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Why is confidentiality so important?

When deciding whether or not to see a counselor, students often ask if their privacy will be protected.  In order to share your private thoughts and feelings, it is important to trust that what you say will be kept between you and your counselor.

It is important for you to know that records of your visit to the Counseling Center do not become part of your academic record, nor are they made available to faculty or staff of the university outside of the Counseling Center. Your parents do not have access to your records, nor can they ask your counselor to disclose any information about your visits.

May I choose to break confidentiality?

In the legal sense, "confidentiality" is something that binds the mental health professional from making disclosure about a client's visit. However, you as a client may talk to whomever you wish about your own counseling experience. From time to time, you may decide that you want to talk about your counseling with a family member or a close friend. That is your choice.

Occasionally, situations arise when it might be beneficial to have your counselor provide information or speak to a third party about you. If such a situation occurs, you or your counselor may bring this up for discussion during your meeting together. As you and your counselor consider the benefits and concerns about sharing this information, you will be better able to make an informed decision.

If you both agree that it would be beneficial for your counselor to do so, you will be asked to sign an authorization to release and to share the information with an outside party. The laws which govern our services require us to "obtain your informed and written consent."

The information to be disclosed may be comprehensive or limited to a specific purpose which fits the situation. No matter who they are for, all consents are in writing, specify who will receive the information, describe what information is to be shared and require your signature.

The Counseling Center follows this requirement with everyone, including your parents, university staff, as well as former or future counselors. You have the right to refuse to provide consent, or to revoke it once it is given.

Are there any limitations or exceptions to confidentiality?

There are three important exceptions to maintaining confidentiality that all counselors must follow. These exceptions are part of Rhode Island State law and cannot be altered by the University or the Counseling Center.

The primary exception concerns protection from imminent harm. If your counselor believes you to be at imminent risk to harm yourself or someone else, they must take steps to protect you or whoever is in danger, even if that means violating your confidentiality.

Secondly, if your counselor becomes aware that a child (minor) or elder is being abused, they must take steps to protect that child or elder, even if it means violating your confidentiality.

The third exception is that if your record is requested by court order, it must be given to the court. This is an extremely rare occurrence. While all counselors are legally and ethically mandated to follow these guidelines, every effort is made to inform you of your rights and to protect your privacy to the fullest extent possible under the law.

If at any time you have questions about confidentiality, ask your counselor.