Counseling is a relationship that’s built on the foundation of trust and confidentiality. It encompasses a student’s trust, teacher’s trust, and parent’s trust. This means what you say to the school counselor would stay restricted to him/her. However, there are some exceptions in cases where the information shared would need to be disclosed as required by ethical standards and/or law.
Since adequate information is crucial to uphold the foundation of trust and confidentiality, it’s important that all the parties involved have information about the processes and limits of counseling.
Since several counselors these days use online service for school counselors, it becomes equally important to understand the roles these tools play to negate worries regarding confidentiality.
Let’s examine how school counselors uphold confidentiality in the different roles they play.
1- With students
Whether it’s manual counseling or counseling via a suitable online service for school counselors, it could either involve group sessions or individual, one-on-one sessions. The topics covered by such sessions could be varied. From encouraging students to take assessment tests to discover their true self and intrinsic abilities as well as aptitude, trying to locate the problem areas that are interfering with their learning goals, and finding solutions to sharing tips for college search, planning career goals, and outlining steps to achieve them, a lot could be under the purview of such sessions.
Counselors could even schedule the next session and help their students keep track of deadlines for career fairs and events, webinars, college applications and interviews, among others.
Some of these tasks can be automated through an appropriate online service for school counselors like CounselHero.
A counselor could even help and support students undergoing social, emotional, personal, peer, family, behavioral, and intellectual difficulties and challenges. Be it death, divorce, or illness in the family, suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming self/others, stress, anger, loneliness, bullying, or other issues, counselors can get the students adequate support and medical intervention, where needed, to ensure their personal and educational development isn’t adversely affected. Counseling sessions to address such problems typically involve making the student understand the problem along with its consequences — in the present as well as in the future. This is followed by developing goals to bring along a change and crafting an action plan with steps that need to be implemented to initiate such a change.
A counselor could use a wide range of activities, such as role-play, writing, focused discussions, or art, to name a few, during such sessions to work together with the student and help him/her overcome the adverse situations.
Whatever the students say or share during these counseling sessions is guided by the proper interpretation of confidentiality that’s consistent with the ethical standards. However, certain exceptions are there, which include cases where the counselor may come across suicide ideation, probable harm to others, or believe the student has suffered sexual, emotional, physical, verbal, or other abuse/neglect.
Even when such confidential records, notes, and reports are subpoenaed in a court of law, a counselor can request to uphold the student’s anonymity. The role of a school counselor also involves being aware of the local, state, and federal security standards related to stored data, software programs, and electronic communication. These professionals may even advocate for student information systems with adequate security-level protocols that permit only particular staff members to get access to confidential information.
2- With teachers
If you’re a teacher, imagine having a student in your class, who disturbs the online group sessions or makes crass sexual comments directed at the girls. Perhaps you’ll ask the counselor about the student’s background information but what would you do if he refuses to say anything because he doesn’t want to breach student confidentiality? Sounds familiar? This could be a tricky territory for both teachers and school counselors to tread.
A key role of counselors is to act as consultants to educators and provide them with helpful information to ensure students’ well-being and safety. However, it’s also the responsibility of a counselor to protect his/her students’ confidentiality.
A counselor who’s known to share his/her students’ personal information with teachers would have a hard time getting the students to open up and reveal information as they’ll view him as someone who’s not serious about protecting their privacy.
But this doesn’t mean teachers shouldn’t know about their students’ backgrounds or special needs, especially where such information is crucial to teach effectively and create a positive impact. Yet, a counselor shouldn’t divulge sensitive information needlessly. For instance, a counselor could share a student’s inclination toward uncontrolled anger when he feels threatened by his peers or is made to feel incompetent. A counselor could also share information about a student who’s excruciatingly susceptible to loud noises. A student who often suffers from concentration issues could be helped by the teacher better if the counselor shares how he’s often forced to spend sleepless nights without revealing the reason for his predicament — frequent and loud fights among his parents at odd hours. However, in case the student is prone to uncontrolled anger, there’s no need for the counselor to talk about the details of each setback that has contributed to his vulnerability.
Under certain circumstances, school counselors must break confidentiality. For instance, when they believe a student’s behavior indicates imminent danger to self or others, the counselor could share the information with parents, teachers, or school administrators. However, when the issue is related to managing discipline, a counselor is unlikely to get involved because doing so would be at odds with his/her role as the student’s advocate. But if the situation demands, the counselor can share the information with not just teachers but with others too, especially where all hands on deck are needed to help and support the student.
3- With parents
At times, school counselors may be under tremendous pressure from parents and guardians to reveal what their children have divulged as they believe such information to be crucial for doing justice to their parental duties and responsibilities. The challenge to navigate such requests for confidential student information is huge, especially as the legal right to confidentiality typically resides not with the students but with their parents and guardians. However, it’s the ethical duty of counselors to maintain their students’ privacy. By using an online service for school counselors like CounselHero, counselors can schedule and organize meetings and counseling sessions with parents to address some of their fears and doubts about the effectiveness of counseling services.
A lot of diverse reasons could be at play behind the overwhelming pressure that’s often put on counselors by the parents. It has been seen that once the counselors are successful in establishing a relationship of trust with their students, the latter may disclose information that they never ever want their parents or families to know. Such confidential information could be the apparently benign ones, like the secret wish of becoming a stand-up comedian rather than opting for conventional jobs like being a doctor or engineer or joining the family business. However, the information revealed by students could even relate to more serious issues, such as breaking the law, sexual abuse, or drug use, among others.
It’s quite natural for parents to have a strong desire of knowing their child’s personal details in order to protect them better. For instance, if the student is an introvert and often gives monosyllabic answers to the counselor’s questions, chances are his/her parents too are hearing such answers. This could make the parents desperate to find out what their child really feels, thinks, and plans to do. Thus, counselors need to make judgment calls about what to disclose and what not, based on the nature of information their students have shared.
Divulging such information becomes especially crucial in case the counselor believes it would enable the parents to intervene before serious consequences (self-harm, suicide, arson, harm to others, etc.) take place.
Sometimes, the parents may distrust the counselor as they become afraid of their family secrets, such as an imprisoned parent or imminent divorce, being uncovered during the counseling process. They often think such information, if shared by the students, could be shared with others by the counselor or make him/her judge the parents. Some families with an immigration history may also ask their children not to discuss their immigration status with the school counselor as they fear it could jeopardize the child’s career.
It’s the responsibility of the counselor to make parents aware of their primary obligation regarding upholding the confidentiality of information shared by their students. At the same time, they should understand the parents’ or guardians’ inherent and legal rights to be the guiding light in their children’s lives.
The onus is on the school counselors to make the parents and guardians realize that any action taken by the former to protect the students’ trust and confidentially stems from a genuine concern for their career success and overall well-being.
And this could be made easier by a suitable and reliable online service for school counselors like CounselHero.
There are certain limits and exceptions to confidentiality of information shared with the school counselors but with adequate knowledge of the same, judicious decision-making, and some help from a dependable online service for school counselor, traveling the tricky territory would become easier for a school counselor.