiatrist in order to include, when appropriate, the parents or guardian in the treatment of a minor. At the same time, the psychiatrist must assure the minor proper confidentiality.
8. When, in the clinical judgment of the treating psychiatrist, the risk of danger is deemed to be significant, the psychiatrist may reveal confidential information disclosed by the patient.?
9. When the psychiatrist is ordered by the court to reveal the confidences entrusted to him/her by patients, he or she may comply or he/ she may ethically hold the right to dissent within the framework of the law. When the psychiatrist is in doubt, the right of the patient to confidentiality and, by extension, to unimpaired treatment should be given priority. The psychiatrist should reserve the right to raise the question of adequate need for disclosure. In the event that the necessity for legal disclosure is demonstrated by the court, the psychiatrist may request the right to disclosure of only that information which is relevant to the legal question at hand.
10. With regard for the person's dignity and privacy and with truly informed consent, it is ethical to present a patient to a scientific gathering if the confidentiality of the presentation is understood and accepted by the audience.
11. It is ethical to present a patient or former patient to a public gathering or to the news media only if the patient is fully informed of enduring loss of confidentiality, is competent, and consents in writing without coercion.
12. When involved in funded research, the ethical psychiatrist will advise human subjects of the funding source, retain his or her freedom to reveal data and results, and follow all appropriate and current guidelines relative to human subject protection.
13. Ethical considerations in medical practice preclude the psychiatric evaluation of any person charged with criminal acts prior to access to, or availability of, legal counsel. The only exception is the rendering of care to the person for the sole purpose of medical treatment.
Top of Page
American Psychological Association's Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct 2010
INTRODUCTION AND APPLICABILITY
This Ethics Code applies to these activities across a variety of contexts, such as in person, postal, telephone, internet, and other electronic transmissions.
Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence
Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm. In their professional actions, psychologists seek to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons
Principle E: Respect for People's Rights and Dignity
Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Psychologists are aware that special safeguards may be necessary to protect the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making.
3.07 Third-Party Requests for Services
When psychologists agree to provide services to a person or entity at the request of a third party, psychologists attempt to clarify at the outset of the service the nature of the relationship with all individuals or organizations involved. This clarification includes the role of the psychologist (e.g., therapist, consultant, diagnostician, or expert witness), an identification of who is the client, the probable uses of the services provided or the information obtained, and the fact that there may be limits to confidentiality.
3.10 Informed Consent
(a) When psychologists conduct research or provide assessment, therapy, counseling, or consulting services in person or via electronic transmission or other forms of communication, they obtain the informed consent of the individual or individuals using language that is reasonably understandable to that person or persons except when conducting such activities without consent is mandated by law or governmental regulation or as otherwise provided in this Ethics Code.
(b) For persons who are legally incapable of giving informed consent, psychologists nevertheless (1) provide an appropriate explanation, (2) seek the individual's assent, (3) consider such persons' preferences and best interests, and (4) obtain appropriate permission from a legally authorized person, if such substitute consent is permitted or required by law. When consent by a legally authorized person is not permitted or required by law, psychologists take reasonable steps to protect the individual's rights and welfare.
(c) When psychological services are court ordered or otherwise mandated, psychologists inform the individual of the nature of the anticipated services, including whether the services are court ordered or mandated and any limits of confidentiality, before proceeding.
d) Psychologists appropriately document written or oral consent, permission, and assent.
3.11 Psychological Services Delivered To or Through Organizations
(a) Psychologists delivering services to or through organizations provide information beforehand to clients and when appropriate those directly affected by the services about (1) the nature and objectives of the services, (2) the intended recipients, (3) which of the individuals are clients, (4) the relationship the psychologist will have with each person and the organization, (5) the probable uses of services provided and information obtained, (6) who will have access to the information, and (7) limits of confidentiality. As soon as feasible, they provide information about the results and conclusions of such services to appropriate persons.
(b) If psychologists will be precluded by law or by organizational roles from providing such information to particular individuals or groups, they so inform those individuals or groups at the outset of the service.
4. Privacy And Confidentiality
4.01 Maintaining Confidentiality
Psychologists have a primary obligation and take reasonable precautions to protect confidential information obtained through or stored in any medium, recognizing that the extent and limits of confidentiality may be regulated by law or established by institutional rules or professional or scientific relationship.
4.02 Discussing the Limits of Confidentiality
(a) Psychologists discuss with persons (including, to the extent feasible, persons who are legally incapable of giving informed consent and their legal representatives) and organizations with whom they establish a scientific or professional relationship (1) the relevant limits of confidentiality and (2) the foreseeable uses of the information generated through their psychological activities.
(b) Unless it is not feasible or is contraindicated, the discussion of confidentiality occurs at the outset of the relationship and thereafter as new circumstances may warrant.
(c) Psychologists who offer services, products, or information via electronic transmission inform clients/patients of the risks to privacy and limits of confidentiality.
Before recording the voices or images of individuals to whom they provide services, psychologists obtain permission from all such persons or their legal representatives.
4.04 Minimizing Intrusions on Privacy
(a) Psychologists include in written and oral reports and consultations, only information germane to the purpose for which the communication is made.
(b) Psychologists discuss confidential information obtained in their work only for appropriate scientific or professional purposes and only with persons clearly concerned with such matters.
