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Confidentiality: I Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny

June 2008

"I can neither confirm nor deny." That is one of those so very typical things we mental health people find ourselves having to say. I can neither confirm nor deny, pertains to family members or others asking us whether a student is in counseling. To protect confidentiality we cannot say anything about this and this lack of confirmation and denial seems most understandably aggravating to our students' families.

This little intro leads me to this month's topic: CONFIDENTIALITY. We get asked all the time by family members why we are so tight lipped, why we cannot share information you know we know and we know you know, and why in tarnation we cannot just be helpful and share information that would assist you all who care the most about our students.

Well, here's the complete and total deal on the whole confidentiality thing. If students thought for one single second that our protection of their most personal lives was not 100% steel plate protected, not a single student would ever darken our door again. And frankly, that would be tons worse then families perceiving us as being too tight lipped. The bottom line is confidentiality saves lives. By being that one safe place where students can tell their deepest and most personal secrets, thoughts, and feeling knowing it goes no further than our office doors, opens those very doors for students to seek help. While it may irritate you because family members care and are curious, we cannot tell you anything because it protects students who seek our help.

The other really compelling reasons that keeps us tight lipped is it is totally illegal and exceptionally unethical to do otherwise. Getting fined, doing hard time, and losing one's license are the additional motivations we need to be extremely careful when communicating.

Now, there is a loophole known as the "Release of Information." When we feel it would best serve everyone to include families in this work with students, we ask students to sign a "release." A release is the student's written permission to share information. When we have that, we are good to go with talking more openly with families about what's going on behind the proverbial closed door. Most students sign releases when we ask them to. In those cases when they won't, well. . .that's already been discussed. Please keep in mind you can ask your own student what the scoop is. Go directly to the source, as in the end, we are second hand information.

Worry not though, we're watching your students as closely as we can and will do what we need to do to make sure they are safe, even if we can't tell you about it. Finally, keep in mind we can receive information. If there is something you think is important to tell us, then by all means tell us! We'll receive information on the basis that we tell students whatever you tell us as it just keeps the information loop open, no secrets.

So, there's the basic 411 on confidentiality; why we keep it, how we work with it, and your roles in it. As with any of these Corner Comments, I welcome your comments, questions, concerns, as well as any compliments you care to throw our way. I can be reached by clicking I can be reached by clicking here.

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