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Do's and Don'ts of Group Therapy
Discuss the group’s responsibility for confidentiality, privacy, and privileged communication.
Explain that it is unacceptable to disclose the names of other group members or to repeat what was said during a session. Protect yourself further by having clients sign an agreement at the outset of treatment. That document will lay the groundwork for removing a group member for violating the conditions, should it become necessary. It also offers proof of the guidelines you set, which can help to reduce your liability if a problem arises.
Meet your own responsibilities for confidentiality.
Stay up-to-date on your state law and disclose private information only under specific circumstances that are known to the client. In fact, it’s best to have each legally competent client sign his or her own authorization to release information, clearly indicating the circumstances under which information can be disseminated. The waiver should be time limited and consistent with legal statutes.
Make record security a top priority.
Keep written records in a locked file drawer or cabinet. Protect computerized records with a password. Ask clients for permission to record group sessions, and keep tapes or videos locked in a cabinet or drawer in a room to which patients don’t have access.
Stay on top of practice guidelines.
For example, family and marriage counselors must know exactly how far they can go in a group setting with such matters as terms of consent, pregnancy of a minor, and custody issues, such as restrictions on the parent’s participation in treatment. The American Counseling Association (ACA) is an excellent source for such information. You can access private practice pointers for group therapy as well as the ACA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice at www.counseling.org. And, the Association for Specialists in Group Work (ASGW), a division of ACA, has developed Best Practice Guidelines to clarify the application of the ACA Code to the field of group work. These guidelines are available at www.asgw.org.
Though helping people share their views and experiences during group therapy may be gratifying for you and your clients, it also opens the door to liability related to confidentiality concerns. To protect yourself, follow your practice guidelines, keep accurate, current records, and be meticulous about their security. Finally, preserve your skills through continuing education. If, despite these precautions, you are accused of wrongdoing, notify HPSO immediately by calling 800-982-9491.