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Confidentiality And Collaboration: The “Struggle Bus” of Ethical Dilemmas

Facing ethical dilemmas is commonplace for all counseling professionals. No matter your area of specialty, years in the profession, or attention to protocols and procedures, questionable situations will pop up from time to time. Those questionable situations can provoke hesitation even in the most seasoned counselors and result in the need to seek advice and support. According to the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) the breach of confidentiality is one of the most common grievances that results in ethical dilemmas.

As a professional elementary school counselor for 18 years, I want to focus on the task of maintaining confidentiality in an environment where collaboration between all stakeholders is essential and expected. In a school setting, the overarching goal is to ensure that students are available for learning. School counselors address social and emotional concerns daily as referrals come from parents, teachers, administrators, and students. The question that often presents itself following providing support to a student is what stakeholders need to know and how much information are they entitled to.

As hard as it often is for parents and other school personnel to fully accept, elementary students are entitled to confidentiality. Developing a counseling relationship in a school is no different than doing so in a clinical setting. Trust must be developed. School counselors often explain to students the “What’s Said In Here; Stays In Here Principle” which provides students the definition of confidentiality and the parameters. Barring threats of personal safety or the safety of others, all students have the expectation of confidentiality.

Counseling friends, how do you ensure confidentiality of students in an environment that assumes the position of “it takes a village” and “we are all here for the same reason”? When is asking a student for their permission to share information divulged in the counselor’s office appropriate and when does it become a go-to to appease those who feel entitled to a student’s personal thoughts and feelings? In elementary school language, foregoing confidentiality in the spirit of collaboration can put you on the “struggle bus” to an ethical dilemma.

For more information on confidentiality specific to school counselors, please visit The School Counselor and Confidentiality - American School Counselor Association (ASCA).

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