Regarding Confidentiality in Counselling

Before your counselling sessions continue in earnest, you might want to check out exactly what your counsellor means by confidentiality so that you both have the same understanding.  Confidentiality is a boundary around your conversations.  Clients often take it for granted.  It helps us to feel emotionally safe to say what we need. Most of us think that saying something in confidence means it doesn’t get repeated or reported.  It’s worth knowing there are exceptions.

Therapy Works in Confidence

It’s vital that you can say what you need to feel heard.  Therapy only works because of the element of confidentiality and the trust placed in the therapist to keep what she hears to herself.  What if you couldn’t quite trust your listener?  You would be censoring what you said and not getting the effect of counselling.

Legal Limitations to Confidentiality

Are you aware there are legal limitations to confidentiality in counselling provision?  This means the counsellor has a duty to disclose information.  This lies mostly around the Terrorism Act 2000, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the Children Act 1989.

Working with Children

In the context of working with children and young people, the family court can make a recovery order.  This is in relation to a child who is in care, under police protection or subject to an emergency protection order. The child may have been abducted or run away or is missing. The court may require any person who has information as to the child’s whereabouts to tell that information.

The Terrorism Act 2000, s.38B

It a criminal offence for a person to fail to disclose, any information which s/he believes might help prevent an act of terrorism.  Also giving information might help in bringing a terrorist to justice in the UK.

Drug Trafficking and Fraud

Thankfully, psychotherapists and counsellors are less likely to hear the kind of information required to report drug trafficking or money laundering (2). Such offences are usually noticed by solicitors and accountants.  However, we still need to be aware of criminal activities under the Drug Trafficking Act 1994 or Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 or the Money Laundering Regulations 2007.

The Serious Crime Act 2007

Under the Serious Crime Act 2007, the courts can make a Serious Crime Disclosure Order.  It requires giving over relevant information or documents to an enquiry about a serious crime.  Disclosure is made to a nominated person.  This is usually a police officer, or to the court.

Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003

There is a mandatory duty to report FGM for all regulated health and social care professionals and teachers in England and Wales (2).  Professionals must make a report to the police, if they become aware of under-age FGM.

The Road Traffic Act 1991

If the police require information about the driver of a vehicle at the time of an offence, it must be disclosed.  Failure to do so is a criminal offence (3).  The police have the right to issue a notice requiring information about the driver of a vehicle.  Answers are compulsory.  For example, Dr Hunter did not disclose the identity of his patients who had fled the scene of a stolen car crash. He treated them and later refused to tell the police who was driving.  He received a fine.

Read Avoca Policy Privacy and Confidentiality



(1) under s.50 of the Children Act 1989

(2) The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 (as amended by section 74 of the Serious Crime Act 2015)

(3) See Mawdesley v Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary, Yorke v Director of Public Prosecutions [2003] EWHC 1586 (Admin) [2004] 1 WLR 1035