(a) Psychologists may disclose confidential information with the appropriate consent of the organizational client, the individual client/patient, or another legally authorized person on behalf of the client/patient unless prohibited by law.
(b) Psychologists disclose confidential information without the consent of the individual only as mandated by law, or where permitted by law for a valid purpose such as to (1) provide needed professional services; (2) obtain appropriate professional consultations; (3) protect the client/patient, psychologist, or others from harm; or (4) obtain payment for services from a client/patient, in which instance disclosure is limited to the minimum that is necessary to achieve the purpose.
When consulting with colleagues, (1) psychologists do not disclose confidential information that reasonably could lead to the identification of a client/patient, research participant, or other person or organization with whom they have a confidential relationship unless they have obtained the prior consent of the person or organization or the disclosure cannot be avoided, and (2) they disclose information only to the extent necessary to achieve the purposes of the consultation.
4.07 Use of Confidential Information for Didactic or Other Purposes
Psychologists do not disclose in their writings, lectures, or other public media, confidential, personally identifiable information concerning their clients/patients, students, research participants, organizational clients, or other recipients of their services that they obtained during the course of their work, unless (1) they take reasonable steps to disguise the person or organization, (2) the person or organization has consented in writing, or (3) there is legal authorization for doing so.
6. Record Keeping and Fees
(b) If confidential information concerning recipients of psychological services is entered into databases or systems of records available to persons whose access has not been consented to by the recipient, psychologists use coding or other techniques to avoid the inclusion of personal identifiers.
(c) Psychologists make plans in advance to facilitate the appropriate transfer and to protect the confidentiality of records and data in the event of psychologists' withdrawal from positions or practice.
7. Education and Training
7.04 Student Disclosure of Personal Information
Psychologists do not require students or supervisees to disclose personal information in course- or program-related activities, either orally or in writing, regarding sexual history, history of abuse and neglect, psychological treatment, and relationships with parents, peers, and spouses or significant others except if (1) the program or training facility has clearly identified this requirement in its admissions and program materials or (2) the information is necessary to evaluate or obtain assistance for students whose personal problems could reasonably be judged to be preventing them from performing their training- or professionally related activities in a competent manner or posing a threat to the students or others.
8. Research and Publication
8.02 Informed Consent to Research
(a) When obtaining informed consent as required in Standard 3.10, Informed Consent, psychologists inform participants about (1) the purpose of the research, expected duration, and procedures; (2) their right to decline to participate and to withdraw from the research once participation has begun; (3) the foreseeable consequences of declining or withdrawing; (4) reasonably foreseeable factors that may be expected to influence their willingness to participate such as potential risks, discomfort, or adverse effects; (5) any prospective research benefits; (6) limits of confidentiality; (7) incentives for participation; and (8) whom to contact for questions about the research and research participants' rights. They provide opportunity for the prospective participants to ask questions and receive answers.
8.03 Informed Consent for Recording Voices and Images in Research
Psychologists obtain informed consent from research participants prior to recording their voices or images for data collection unless (1) the research consists solely of naturalistic observations in public places, and it is not anticipated that the recording will be used in a manner that could cause personal identification or harm, or (2) the research design includes deception, and consent for the use of the recording is obtained during debriefing.
9.03 Informed Consent in Assessments
(a) Psychologists obtain informed consent for assessments, evaluations, or diagnostic services, as described in Standard 3.10, Informed Consent, except when (1) testing is mandated by law or governmental regulations; (2) informed consent is implied because testing is conducted as a routine educational, institutional, or organizational activity (e.g., when participants voluntarily agree to assessment when applying for a job); or (3) one purpose of the testing is to evaluate decisional capacity. Informed consent includes an explanation of the nature and purpose of the assessment, fees, involvement of third parties, and limits of confidentiality and sufficient opportunity for the client/patient to ask questions and receive answers.
(b) Psychologists inform persons with questionable capacity to consent or for whom testing is mandated by law or governmental regulations about the nature and purpose of the proposed assessment services, using language that is reasonably understandable to the person being assessed.
(c) Psychologists using the services of an interpreter obtain informed consent from the client/patient to use that interpreter, ensure that confidentiality of test results and test security are maintained, and include in their recommendations, reports, and diagnostic or evaluative statements, including forensic testimony, discussion of any limitations on the data obtained.
9.04 Release of Test Data
(a) The term test data refers to raw and scaled scores, client/patient responses to test questions or stimuli, and psychologists' notes and recordings concerning client/patient statements and behavior during an examination. Those portions of test materials that include client/patient responses are included in the definition of test data. Pursuant to a client/patient release, psychologists provide test data to the client/patient or other persons identified in the release. Psychologists may refrain from releasing test data to protect a client/patient or others from substantial harm or misuse or misrepresentation of the data or the test, recognizing that in many instances release of confidential information under these circumstances is regulated by law.
(b) In the absence of a client/patient release, psychologists provide test data only as required by law or court order.
10.01 Informed Consent to Therapy
(a) When obtaining informed consent to therapy as required in Standard 3.10, Informed Consent, psychologists inform clients/patients as early as is feasible in the therapeutic relationship about the nature and anticipated course of therapy, fees, involvement of third parties, and limits of confidentiality and provide sufficient opportunity for the client/patient to ask questions and receive answers.
