Privacy and Confidentiality During Email-Based Online Therapy and Counselling

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As a therapy or counselling client, you are entitled to an exceptionally high level of privacy and confidentiality.

Unless Otherwise Specified, Assume Everything is Confidential

As noted on the page about What to Expect, with the exception of details I will share confidentially for the purposes of peer supervision/consultative support, my discussions with you will not normally be shared with anyone else. Unless specified otherwise, you can assume that everything we discuss will be kept confidential.

In accordance with the ethical guidelines of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, if I believe a client has become an immediate threat to themselves or to others, I may need to share this belief and related information with other people. In virtually all instances, however, I would discuss this directly with the client in question before considering breaking confidentiality. I am also obliged by United Kingdom law to report instances of terrorist activity, and in some very rare instances I might be required by legal subpoena or court order to divulge client identity.

While this so far applies only to my role in the counselling relationship, I do also ask that clients exercise discretion in discussing the content of their counselling sessions with others: the well-intentioned opinions and judgements of other people can sometimes compromise the therapeutic value of the sessions themselves. For example, a strong judgement expressed by a close friend may undermine the very trust in one’s own judgement which counselling seeks to promote.

The Role of Peer Supervision in Ethical Online Practice

In many countries, it is considered unethical to engage in the provision of counselling, psychotherapy, or ‘mental health treatment’ broadly understood without regular and ongoing consultative peer support, normally referred to as ‘supervision’. During supervision, a practitioner works with one other practitioner (or, in the case of ‘group supervision’, a group of other practitioners) to explore the therapeutic process as it is unfolding between client and therapist. Supervision helps the practitioner to monitor what is occurring in their own experience as well as to observe the process unfolding between themselvs and their clients. No individually identifiable client details are shared during supervision, and the supervisory relationship is bound by a confidentiality agreement which is as strong or stronger than that between counsellor and therapist.

For more about the role of peer supervision for practitioners committed to providing ethically sound mental health services, please see the page About Supervision at CounsellingResource.com.

Electronic Security and the Privacy of Your Online Therapy

You can choose to have all emails we exchange encrypted to a level equivalent to that used by national governments and large financial institutions. In addition, whether or not you choose to encrypt emails in transit, all emails will be stored in encrypted form once they are received at my end.

Please see the separate page on Encryption and Online Counselling for details on how I protect your information.

In the case of electronic records, such as those generated in the course of internet-mediated therapy and counselling, the United Kingdom government strongly enforces additional legal requirements which bear on confidentiality and privacy. Mulhauser Consulting, Ltd. — which provides my services — is registered in the UK as a Data Controller under the Data Protection Act 1998, so I understand the special requirements for safeguarding personal information held electronically. Note that with the exception of very narrowly specified uses, it is a crime in the United Kingdom to conduct business using personal information held on a computer without being registered as a Data Controller — and pastoral care, which includes counselling, is one area which has been deliberately and explicitly highlighted by the government as not qualifying for exemption from the Data Protection Act.

Individually identifiable information about client sessions is retained in accordance with the Data Protection Act for a period of 6 years. It is fully encrypted.

This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser on .

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