The idea of privacy and confidentiality are central to all types of counselling, whether face to face, or via email. Many clients want to know about the protection of their information and counsellors need to help clients understand how they will do this as well as the limitations of confidentiality.
For any form of counselling, I am required to maintain documentation of our sessions. This documentation must include specific information such as your name, your contact information, the identified issues, plans for resolution, and outcome. I am required to keep these notes for a minimum of 5 years. In the case of face to face counselling, the main responsibility for keeping the documentation secure is mine, and as such, I keep files locked in a cabinet in my secure office.
Specific to E-Counselling
However, with E-Counselling, privacy and confidentiality are a shared responsibility. When you choose E-Counselling, you need to accept that despite my best efforts to ensure secure communications, any use of email has inherent risks. You also need to be sure to use precautions such as not sharing passwords, using the code word I provide you, and ensuring you have a private location from which to email me from as well as a secure email account.
On my end, I will treat the information shared through emails with the same respect as I would information gathered through face to face counselling. The internet connection I use is secure and the account in which emails will be stored is passphrase protected, which enhances security from a simple password. The address you will receive emails from is not identified in any way as a counselling service.
Rules About Sharing Information
In addition, the information I gather, whether from face to face interactions or via email, is managed under the BC College of Social Worker code of ethics and specific laws that delineate under what conditions I can, or may be required to, share the information. For example, I would need you to sign a consent form to release information if we decided it would be beneficial for me to speak with other people concerning your situation. If the courts subpoenaed the documents pertaining to our exchanges, I would be required to provide them. Finally, if I learned that you were going to harm yourself or another, or that a child was being hurt or neglected, I would be required by law to report that to the appropriate authorities.
Use of Case File for Supervision
On a final note, there is a possibility that I might use your file as a case from which I can receive supervision. Supervision is the process of receiving feedback from a colleague or supervisor for the purpose of improving the quality of the service I deliver and to participate in ongoing learning. This is standard practice especially for social workers in private practice, and I would ensure that all of your identifying information is removed prior to seeking supervision.