10.02 Therapy Involving Couples or Families
(a) When psychologists agree to provide services to several persons who have a relationship (such as spouses, significant others, or parents and children), they take reasonable steps to clarify at the outset (1) which of the individuals are clients/patients and (2) the relationship the psychologist will have with each person. This clarification includes the psychologist's role and the probable uses of the services provided or the information obtained.
10.03 Group Therapy
When psychologists provide services to several persons in a group setting, they describe at the outset the roles and responsibilities of all parties and the limits of confidentiality.
Top of Page
California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, CAMFT
1.4 ELECTRONIC THERAPY:
When patients are not physically present (e.g., therapy by telephone or Internet) during the provision of therapy, marriage and family therapists take extra precautions to meet their responsibilities to patients. Prior to utilizing electronic therapy, marriage and family therapists consider the appropriateness and suitability of this therapeutic modality to the patient's needs. When therapy occurs by electronic means, marriage and family therapists inform patients of the potential risks, consequences, and benefits, including but not limited to, issues of confidentiality, clinical limitations, transmission difficulties, and ability to respond to emergencies. Marriage and family therapists ensure that such therapy complies with the informed consent requirements of the California Telemedicine Act.
1.5.4 LIMITS OF CONFIDENTIALITY:
Marriage and family therapists are encouraged to inform patients as to certain exceptions to confidentiality such as child abuse reporting, elder and dependent adult abuse reporting, and patients dangerous to themselves or others.
Marriage and family therapists have unique confidentiality responsibilities because the "patient" in a therapeutic relationship may be more than one person. The overriding principle is that marriage and family therapists respect the confidences of their patient(s).
2.1 DISCLOSURES OF CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION: Marriage and family therapists do not disclose patient confidences, including the names or identities of their patients, to anyone except a) as mandated by law b) as permitted by law c) when the marriage and family therapist is a defendant in a civil, criminal, or disciplinary action arising from the therapy (in which case patient confidences may only be disclosed in the course of that action), or d) if there is an authorization previously obtained in writing, and then such information may only be revealed in accordance with the terms of the authorization.
2.2 SIGNED AUTHORIZATIONS— RELEASE OF INFORMATION: When there is a request for information related to any aspect of psychotherapy or treatment, each member of the unit receiving such therapeutic treatment must sign an authorization before a marriage and family therapist will disclose information received from any member of the treatment unit.
2.3 ELECTRONIC MEDIA: Marriage and family therapists are aware of the possible adverse effects of technological changes with respect to the dissemination of patient information, and take care when disclosing such information. Marriage and family therapists are also aware of the limitations regarding confidential transmission by Internet or electronic media and take care when transmitting or receiving such information via these mediums.
2.4 MAINTENANCE OF PATIENT RECORDS—CONFIDENTIALITY: Marriage and family therapists store, transfer, transmit, and/or dispose of patient records in ways that protect confidentiality.
2.5 EMPLOYEES—CONFIDENTIALITY: Marriage and family therapists take appropriate steps to ensure, insofar as possible, that the confidentiality of patients is maintained by their employees, supervisees, assistants, and volunteers.
2.6 USE OF CLINICAL MATERIALS—CONFIDENTIALITY: Marriage and family therapists use clinical materials in teaching, writing, and public presentations only if a written authorization has been previously obtained in accordance with 2.1 d), or when appropriate steps have been taken to protect patient identity.
2.7 GROUPS—CONFIDENTIALITY: Marriage and family therapists, when working with a group, educate the group regarding the importance of maintaining confidentiality, and are encouraged to obtain written agreement from group participants to respect the confidentiality of other members of the group.
Information obtained about a research participant during the course of a research project is confidential unless there is an authorization previously obtained in writing. When the possibility exists that others, including family members, may obtain access to such information, this possibility, together with the plan for protecting confidentiality, is explained.
8.3 CONFLICTING ROLES:
Whenever possible, marriage and family therapists avoid performing conflicting roles in legal proceedings and disclose any potential conflicts. At the outset of the service to be provided and as changes occur, marriage and family therapists clarify role expectations and the extent of confidentiality to prospective clients, to the courts, or to others as appropriate.
Top of Page
Canadian Psychological Association: Canadian Code of Ethics For Psychologists (3rd Edition)
Principle I: Respect for the Dignity of Persons
Adherence to the concept of moral rights is an essential component of respect for the dignity of persons. Rights to privacy, self-determination, personal liberty, and natural justice are of particular importance to psychologists, and they have a responsibility to protect and promote these rights in all of their activities. As such, psychologists have a responsibility to develop and follow procedures for informed consent, confidentiality, fair treatment, and due process that are consistent with those rights.
I.20 Obtain informed consent for all research activities that involve obtrusive measures, invasion of privacy, more than minimal risk of harm, or any attempt to change the behaviour of research participants.
I.24 Ensure, in the process of obtaining informed consent, that at least the following points are understood: purpose and nature of the activity; mutual responsibilities; confidentiality protections and limitations; likely benefits and risks; alternatives; the likely consequences of non-action; the option to refuse or withdraw at any time, without prejudice; over what period of time the consent applies; and, how to rescind consent if desired. (Also see Standards III.23-30.)
