Ethical and Legal Dimensions of Confidentiality

In working with groups, the rights to confidentiality of all the members must be safeguarded. Leaders have a responsibility to discuss any breaches with the group and to take action if a member breaks confidentiality. The American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics (ACA, 2014) makes this statement regarding confidentiality: “In group work, counselors clearly explain the importance and parameters of confidentiality for the specific group” (B.4.a).

Group counselors have an ethical and legal responsibility to inform group members of the potential consequences of breaching confidentiality. The leader should explain that legal privilege (confidentiality) does not apply to group treatment, unless provided by state statute (ASGW, 2008). In groups in institutions, agencies, and schools, where members know and have frequent contact with one another and with one another’s associates outside of the group, confidentiality becomes especially critical and also more difficult to maintain. In an adolescent group in a high school, for example, great care must be exerted to ensure that whatever is discussed in the sessions is not taken out of the group. Group leaders must avoid talking to parents and teachers without the appropriate permission of the participants. If some members talk about things that happened in the group, the group process will come to a halt. People are not going to reveal facts about their personal lives unless they feel quite sure they can trust both the leader and the members to respect their confidences.

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