Confidentiality an overrated thing?

Just got done talking with a colleague about how we will handle confidentiality in our about-to-be-launched pastoral counseling center for students in our Seminary. By the very nature that we are all employees of the Seminary, we will engage in dual relationships with our counselees. In professional ethics codes, dual relationships are frowned upon and those who engage in them must prove they are not harmful (guilty until proven innocent). In Christian communities, dual relationships are commonplace and even considered by many to be biblically authentic (The AACC Code discusses this:

In our case, we will be their teachers/advisors and their counselor. How will we handle it when someone tells us they are involved in activity that would be considered antithetical to being a wise counselor? Should we have the right to decide that a counseling student can no longer be in the program based on some disclosure they make in a counseling session? Here’s some of my thoughts on the matter.

1. Students are not required to come see us. If we give thorough informed consent about the possible implications of seeing us (normal possible breaches of confidentiality and possible side effects of dual relationships) and they still want to see us, they should expect us to be concerned about their disclosure of behavior not becoming of a healthy grad of the school. They should expect that we will continue to be concerned whether they see us further or not.

2. We will have to live with messiness. We learn things about another and don’t always get to know that it came to a good conclusion. We don’t always get to have a say in how it ends. I will always know of some who decide to present themselves as one thing to the public, but are quite the opposite in private. We can’t be in the business of forcing others to do the right thing.

3. We’d better be clear what might constitute egregious violations that require us to end a student’s pursuit of an education. Sinful behavior cannot be the line since that would end the Seminary’s existence. So, what is? That is the question we will have to answer prior to starting this center.

More thoughts on this later…


Filed under ethics

3 responses to “Confidentiality an overrated thing?

  1. Dingle

    “even considered by many to be authentic”?

    Christianity calls for transparency. Vulnerability even. Being trained to mess around in other peoples lives should REQUIRE and MANDATE vulnerability. A demonstrat should be culpable. If one is not able to bear the scrutiny, get out of the kitchen (mixed metaphors are a personal favorite). If my transparency means I am disqualified for a role in the kingdom of God, good. After all, God is not fooled, merely other humans. The alternative is hypocrisy (Jesus’ least favorite sin) and a future implosion.

  2. Excellent point about transparency. Agreed that counselors should be so and should disqualify themselves if they find themselves in a hypocritical situation. Here’s the question that I was considering. How should we handle the confidential information that our counselees (and current/future church leaders) tell us. Should it disqualify them from getting a degree? What if we know of those who have significant problems but graduate with plenty of accolades. Do we have the right to reveal them. Some would argue that we do because we serve the greater good of the purity of the church. Others would say we ought to be very wary of breaching confidentiality as it destroys the trust relationship that counseling is supposed to build. I think that we must be careful in making a rule about this based on extreme cases. In fact, I often know private matters of church leaders and these things do not disqualify them in the eyes of God (though they might disqualify them in the sight of some churches). These things I know and are part of the burden of caring for the Shepherds of the Church.

  3. Dingle's Sister

    Sounds like it may be a conflict of interest for them.

    But for you also. What is your task? a) Create people with degrees? b) or future counselors (ministers) of God’s grace? If “b”, accountability is required. If a, none required. If b, how can you possibly know this in a seminary program — how often do you meet? Is it a program where you have lots of contact in a “real” environment? It would seem that you are in a compromised position. You only may have to disqualify those transparent enough to seek help (a person I would prefer counseling me v. someone who got the degree while flagrantly not qualified).

    It may be that the very concept of being in the position to grant an academic degree is a worldly compromise. What will you do if someone you disqualify sues becasuse their grades are good?

    I would never go to a counselor who was in authority over me without knowing/trusting them a whole lot, which your students probably do not I want my counselor to not be threatening to me.

    It may be that counselees who tell you stuff should not graduate because they are just not too bright.

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