I.26 Clarify the nature of multiple relationships to all concerned parties before obtaining consent, if providing services to or conducting research at the request or for the use of third parties. This would include, but not be limited to: the purpose of the service or research; the reasonably anticipated use that will be made of information collected; and, the limits on confidentiality. Third parties may include schools, courts, government agencies, insurance companies, police, and special funding bodies.
I.37 Seek and collect only information that is germane to the purpose(s) for which consent has been obtained.
I.38 Take care not to infringe, in research, teaching, or service activities, on the personally, developmentally, or culturally defined private space of individuals or groups, unless clear permission is granted to do so.
I.39 Record only that private information necessary for the provision of continuous, coordinated service, or for the goals of the particular research study being conducted, or that is required or justified by law. (Also see Standards IV.17 and IV.18.)
I.40 Respect the right of research participants, employees, supervisees, students, and trainees to reasonable personal privacy.
I.41 Collect, store, handle, and transfer all private information, whether written or unwritten (e.g., communication during service provision, written records, email or fax communication, computer files, video-tapes), in a way that attends to the needs for privacy and security. This would include having adequate plans for records in circumstances of one's own serious illness, termination of employment, or death.
I.42 Take all reasonable steps to ensure that records over which they have control remain personally identifiable only as long as necessary in the interests of those to whom they refer and/or to the research project for which they were collected, or as required or justified by law (e.g., the possible need to defend oneself against future allegations), and render anonymous or destroy any records under their control that no longer need to be personally identifiable. (Also see Standards IV.17 and IV.18.)
I.43 Be careful not to relay information about colleagues, colleagues' clients, research participants, employees, supervisees, students, trainees, and members of organizations, gained in the process of their activities as psychologists, that the psychologist has reason to believe is considered confidential by those persons, except as required or justified by law. (Also see Standards IV.17 and IV.18.)
I.44 Clarify what measures will be taken to protect confidentiality, and what responsibilities family, group, and community members have for the protection of each other's confidentiality, when engaged in services to or research with individuals, families, groups, or communities.
I.45 Share confidential information with others only with the informed consent of those involved, or in a manner that the persons involved cannot be identified, except as required or justified by law, or in circumstances of actual or possible serious physical harm or death. (Also see Standards II.39, IV.17, and IV.18.)
II.30 Be acutely aware of the need for discretion in the recording and communication of information, in order that the information not be misinterpreted or misused to the detriment of others. This includes, but is not limited to: not recording information that could lead to misinterpretation and misuse; avoiding conjecture; clearly labelling opinion; and, communicating information in language that can be understood clearly by the recipient of the information.
III.14 Be clear and straightforward about all information needed to establish informed consent or any other valid written or unwritten agreement (for example: fees, including any limitations imposed by third-party payers; relevant business policies and practices; mutual concerns; mutual responsibilities; ethical responsibilities of psychologists; purpose and nature of the relationship, including research participation; alternatives; likely experiences; possible conflicts; possible outcomes; and, expectations for processing, using, and sharing any information generated).
Top of Page
Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification: Code of Professional Ethics - CCRC (2010)
A.3. CLIENT RIGHTS IN THE COUNSELING RELATIONSHIP
(4) confidentiality and limitations regarding confidentiality (including how a supervisor and/or treatment team professional is involved); (5) contingencies for continuation of services upon the incapacitation or death of the rehabilitation counselor; (6) fees and billing arrangements; (7) record preservation and release policies; (8) risks associated with electronic communication; and, (9) legal issues affecting services. Rehabilitation counselors recognize that disclosure of these issues may need to be reiterated or expanded upon throughout the counseling relationship, and/or disclosure related to other matters may be required depending on the nature of services provided and matters that arise during the rehabilitation counseling relationship.
SECTION B: CONFIDENTIALITY, PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION, AND PRIVACY
B.1. RESPECTING CLIENT RIGHTS
a. CULTURAL DIVERSITY CONSIDERATIONS. Rehabilitation counselors maintain beliefs, attitudes, knowledge, and skills regarding cultural meanings of confidentiality and privacy. Rehabilitation counselors hold ongoing discussions with clients as to how, when, and with whom information is to be shared.
>b. RESPECT FOR PRIVACY. Rehabilitation counselors respect privacy rights of clients. Rehabilitation counselors solicit private information from clients only when it is beneficial to the counseling process.
c. RESPECT FOR CONFIDENTIALITY. Rehabilitation counselors do not share confidential information without consent from clients or without sound legal or ethical justification.
d. EXPLANATION OF LIMITATIONS. At initiation and throughout the counseling process, rehabilitation counselors inform clients of the limitations of confidentiality and seek to identify foreseeable situations in which confidentiality must be breached.
a. DANGER AND LEGAL REQUIREMENTS. The general requirement that rehabilitation counselors keep information confidential does not apply when disclosure is required to protect clients or identified others from serious and foreseeable harm, or when legal requirements demand that confidential information must be revealed. Rehabilitation counselors consult with other professionals when in doubt as to the validity of an exception.
b. CONTAGIOUS, LIFE-THREATENING DISEASES. When clients disclose that they have a disease commonly known to be both communicable and life threatening, rehabilitation counselors may be justified in disclosing information to identifiable third parties, if they are known to be at demonstrable and high risk of contracting the disease. Prior to making a disclosure, rehabilitation counselors confirm that there is such a diagnosis and assess the intent of clients to inform the third parties about their disease or to engage in any behaviors that may be harmful to identifiable third parties.
c. COURT-ORDERED DISCLOSURE. When subpoenaed to release confidential or privileged information without permission from clients, rehabilitation counselors obtain written, informed consent from clients or take steps to prohibit the disclosure or have it limited as narrowly as possible due to potential harm to clients or the counseling relationship. Whenever reasonable, rehabilitation counselors obtain a court directive to clarify the nature and extent of the response to a subpoena.
d. MINIMAL DISCLOSURE. When circumstances require the disclosure of confidential information, only essential information is revealed.
