Confidentiality and Mental Health

By Christopher Cordess | Go to book overview

8
The Myth of Confidentiality
A Social Work View

Jacki Pritchard


Introduction

I wonder how many times an individual social worker has said to a client, 'Anything you say to me is confidential.' But what does it mean exactly – certainly not what it immediately implies – total secrecy. Social workers do share information with a variety of people because they usually work in a multidisciplinary way and in many situations the client probably has no idea about the professional boundaries that may be crossed. Confidentiality has always been a contentious issue and professionals in all fields continue to debate what we mean by the term and how we should practice. In this chapter I want to consider what happens in day-to-day social work practice with adults and to discuss some of the professional dilemmas which face social workers1 and other staff working in a social services department.


What is meant by confidentiality?

When I trained as a social worker 18 years ago, I can remember a lot of attention being given to the issue of confidentiality and professional boundaries. Certain exercises I participated in remain clear in my mind to this day. At that point in time, I felt confident that I knew what I meant about keeping confidentiality. However, once I started practising as a qualified social worker, I began to face numerous dilemmas and to question my own values and beliefs. Every professional will have experienced this. You are faced with new or different situations and sometimes it is very difficult to know what to do because of ethical and moral issues. What has also become clear to me over the years is how other professionals may perceive confidentiality differently. We talk about multidisciplinary working every day of our working lives, but very often we do not understand each

1 I intend to use the term social worker throughout the chapter, but the term is meant to include all
qualified and unqualified workers who may be undertaking assessments and long-term work with
adults. This is because I am aware that so many different job titles exist within social services
departments in the UK.

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