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One of the most important factors in a counselor being able to help a client is developing a sense of trust. The relationship between a client and counselor begins with an agreement of confidentiality. This agreement stipulates that the counselor will not divulge information of any kind to anyone else. There can be severe consequences to professionals that violate the code of confidentiality.
Duty to Warn
There are three specific situations when it is actually a counselor's legal responsibility to break confidentiality and go to authorities: when child abuse is suspected, when elder abuse is reported and if someone's life (whether it be the patient, counselor or someone else) is at immediate risk. Before anyone starts treatment, they are typically informed of these scenarios, however, these situations still arise. In these scenarios, counselors will usually let someone know that they are going to be releasing information so that they have a chance to go to authorities themselves.
Loss of Trust
If a client finds out that you have told someone else about their situation, they will likely no longer trust you. That loss of trust can ruin the relationship that you have established with the client and could jeopardize the progress you have made with him.
Loss of Job
In addition to the restrictions placed on working professionals by the American Counseling Association, agencies will place their own rules and regulations on their employees. If you are employed with an agency and you breach confidentiality, you may be fired as a result of your failure to follow company procedure. If you own your own practice, word may spread that you are not trustworthy and you could lose future business.
By breaching confidentiality with a client, you expose yourself to several different legal issues. The client may sue you for financial or emotional damage as a result of you exposing their information. You may also be at risk for losing your license to practice.
Bill Varoskovic has been writing professionally since 2010. His areas of academic expertise include world religions, American Sign Language, psychology, personality and community building. Other areas of experience include sports, travel and lifestyle. Varoskovic received his Bachelor of Science in psychology from Central Michigan University in 2010.