B.3. INFORMATION SHARED WITH OTHERS
a. WORK ENVIRONMENT. Rehabilitation counselors make every effort to ensure that privacy and confidentiality of clients is maintained by employees, supervisees, students, clerical assistants, and volunteers.
b. PROFESSIONAL COLLABORATION. If rehabilitation of clients involves the sharing of their information among team members, clients are advised of this fact and are informed of the team's existence and composition. Rehabilitation counselors carefully consider implications for clients in extending confidential information if participating in their service teams.
c. CLIENTS SERVED BY OTHERS. When rehabilitation counselors learn that clients have an ongoing professional relationship with another rehabilitation counselor or treating professional, they request release from clients to inform the other professionals and strive to establish a positive and collaborative professional relationship. File review, second-opinion services, and other indirect services are not considered an ongoing professional relationship.
d. CLIENT ASSISTANTS. When clients are accompanied by an individual providing assistance to clients (e.g., interpreter, personal care assistant), rehabilitation counselors ensure that the assistant is apprised of the need to maintain and document confidentiality. At all times, clients retain the right to decide who can be present as client assistants.
e. CONFIDENTIAL SETTINGS. Rehabilitation counselors discuss confidential information only in offices or settings in which they can reasonably ensure the privacy of clients.
f. THIRD-PARTY PAYERS. Rehabilitation counselors disclose information to third-party payers only when clients have authorized such disclosure, unless otherwise required by law or statute.
g. DECEASED CLIENTS. Rehabilitation counselors protect the confidentiality of deceased clients, consistent with legal requirements and agency policies.
B.4. GROUPS AND FAMILIES
a. GROUP WORK. In group work, rehabilitation counselors clearly explain the importance and parameters of confidentiality for the specific group being entered.
b. COUPLES AND FAMILY COUNSELING. In couples and family counseling, rehabilitation counselors clearly define who the clients are and discuss expectations and limitations of confidentiality. Rehabilitation counselors seek agreement and document in writing such agreement among all involved parties having capacity to give consent concerning each individual's right to confidentiality. Rehabilitation counselors clearly define whether they share or do not share information with family members that is privately, individually communicated to rehabilitation counselors
b. CONFIDENTIALITY OF RECORDS. Rehabilitation counselors ensure that records are kept in a secure location and that only authorized persons have access to records.
d. DISCLOSURE OR TRANSFER. Unless exceptions to confidentiality exist, rehabilitation counselors obtain written permission from clients to disclose or transfer records to legitimate third parties. Steps are taken to ensure that recipients of counseling records are sensitive to their confidential nature.
e. STORAGE AND DISPOSAL AFTER TERMINATION. Rehabilitation counselors store the records of their clients following termination of services to ensure reasonable future access, maintain records in accordance with national or local statutes governing records, and dispose of records and other sensitive materials in a manner that protects the confidentiality of clients.
f. REASONABLE PRECAUTIONS. Rehabilitation counselors take reasonable precautions to protect the confidentiality of clients in the event of disaster or termination of practice, incapacity, or death of the rehabilitation counselor.
Top of Page
Feminist Therapy Institute: Code of Ethics (revised 1999)
Feminist therapists live with and practice in competing forces and complex controlling interests. When mental health care involves third-party payers, it is feminist therapists' responsibility to advocate for the best possible therapeutic process for the client, including short or long term therapy. Care and compassion for clients include protection of confidentiality and awareness of the impacts of economic and political considerations, including the increasing disparity between the quality of therapeutic care available for those with or without third-party payers.
Ethical Guidelines for Feminist Therapists
D. A feminist therapist, teacher, or researcher is alert to the control of information dissemination and questions pressures to conform to and use dominant mainstream standards. As technological methods of communication change and increase, the feminist therapist recognizes the socioeconomic aspects of these developments and communicates according to clients' access to technology.
Top of Page
National Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) Ethical Standards, 2011
III. Confidentiality/Privileged Communication and Privacy
Addiction professionals shall provide information to clients regarding confidentiality and any reasons for releasing information in adherence with confidentiality laws. When providing services to families, couples or groups, the limits and exceptions to confidentiality must be reviewed and a written document describing confidentiality must be provided to each person. Once private information is obtained by the addiction professional, standards of confidentiality apply. Confidential information is disclosed when appropriate with valid consent from a client or guardian. Every effort is made to protect the confidentiality of client information, except in very specific cases or situations.
- The addiction professional will inform each client of the exceptions to confidentiality and only make a disclosure to prevent or minimize harm to another person or group, to prevent abuse of protected persons, when a legal court order is presented, for purpose of research, audit, internal agency communication or in a medical emergency. In each situation, only the information essential to satisfy the reason for the disclosure is provided.
