Counselors are expected to maintain a high level of client confidentiality at all times. However, there are times when counselors are pressured to disclose this information. This decision not only breaches the rights of the client, but it could also jeopardize the client's safety and well-being. Hence, regardless of the dilemmas experienced by counselors in their duty, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy expects counselors to apply ethical laws and regulations, and use ethical decision-making models to make decisions on complex issues. Several ethical issues are identified and discussed in this case study. This paper uses the Welfel (2013) ethical decision-making model in the resolution of the dilemmas in the case study.
Mary is a fresh graduate in the field of, and she is currently working as a counseling trainee at a primary school. While she undertook her graduate degree, Mary counseled several clients, most of the students and their parents. Now she works at a primary school where the principal has been known to have low information confidentiality.
In this case, Mary is requested by her employer, the principal of the primary school, to disclose information regarding her previous clients, as well as submit the client list of the patients she had previously referred to the Social Welfare Department. The principal intends to use the information to complete the school's annual report on the resources and activities of the school. He plans on accomplishing this by using the info Mary submits to find suitable interview topics. The Principal is convinced that real personal stories will make a better appeal to the donors as opposed to mere statistics on the cases. The information gathered will help him to gunner support for more and better resources for the school. The provision of better resources will benefit the students because the additional funds will increase the quality of their education.
In her previous experience, Mary trusted her judgment in deciding on client information disclosure. She is once again faced with the same ethical dilemma but judging from her previous experience; she does not wish to trust her judgment. Mary feels compelled to keep the confidentiality of her clients in spite of the benefits that her disclosure may have on the school. On the other hand, however, she is at risk of losing her current job at the primary school if she fails to disclose information. She cannot just easily quit the job to preserve her work ethics because she needs to gain the required experience and skills to get a good employment opportunity. Furthermore, she may very likely be confronted with a similar dilemma in her next workstation. Thus, it is only appropriate for Mary to use an ethical decision-making model and the laid out moral codes to make the best decision in this situation.
Ethical Issues Identified in this case study
The first ethical issue is Mary's breach of trust as a practitioner. According to the BACP guidelines, trust is the most significant ethical principle in counseling and psychotherapy (BACP, 2018). It not only assists the client to attain their aspirations, it the basis on which the practitioner relates and interacts with the client. The counseling process requires the client to be open and honest and sharing sensitive information may leave them vulnerable (Kinsinger, 2009). Thus a practitioner is expected to be ethically responsible for the well-being and security of the client. In this case, Mary will be breaching that trust between her clients and herself if she discloses the confidential information to maintain a good working relationship with her boss.
The second ethical issue is the use of a client's confidential information without their consent. A practitioner is not at liberty to use a client's information without their permission. Only the client has the full right to give or withhold consent for the use of their data. In addition to that, the client should not be coerced into giving his consent (ECBPS, 2009). Hence, Before Mary hands over the data to the principal of the school, she is required to seek their approval first. She should openly explain to the clients why the information is needed and how it will be used. The clients can then decide whether or not to give their consent.
The third ethical issue is the dishonest use of the information. The principal of the primary school wants to use the data to complete the school's annual report on its activities and resource use. This is dishonest as the information is not based on data collected from students at the school. Using this information to gunner support from the donors may be of great benefit to the students, but the school may not be merited for the donations. Accepting to hand over the information can be considered as conspiring in deceit and fraud which is not only unethical but also unlawful (BPS, 2017).
Using the Ethical Decision Making Model
The ethical decision-making model consists of ten steps:
Step 1: Being Sensitive to the Moral Dimension of Practice
It is imperative for Mary to observe the code of ethics as she navigates through this dilemma. She should take the circumstances and the needs of her clients into account before making any decision. According to the British Code of Ethics and Conduct (2009), Mary is obligated to maintain good professional relationships with her former and current clients as well as with the principal. To do this, she should observe the following value ethics principles, justice, informed consent, fidelity, confidentiality, beneficence and autonomy (Kitchener, 1984).
Mary should observe justice by protecting the information of her former clients or only using it after obtaining their consent. She should exercise integrity by refusing to disclose her clients' information at all cost. Maintaining a high level of confidentiality is just and safeguards the well-being of her clients (Bodenhorn, 2006). Nevertheless, to keep a good professional relationship with her employer, Mary should consider the principle of beneficence, and agree to ask her clients to make their contribution in the report by willingly providing their information. This gives students and their patients an opportunity to autonomously make their own choices based on their judgment and not coercion.
From the principal's point of view, acting in the best interest of the student is what justice involves. The principal is putting the needs of the students above his own by taking an extra mile to ensure that the annual report is appealing enough to get the school the required resources. However, the principal should observe integrity by allowing the interviewed students, parents and clients referred to the Social Welfare Department to act autonomously (Levitt et al., 2015). He should also maintain fidelity through obtaining information from students from his school in an honest manner.
Step 2: Identification of the Relevant Facts, Socio-cultural context
Some of the cultural factors that Mary may consider while making her decision include the well-being of the students at the primary school she is currently training at. Getting additional resources will improve the quality of education that the students aquire at the school. Besides the annual report, the principal indicates no other source of hope to convince the donors to support the school. On the other hand, however, Mary is expected to maintain the confidentiality as a practitioner. Disclosing her former clients' information may jeopardize the mental well-being of the students which would have a retrogressive effect on the studies (Levitt et al., 2015).
Step 3: Define the Central Issues in the Dilemma and the Available Options
In this case, Mary can violate her clients' confidentiality by providing the requested information without their consent. If she does this, she will probably secure her job, and assist the school to obtain the necessary donations. On the other hand, Mary jeopardizes her clients' well-being and trust in her as the chances of the principal and the deputy principal keeping the information confidential is very minimal. Mary may as well decide to engage all the stakeholders in the matter and give everyone a chance to make autonomous decisions on the issue, but she risks losing her job if her clients fail to offer the information willingly.