COUNSELLOR’S CORNER: Confidentiality and boundaries in therapeutic settings

Junko Mifune, JSS Counsellor
Junko Mifune, JSS Counselor
For many people, it is not easy making the decision to seek support for issues from an agency like Japanese Social Services (JSS). You may feel hesitant contacting JSS because it is located within a relatively small Japanese community in the GTA, and you may not want to restrict yourself to seeking help from an agency supporting primarily a Japanese-speaking community. In this article, I would like to talk about two crucial elements of therapeutic settings that may help you feel more comfortable contacting JSS for support; namely, confidentiality and boundaries.
Confidentiality in Therapeutic Settings
It is essential that clients feel that they can trust their counsellors or other professional providers of support — in the case of JSS, its Community Outreach Workers — to keep information confidential during sessions or appointments; for this reason confidentiality requirements exist. JSS staff hold in strict confidence all information disclosed by clients, including information such as whether a person has contacted or sought support from JSS, whether a person is a JSS client, the actual information disclosed or shared with JSS, and any records or documents belonging to clients. JSS strives to protect all client-related information and records, and continues to strengthen and update information management systems to ensure the security of client information.
Sometimes, someone who is concerned about a JSS client — for example, a family member, friend, employer, etc. — contacts JSS wanting to know about what is happening with the client. Regardless of the reason for the inquiry, unless JSS has consent from the client, JSS cannot and will not disclose to anyone whether the person is a JSS client, nor any other information about the individual.
If a client receiving individual counselling is also in family or couple therapy with her/his family members, the counsellor does not disclose information that was shared in the individual counselling unless the client consents to do so.
The following JSS website page provides JSS’s Confidentiality policy, as well as the exceptions in which JSS staff have a legal obligation to report to the appropriate regulatory body or organization.
As an organization, JSS understands the importance of confidentiality. Not just staff, but all board members, and volunteers at JSS sign a confidentiality agreement and are committed to creating and maintaining a safe environment for our clients.
Boundaries in Therapeutic Settings
Therapeutic relationships between clients and counsellors or support staff should remain within appointment time or subsidiary supporting hours. When a Counsellor–Client relationship exists within JSS, the counsellor cannot have outside relationships with the clients in private settings. This is essential for an effective and meaningful therapeutic process so that the counsellor is able to remain objective. Counsellors or support staff cannot communicate with clients privately outside counselling or support time. This includes connecting via SMS or social media, dining together, attending a client’s private or social events, or accepting money or expensive gifts beside the set service fee. Furthermore, the code of ethics of professional regulatory colleges, which counsellors and support staff register with, forbids counsellors and staff from having romantic or sexual relationships with clients. If a counsellor or support staff runs into the client outside JSS or supporting hours, unless the client initiates contact, the staff will not approach the client. This also relates to keeping the confidentiality within the community. If a conflict of interest is suspected between the staff and clients — for example, friends or family members of counsellors or support staff — we change the staff in charge, or refer the client to outside agencies or resources. Setting boundaries protects clients from being taken advantage of by professionals due to their vulnerability as clients. Setting clear boundaries between support staff and the client is imperative to maintaining the integrity of the therapeutic process.
JSS is committed to creating a safe and comfortable environment for people in the community, and we appreciate very much your understanding.