- The addiction professional will do everything possible to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of client information, except where the client has given specific, written, informed and limited consent or when the client poses a risk of harm to themselves or others.
- The addiction professional will inform the client of his/her confidentiality rights in writing as a part of informing the client of any areas likely to affect the client's confidentiality.
- The addiction professional will explain the impact of electronic records and use of electronic devices to transmit confidential information via fax, email or other electronic means. When client information is transmitted electronically, the addiction professional will, as much as possible, utilize secure, dedicated telephone lines or encryption programs to ensure confidentiality.
- Clients are to be notified when a disclosure is made, to whom the disclosure was made and for what purposes.
- The addiction professional will inform the client and obtain the client's agreement in areas likely to affect the client's participation including the recording of an interview, the use of interview material for training purposes and/or observation of an interview by another person.
- The addiction professional will inform the client(s) of the limits of confidentiality prior to recording an interview or prior to using information from a session for training purposes.
Top of Page
National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics (revised 2008)
1.01 Commitment to Clients
Social workers' primary responsibility is to promote the well-being of clients. In general, clients' interests are primary. However, social workers' responsibility to the larger society or specific legal obligations may on limited occasions supersede the loyalty owed clients, and clients should be so advised. (Examples include when a social worker is required by law to report that a client has abused a child or has threatened to harm self or others.)
Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals. Social workers may limit clients' right to self-determination when, in the social workers' professional judgment, clients' actions or potential actions pose a serious, foreseeable, and imminent risk to themselves or others.
1.03 Informed Consent
(a) Social workers should provide services to clients only in the context of a professional relationship based, when appropriate, on valid informed consent. Social workers should use clear and understandable language to inform clients of the purpose of the services, risks related to the services, limits to services because of the requirements of a third-party payer, relevant costs, reasonable alternatives, clients' right to refuse or withdraw consent, and the time frame covered by the consent. Social workers should provide clients with an opportunity to ask questions.
(e) Social workers who provide services via electronic media (such as computer, telephone, radio, and television) should inform recipients of the limitations and risks associated with such services.
(f) Social workers should obtain clients' informed consent before audiotaping or videotaping clients or permitting observation of services to clients by a third party.
1.07 Privacy and Confidentiality
(a) Social workers should respect clients' right to privacy. Social workers should not solicit private information from clients unless it is essential to providing services or conducting social work evaluation or research. Once private information is shared, standards of confidentiality apply.
(b) Social workers may disclose confidential information when appropriate with valid consent from a client or a person legally authorized to consent on behalf of a client.
(c) Social workers should protect the confidentiality of all information obtained in the course of professional service, except for compelling professional reasons. The general expectation that social workers will keep information confidential does not apply when disclosure is necessary to prevent serious, foreseeable, and imminent harm to a client or other identifiable person. In all instances, social workers should disclose the least amount of confidential information necessary to achieve the desired purpose; only information that is directly relevant to the purpose for which the disclosure is made should be revealed.
(d) Social workers should inform clients, to the extent possible, about the disclosure of confidential information and the potential consequences, when feasible before the disclosure is made. This applies whether social workers disclose confidential information on the basis of a legal requirement or client consent.
e) Social workers should discuss with clients and other interested parties the nature of confidentiality and limitations of clients' right to confidentiality. Social workers should review with clients circumstances where confidential information may be requested and where disclosure of confidential information may be legally required. This discussion should occur as soon as possible in the social worker-client relationship and as needed throughout the course of the relationship.
f) When social workers provide counseling services to families, couples, or groups, social workers should seek agreement among the parties involved concerning each individual's right to confidentiality and obligation to preserve the confidentiality of information shared by others. Social workers should inform participants in family, couples, or group counseling that social workers cannot guarantee that all participants will honor such agreements.
(g) Social workers should inform clients involved in family, couples, marital, or group counseling of the social worker's, employer's, and agency's policy concerning the social worker's disclosure of confidential information among the parties involved in the counseling.
(h) Social workers should not disclose confidential information to third-party payers unless clients have authorized such disclosure.
(i) Social workers should not discuss confidential information in any setting unless privacy can be ensured. Social workers should not discuss confidential information in public or semipublic areas such as hallways, waiting rooms, elevators, and restaurants.
j) Social workers should protect the confidentiality of clients during legal proceedings to the extent permitted by law. When a court of law or other legally authorized body orders social workers to disclose confidential or privileged information without a client's consent and such disclosure could cause harm to the client, social workers should request that the court withdraw the order or limit the order as narrowly as possible or maintain the records under seal, unavailable for public inspection.
(k) Social workers should protect the confidentiality of clients when responding to requests from members of the media.
l) Social workers should protect the confidentiality of clients' written and electronic records and other sensitive information. Social workers should take reasonable steps to ensure that clients' records are stored in a secure location and that clients' records are not available to others who are not authorized to have access.
(m) Social workers should take precautions to ensure and maintain the confidentiality of information transmitted to other parties through the use of computers, electronic mail, facsimile machines, telephones and telephone answering machines, and other electronic or computer technology. Disclosure of identifying information should be avoided whenever possible.
(n) Social workers should transfer or dispose of clients' records in a manner that protects clients' confidentiality and is consistent with state statutes governing records and social work licensure.
