“Confidentiality is the foundation of safe therapy.”
(Corey&Corey, p.208 from Grosso, 2002)
As a counsellor I have an obligation to follow professional standards and apply appropriate behaviour defined by mental health associations. The purpose of this is to prevent harm to clients as well as to define my own professional values. Working in the helping profession I will come across situations where I need to make a decision on whether to breach confidentiality in order to protect my client or others or “simply” practise within the framework of social equity and justice. I will use the “Practisioner’s Guide to Ethical Decision Making” model of Holly Forerster-Miller and Thomas Davis published by the ACA American Counseling Association (1996) to guide me through the decision making process on an ethical dilemma which I am going to present in the following.
The Ethical Dilemma
I am working as a Counsellor in a shared Counselling Practise. My client is Heather, 38, who has been seeing me for about 4 sessions. She initially came in talking about her challenge working part-time and being a mother of 2 children aged 3 and 10. In our recent sessions she talks about her concern in regards to her eldest son’s school performance. Jerrod used to be one of the best in his class and recently has failed in several tests which he would normally succeed in. Working through the situation in our session she mentions pressure from her husband Joe. She tells me that if Jerrod does not succeed he would punish him the way he used to be punished by his father which means he is slapping him. While she is understanding of her husbands “goodwill” in raising disciplined children she feels guilty of not stopping her husband and protecting her son. At the same time she tells me about her fear of her husband finding out that she disclosed the violence. Heather is also worried that the reputation of their local family business is at risk which could cost them their existence. She asks me to keep it secret and not to report it. She also confirms that Joe is not generally violent. When inquiring further into the kind of punishment and its frequency Heather tells me that her husband gets angry every time Jerrod comes home from school with bad results. She recalls her husband saying: “He just needs a good kick in the butt”. She reassures me that he does not get apoplectic as such but does hit him on his butt a number of times. Jerrod then gets very upset and responds with crying. Heather says that her husband seems absolutely sure about the educational value of his method and would not contemplate taking different actions at this point. The mother is torn between protecting her children, her son in particular, and telling her husband to stop. She tells me that she feels that I am the only person she can possibly talk to about this. Upon inquiring how often her husband has been violent against Jerrod she recalls 4 incidents in the last half year but adds that he is also putting Jerrod under a lot of emotional pressure such as threatening him that if he does not “get his act together” to get a good mark in a certain test there will be consequences.
As Heathers Counsellor I am aware of the ethical dilemma that arises out of the information she had just given me and I find myself wondering what I should do in this situation: Should I apply for an Intervention Order to protect Jerrod from his violent father and potentially the rest of the family? Or should I protect Heather and keep her information confidential as she had previously asked me to do?
Identify the Problem
After the session has finished I am taking notes to record the information Heather has given me. I am becoming aware of the ethical dilemma that arises out of the family situation around the violence of the father and husband. I am asking myself the following questions: Is this a case of child abuse? If I breach...