Confidentiality may need to be broken based on certain laws and ethics of the counseling field. Those who are certified counselors are responsible to adhere to certain principles and should let group participants know in advance why they might need to break confidentiality. This needs to be discussed during the first meeting for closed groups and intermittently for open meetings where people can join at random.
In general, it is the obligation of the group facilitator to protect the members' disclosures. However, some participants may not want to disclose some things if the counselor will be ethically required to tell others. It is only fair to the members to know in advance these exceptions to the rule. Here are some, but not all of the reasons that a counselor may be required by law to break confidentiality:
- When a group member poses a danger to themselves or others.
- When the counselor may believe that a participant who is under the age of 16 may be the victim of incest, rape, child abuse or some other noted crime.
- If the group member may need special help from a person that has been taking care of them or is ministering to them.
- When the counselor or group facilitator gets a subpoena to go to court.
Confidentiality is central to developing a trusting relationship between the group members and the counselor. Most importantly, participants need to trust each other. If they find out someone in the group was talking about them, they will close up. This is counter-productive to the counseling session.
Counselors should talk about the proper way to share information with others. One way to discuss something would be to keep it about the person speaking not about others. Never disclose what someone else has said in group and never use names. A group member may find out and close down. Some people never recover.
To have a healthy group, this rule needs to be honored. No genuine therapy can take place if the group members cannot trust in the privacy of their revelations.
Confidentiality is a very sensitive issue, both on the counselor's part and the group members. Better to talk about this often than to risk the chance of breached confidentiality. Better to be safe than sorry.