Counselling, Confidentiality and the Law

the law image



Peter Jenkins

Counselling DVDs in association with the University of Wales

Reviewer Karin Parkinson

This set of two DVDs with a total running time of 2 hours and 33 minutes aims to offer ground rules for dealing with legal issues relating to confidentiality, arising from work with clients. The law referred to is that of England and Wales.

DVD1 begins with an introductory conversation between Mike Simmons and Peter Jenkins. Following this, the format is the same on both DVDs: a counsellor briefly describes a challenging situation regarding confidentiality and Mike Simmons interviews Peter Jenkins about it.

Counsellors are described as the custodians of confidential client material and DVD1 presents five scenarios where this confidential information indicates risk; the counsellor requests guidance regarding disclosure.

The scenarios are:
– Potential breach of confidentiality in supervision (17mins)
– Risk of client suicide (25mins)
– Client disclosure of serious crime (15mins)
– Confidentiality and counselling young people under 18 years (15mins)
– Client disclosure of possible child abuse (20mins)

In DVD2, a third party requests access to confidential client material and the counsellor seeks guidance on how to respond.

The third parties are:
– The client (17mins)
– The police (10mins)
– Solicitors (10mins)
– The courts (15mins)

Jenkins stresses that his views on the material presented need to be seen in context as his own personal perspective and not as legal advice

The introductory discussion between Mike Simmons and Peter Jenkins reminds us that counselling always occurs in a context where both ethical guidelines and legal requirements have a place. Jenkins suggests that counsellors’ relative unfamiliarity with the law can give rise to anxiety. The law is very public, formal and has a documented way of doing things, which is in contrast to the more private, less formal and less documented situation in the consulting room. However, counsellors are required to be aware of the impact of the law on their practice and to be accountable for their decisions. (BACP, 2010)

Jenkins tells us that, surprising as it may seem, little is black and white in law. Action in any given situation will depend on three factors: the nature of the client group eg children or adults; the context of the counselling work eg statutory, voluntary or private practice; and the employment status of the counsellor.

The scenarios and discussions which follow bring the viewer face to face with the balancing act between what may be required by law, or a contract of employment, and counsellors’ professional ethical requirements to work in the best interests of the client. Jenkins gives fascinating examples of case law which illustrate to what lengths some therapists will go to maintain a point of ethical principle in order to safeguard the therapeutic work and alliance. He also describes sources of support available to counsellors when faced with legal challenges.

The information presented here is extremely important and essential to all counsellors/therapists. The conversational style is accessible and absorbing, fulfilling the aim of increasing counsellors’ familiarity with the law and its implications for practice.

However, given that the DVDs are intended for training purposes, I was disappointed that so little advantage was taken of the visual medium. I could have shut my eyes and enjoyed the content as if it were an audio book. For example, the counsellors present their dilemmas, face to the camera, in the most pared down way. Perhaps cost put paid to the possibility of the scenarios being acted. However, I think providing an acted scenario with both interaction and setting, and giving visual clues for students to pick up themselves prior to the discussion, would have enriched the whole learning experience.

The accompanying booklet
It is suggested that sections of the material be shown to trigger discussion/reflection etc. Good idea. However, the move from one scenario, to interview and to the following scenario, to interview etc, is almost seamless. There are chapter markers at the beginning of each scenario that could have been made more useful if matched to a visual marker/frame on screen indicating the start of a new section. Other markers are inserted at five-minute intervals. Here again, it would be more helpful for markers to be inserted with reference to subject matter, either with a visual marker on screen or described in the booklet.

To sum up, this DVD set contains imperative information for all counsellors and psychotherapists. Like any DVD providing information, sections of material can be searched for and shown selectively. However, as a training resource visually, dynamically and practically, it is disappointing.

Karin Parkinson is a Counsellor, Supervisor and Skills Trainer at the Minster Centre, London, UK

BACP, (2010:6) The Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling


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