School counselors are expected to protect student confidentiality, according to the American Counseling Association's Code of Ethics (ACA, 2005) and the American School Counselor Association's Ethical Standards for School Counselors (ASCA, 2010), unless information is deemed to be of serious and foreseeable harm to the student. This would include situations where students disclose abuse or neglect by their parents, suicidal tendencies, or involvement in criminal activities. In these cases, it is the duty of the counselor to inform someone who can take action to prevent further injury to the student.
In general, students have a right to privacy regarding their personal affairs. Schools must comply with laws prohibiting disclosure of personally identifiable information without consent. However, counselors are permitted to share information about students if they judge it to be in the best interest of the student or group of students to do so. For example, counselors may discuss a student's progress or problems solving efforts with that student's parent or guardian outside of the school setting.
School counselors work with students on an individual basis to help them meet their academic goals and develop positive coping strategies for challenges they may face throughout their school career. The nature of this work makes it necessary for counselors to have access to certain details about students' private lives. For example, counselors may need to know a student's address to send him or her materials relating to campus programs or events.
However, teachers and administrators also have a responsibility to maintain student confidentiality.
Counselors have an ethical responsibility to break confidentiality when a client's behavior is dangerous enough to pose a risk of harm, according to ethical guidelines established by several professional organizations (e.g., American Counseling Association [ACA], 2005; American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2004). For example, counselors are permitted to report concerns about students who exhibit suicidal behaviors or other signs of emotional distress.
In addition, some states have laws that require school counselors to report certain actions taken by students, such as threatening violence or committing a crime. In some cases, counselors may be required by law to report certain incidents involving students.
Finally, in some instances, counselors may choose to break confidentiality if they believe doing so will benefit the student or others. For example, counselors may decide to inform parents if they suspect a child is being bullied or otherwise harmed at school.
In conclusion, school counselors must act within the bounds of ethics and law to ensure the safety of students. If faced with making this decision, counselors should consider what action will best protect the well-being of both the student and the community.
Counseling relies heavily on confidentiality. This means that, under normal circumstances, no one outside the Counseling Center is provided any information—even the fact that you've been here—unless you expressly authorize in writing.
When you come for counseling, the only information we have about you is what you tell us. We cannot see your medical records or other documents that might reveal something about your background or present situation that you prefer not to discuss. We also can't share anything we learn about you with anyone else, even your family doctor.
Confidentiality is important because without it people would be reluctant to seek help when they need it. Fear of disclosure can also prevent someone from being open and honest with their counselor which could interfere with the treatment process.
In addition to being confidential, counseling sessions are also supposed to be safe. You should never give anyone your password, let them use your computer or phone if it reduces your anxiety about talking in the session, or allow anyone access to your counseling notes after you leave our center.
We hope you will feel comfortable discussing all your concerns with us. However, if any topic becomes too painful for you, we will understand and honor your desire for confidentiality.