Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Maintaining Confidentiality with Minors: Dilemmas of School Counselors

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Maintaining Confidentiality with Minors: Dilemmas of School Counselors

Article excerpt

This article examined the attitudes of 195 school counselors in Israel regarding (a) the decision to maintain or breach confidentiality in a variety of ethical dilemmas, and (b) the reasons given for justifying their decisions. Eighteen ethical dilemmas in three domains were presented to respondents in a questionnaire. School counselors were most willing to breach confidentiality regarding dilemmas in the domain of dangerous behaviors or situations, less willing in the domain of unlawful behaviors, and least willing in the domain of personal and family information. Ethical reasons, legal and procedural reasons, and professional-personal priorities of counselors were the three types of reasons used by counselors, although they varied in the use of each type of reason according to their decision and the domain of the dilemmas.


Maintaining clients' confidentiality is considered a cornerstone of the counseling profession "and should be guarded at extreme costs, lest the profession redefine itself' (Mitchell, Disque, & Robertson, 2002, p. 158). Establishing trust between counselor and client is critically important in ensuring the success of the entire counseling process (e.g., Achmon, 2004; Davis & Ritchie, 2003; Glosoff, Herlihy, & Spence, 2000). However, the management of confidentiality is often fraught with conflicts and ethical dilemmas for most counselors. When the client is a student and a minor, the issue is even more complex because school counselors must balance the rights of minor clients' confidentiality with the legitimate rights and concerns of parents and other stakeholders and the counselor's commitment to act in a minor's best interest (Glosoff & Pate, 2003; Mitchell et al.; Stone, 2005).

The centrality of confidentiality with all clients appears clearly in the ethical codes of counselors' professional associations in the United States (e.g., American Counseling Association [ACA], 2005, B.5.a) as well as in other countries (e.g., Achmon, 2004; Bond, 1992). The ethical code of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA, 2004) states that the "primary obligation for confidentiality is to the student but [the professional school counselor] balances that obligation with an understanding of the legal and inherent rights of parents/guardians to be the guiding voice in their children's lives" (Section A.2.g, p. 2). In addition, Section B.I.a indicates that the school counselor "respects the rights and responsibilities of parents/guardians to facilitate the student's maximum development." Similar statements are included in the ethical code of the Israeli Association of School Counselors (IASC, 2001, Preamble). These conflicting statements can be a source of confusion for school counselors when they are trying to have a collaborative relationship with parents and at the same time honor student confidentiality.

Breaching confidentiality is allowed by ethical codes in special or extreme circumstances. For example, in Israel, the IASC (2001) ethical code states that breaching confidentiality can be considered in the following cases: (a) according to the requirements of law; (b) when there is imminent danger to self or others; (c) in educational settings, where counselors will reveal only necessary information to role partners and stakeholders; (d) in a legal trial in which the counselor is the defendant and only for the duration of the trial and after receiving informed consent of students and/or legal guardians; (e) after communicating clearly the extent of the confidentiality the counselor is offering to students; or (f) when release of information is to the student's family, is done with the student's consent, and is in the best interest of the student (B.2.a-f).

However, beyond these few explicit instances for breaching confidentiality, there is ambiguity in Israel, as in the United States, regarding who has the right of receiving information provided by minors in counseling sessions (Achmon, 2004; Mitchell et al. …

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