Counselling in Oxfordshire

Bill Imlah :: Counselling in Oxfordshire

Blog » Confidentiality - what can you expect in our sessions?

2 May 2017

I treat your personal information and dislosures as confidential, but can’t promise complete confidentiality in all circumstances

Anything you disclose to me in counselling will be treated as being given in confidence, but there are also circumstances that can act as limits to that confidentiality:

  • In relation to my own supervision
  • In relation to professional accreditation
  • If I am legally obliged to disclose information
  • Where there is a risk of harm to yourself or others


Supervision can occur one-to-one, normally with a more experienced counselling practitioner professionally trained as a counselling supervisor but can also occur in a group, where a small number of practitioners are supervised together by a trained supervisor.

As a professional counsellor I undertake one-to-one counselling supervision, at least 1.5 hours per months (more if needed, including group supervision).  This involves regularly reviewing my work with other professionals. The focus of supervision is on ensuring best practice in how I work as a counsellor, and where it does touch on details of our work together, I will preserve your anonymity. Any discussions in supervision are likewise treated as confidential by all practitioners involved.

I undertake face-to-face supervision, but if your counsellor's supervision is done online they should be able to give you enough information about those arrangements to allow you to make an informed decision about the risks associated with your information being sent across the internet.

Professional Requirements

For professional qualification, or accreditation with BACP or a similar body, counsellors may need to write a case study or essay, or make a case presentation, that refers to their work in counselling.

So from time to time I may also be required to make presentations or submissions related to the assessment of my practice, for accreditation purposes or in relation to further qualifications. In this case, any references that touch on our work together will also be treated as both confidential and anonymous.

The Law

Confidentiality in our work is legally governed by:

  • My contractual duty of confidence you
  • Public interest issues (eg. terrorism, serious crime or child abuse)
  • The needs of the justice system (eg. a court order or warrant)
  • The rights of the client under data protection laws

Compulsory disclosure under the needs of the justice system could include requirements such as the reporting of drug trafficking (Drug Trafficking Act 1994); money laundering (Proceedings of Crime Act 2002), or terrorist activity (Terrorism Act 2000). In some of these circumstances, I would have a legal obligation to report without telling you.

Other legal circumstances may require disclosure, but the counsellor is at liberty to let their client know, for example, practitioners working in public bodies are obliged to disclose child protection issues (Children Act 1989; Children Act 2004).

Record Keeping and Disclosure

UK law gives you certain rights of access to records. However, this doesn’t apply to manual or handwritten unsorted files which do not provide ready access to individual data, where held by a private practitioner or private agency.

If counsellor records contain letters from third parties, such as a GP referral record, they may need the permission of those people before giving you access.

The notes I make on our sessions are anonymous but will be identifiable by a code which allows me to cross reference them against your name and contact details (which are kept separately). 

I keep only very brief notes  - mostly facts such as number of siblings, or words or phrases which will jog my memory as to incidents you've talked about or interventions in our work together.   

I do this in consideration of the possibility that their client or others might see their notes. I will never put in writing an assessment of your emotional state or circumstances except as memory jogging keywords that aren't interpretable by others.  For example I wouldn't write “The client appeared depressed” as this might be seen to document a professional opinion which could be used in ways that neither the I nor you intended (for example, subpoenaed by the other side in a court case you are involved in  - and if I were to destroy or hide records to prevent them being disclosed to the court, I would be found in contempt of court).

Using words or phrases may be all I need as a memory-jogger about incidents you have told me (for example “mother-birthday-airport”  might be all they need to remember a whole story, without a third party knowing what I meant by writing that [this is a fictitious example]. 

Other counsellors' practices may differ, and where a counsellor work in an agency that requires sharing of records in a team, this level of obscurity may not be appropriate.


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