(o) Social workers should take reasonable precautions to protect client confidentiality in the event of the social worker's termination of practice, incapacitation, or death.
p) Social workers should not disclose identifying information when discussing clients for teaching or training purposes unless the client has consented to disclosure of confidential information.
q) Social workers should not disclose identifying information when discussing clients with consultants unless the client has consented to disclosure of confidential information or there is a compelling need for such disclosure.
(r) Social workers should protect the confidentiality of deceased clients consistent with the preceding standards.
1.08 Access to Records
(a) Social workers should provide clients with reasonable access to records concerning the clients. Social workers who are concerned that clients' access to their records could cause serious misunderstanding or harm to the client should provide assistance in interpreting the records and consultation with the client regarding the records. Social workers should limit clients' access to their records, or portions of their records, only in exceptional circumstances when there is compelling evidence that such access would cause serious harm to the client. Both clients' requests and the rationale for withholding some or all of the record should be documented in clients' files.
(b) When providing clients with access to their records, social workers should take steps to protect the confidentiality of other individuals identified or discussed in such records
2. Social Workers' Ethical Responsibilities to Colleagues
Social workers should respect confidential information shared by colleagues in the course of their professional relationships and transactions. Social workers should ensure that such colleagues understand social workers' obligation to respect confidentiality and any exceptions related to it.
(c) When consulting with colleagues about clients, social workers should disclose the least amount of information necessary to achieve the purposes of the consultation.
3. Social Workers' Ethical Responsibilities in Practice Settings
3.04 Client Records
(a) Social workers should take reasonable steps to ensure that documentation in records is accurate and reflects the services provided.
(b) Social workers should include sufficient and timely documentation in records to facilitate the delivery of services and to ensure continuity of services provided to clients in the future.
(c) Social workers' documentation should protect clients' privacy to the extent that is possible and appropriate and should include only information that is directly relevant to the delivery of services.
d) Social workers should store records following the termination of services to ensure reasonable future access. Records should be maintained for the number of years required by state statutes or relevant contracts.
5.02 Evaluation and Research
(k) Social workers engaged in the evaluation of services should discuss collected information only for professional purposes and only with people professionally concerned with this information.
l) Social workers engaged in evaluation or research should ensure the anonymity or confidentiality of participants and of the data obtained from them. Social workers should inform participants of any limits of confidentiality, the measures that will be taken to ensure confidentiality, and when any records containing research data will be destroyed.
(m) Social workers who report evaluation and research results should protect participants' confidentiality by omitting identifying information unless proper consent has been obtained authorizing disclosure.
Top of Page
National Board For Certified Counselors (NBCC) Code Of Ethics, 2013
10. NCCs shall create written procedures regarding the handling of client records in the event of their unexpected death or incapacitation. In recognition of the harm that may occur if clients are unable to access professional assistance in these cases, these procedures shall ensure that the confidentiality of client records is maintained and shall include the identification of individual(s) who are familiar with ethical and legal requirements regarding the counseling profession and who shall assist clients in locating other professional mental health providers as well as ensure the appropriate transfer of client records. These written procedures shall be provided to the client, and the NCC shall provide an opportunity for the client to discuss concerns regarding the process as it pertains to the transfer of his or her record.
15. NCCs who seek consultation (i.e., consultees) shall protect client's confidentiality and unnecessary invasion of privacy by providing only the information relevant to the consultation and in a manner that protects the client's identity.
19. NCCs shall recognize the potential harm of informal uses of social media and other related technology with clients, former clients and their families and personal friends. After carefully considering all of the ethical implications, including confidentiality, privacy and multiple relationships, NCCs shall develop written practice procedures in regard to social media and digital technology, and these shall be incorporated with the information provided to clients before or during the initial session. At a minimum, these social media procedures shall specify that personal accounts will be separate and isolated from any used for professional counseling purposes including those used with prospective or current clients. These procedures shall also address “friending” and responding to material posted.
20. NCCs shall not use social media sources (e.g., updates, tweets, blogs, etc.) to provide confidential information regarding client cases that have not been consented to by the client. To facilitate the secure provision of information, NCCs shall inform clients prior to or during the initial session about appropriate ways to communicate with them. Furthermore, NCCs shall advise clients about the potential risks of sending messages through digital technology and social media sources.
56. NCCs shall act in a professional manner by protecting against unauthorized access to confidential information. This includes data contained in electronic formats. NCCs shall inform any subordinates who have physical or electronic access to information of the importance of maintaining privacy and confidentiality.
Top of Page
Ethics Guidelines Of United States Association For Body Psychotherapy (USABP), 2001
III. INFORMED CONSENT
Body psychotherapists provide services to clients only in the context of a professional relationship based on valid, on-going informed consent. Initial informed consent to use body psychotherapy is expected and should be updated and documented as appropriate during the relationship. Informed consent requires that the person haves the capacity to consent, has been informed of and understands necessary information concerning the course of their treatment, and that this consent has been given without undue influence.
1. Body psychotherapists use clear, understandable language to inform clients of the purpose of treatment, the risks related to treatment, reasonable alternatives to the proposed treatment, limits to the provision of treatment, and the right to seek a second opinion. Recommended additional topics for consent and/or discussion include but are not limited to: confidentiality and its limits, client's right to refuse or withdraw consent, nature of the business contract, health care benefits, fees, record keeping, termination, supervision, use of touch, complaint or disagreement process and contact information. Ample opportunity for the client to ask questions is provided.
VII. PRIVACY AND CONFIDENTIALITY
Body psychotherapists have a primary obligation and responsibility to take precautions to respect the confidentiality of those with whom they work or consult. 1. Confidential information includes all information obtained in the context of the professional relationship. They maintain the confidentiality of clients and former clients. Body psychotherapists take appropriate steps to protect their confidential information and to limit access by others to confidential information.
2. Body psychotherapists disclose confidential information without the consent of the client only as mandated by law, or where permitted by law. Such situations include, but may not be limited to: providing essential professional services to the client, obtaining appropriate professional consultation, or protecting the client or others from harm.
3. Unless unfeasible or contraindicated, the discussion of confidentiality and its limits occurs at the beginning of the professional relationship and thereafter as circumstances may warrant. When appropriate, body psychotherapists clarify at the beginning of treatment issues related to the involvement of third parties.
4. Body psychotherapists may disclose confidential information with the appropriate consent of the patient or the individual or organizational client (or of another legally authorized person on behalf of the patient or client), unless prohibited by law.
5. When agreeing to provide services to several persons who have a relationship (such as partners or parents and children), body psychotherapists attempt to clarify at the outset 1) which of the individuals are clients and 2) the relationship body psychotherapy will have with each person. This clarification includes the role of the body psychotherapist and the probable uses of the services provided or the information obtained.
6. If and when it becomes apparent that the body psychotherapist may be called on to perform potentially conflicting roles (such as marital counselor to husband and wife, and then witness for one party in a divorce proceeding), body psychotherapists attempt to clarify and adjust, or withdraw from, roles appropriately.
7. In cases where there is more than one person involved in treatment by the same therapist (such as with groups, families and couples), the therapist obtains an initial agreement with those involved concerning how confidential information will be handled both within treatment and with regard to third parties.
8. Body psychotherapists maintain and retain appropriate records as necessary to render competent care and as required by law or regulation.
9. Body psychotherapists are aware of the possible adverse effects of technological changes with respect to the confidential dissemination of patient information and take reasonable care to ensure secure and confidential transmission of such information.
10. Body psychotherapists take steps to protect the confidentiality of client records in their storage, transfer, and disposal. They conform to applicable state laws governing the length of storage and procedures for disposal.
11. Body psychotherapists take appropriate steps to ensure, as far as possible, that employees, supervisees, assistants, and volunteers maintain the confidentiality of clients. They take appropriate steps to protect the client's identity or to obtain prior, written authorization for the use of any identifying clinical materials in teaching, writing and public presentations.
12. When working with groups, body psychotherapists explain to participants the importance of maintaining confidentiality and obtain agreement from group participants to respect the confidentiality and privacy of other group members but they also inform group members that privacy and confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.
13. Body psychotherapists obtain written consent from clients/students before taping or filming any session, such consent to include the intended use of the material and the limits of confidentiality.
X. RESEARCH Body psychotherapists design, conduct and report research in accordance with recognized standards of scientific competence and ethics, minimizing the possibility that the results might be misleading. If an ethical issue is unclear, body psychotherapists resolve the issue through consultation with institutional review boards, peer consultations, or other proper mechanisms. They take reasonable steps to implement appropriate protections for the rights and welfare of human participants, other persons affected by the research, and animal subjects.
11. Body psychotherapists inform research participants of the anticipated sharing or further use of personally identifiable research data and of the possibility of unanticipated future uses.
Summary of Codes of Ethics on Confidentiality
There exists uniform agreement in the ethics codes of the mental health professions that confidentiality is a fundamental right of all those to whom we provide services. These ethics codes make it very clear that confidentiality and its limits are important issues to include in each client's, student's, supervisee's, and research subject's informed consent agreement at the outset of the professional relationship and on an ongoing basis if any changes to it arise. The ethics codes are also clear that all reasonably expected limits to confidentiality should be discussed in detail so the individual can make an informed decision about participation in light of these anticipated limitations.
It is also seen that each ethics code addresses confidentiality in all settings, with all treatment modalities, and with all populations. Services provided in person, via the telephone, online, and through other media; to children and adolescents, the elderly, those with diminished capacity to consent, those referred by third-parties, those being involuntarily treated; individuals, couples, families, and groups; all need to have confidentiality and its limits explained to participants at the outset and efforts must be made not to violate their confidentiality rights.
The ethics codes also make it clear that each individual's confidentiality rights must be preserved even when mental health professionals seek consultation from colleagues, when using clinical information for teaching purposes, and when sharing research and assessment results. Further, similar efforts must be made to ensure that confidentiality is protected and preserved in the storage, retention, disposal, and sharing of clinical records.
It is each mental health professional's ethical obligation to anticipate risks to confidentiality, take preventative steps to ensure confidentiality is not inappropriately violated, and accept responsibility for our subordinates in the protection of confidentiality as well. We all also must comply with relevant laws and breech confidentiality as required (having already included these limits in the informed consent agreement and ensuring that the client understands this). We also must transmit, share, and communicate confidential information (with appropriate consent) in a manner that protects confidentiality and minimizes the risk of inadvertent disclosures.
Top of Page