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  • Case Study: Confidentiality of Student Counseling

    Organizational Structure
    A career counselor speaks with a student about confidential issues.

    TAGS: counseling, case study, ethics, principles

    Scenario: The following inquiry was posted to a 1,000-person networking site, listserv, or other online forum (hereafter referred to as a “group”) for counseling professionals:

    “I am working with a 54-year-old Latina client who is attempting to identify career options. Her previous work history includes:

    • Writer (she writes about foods and restaurants; she is a gourmet cook)
    • Freelance proofreader/editor
    • A mediation specialist for community disputes
    • She handles a customer service department in the private sector.
    • Public information specialist—created brochures for government agencies
    • Radio broadcasting, sales, and advertising

    She has an undergraduate degree in communications and media (1981) and is completing her master’s in English. Her thesis and area of greatest interest currently is in media literacy. It deals with educating the public about the impact media has on us, particularly the influence of violence.

    Here are the “kinks” in helping her explore her options:

    • She really wants to live in a rural area, preferably in the Northwest or New England.
    • She has developed a vision disability that is making any close work difficult for her. She is seeing specialists for this condition and is not losing her sight, but eyestrain causes her eyes to cross. As much as she really enjoys desktop publishing and proofing work, she has estimated that she could do this work only about 25 percent of the time.
    • She has developed a loss of range of motion in her right wrist making typing difficult. At home, she uses voice recognition software.

    I would love suggestions of positions she might pursue in the public relations/media/ journalism/mediation areas that would accommodate her disabilities.”


    • Is the level of detail in this listserv e-mail appropriate?
    • Has a breach of confidentiality occurred between the counselor and the client?
    • What rules or guidelines would you propose for disclosure of client information on a professional listserv?

    Analysis: A career services professional shared detailed client information seeking advice on career options. The professional shared confidential information, including that the client is a member of a protected class, her gender, her age, and that she has a disability. We assume that the professional did not get permission from the client to present her case to the listserv.

    Groups, while often restricted in membership, are in the public domain.

    Principles: Principle 5 first states, “Protect confidentiality of all personal information related to candidates and their interviews, and their engagement with services, programs, and resources,” and secondly, “protect confidentiality of student information related to professional plans.”

    Options for Resolution: Principle 5 is very clear when it states that personal information of students is to be protected.

    First of all, the career services professional posting this case should be informed that their action is addressed in the NACE Principles for Ethical Professional Practice, specifically Principle 5. He or she should be made aware of different alternatives that should be followed to avoid this breach of client confidentiality. They include:

    • Share with the client the article, “Playing Fair: Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Job Seeker,” pointing out her rights to confidentiality. (See MyNACE > Grab & Go for a copy of the article.)
    • Request permission from the client to share detailed, confidential information on the professional networking group (or other) prior to using it as a resource.
    • Fully disclose the group membership and its potential accessibility to the client.
    • Offer to discuss the issue with a select group of colleagues, as opposed to a group where the membership is unknown.
    • If the client agrees to have the information shared, whether on a group or to a specific group of colleagues, be sure to indicate to the group that the client’s permission has been obtained.

    Counselors should be reminded that information shared on listservs and other electronic media should be considered public information. Clients should always be consulted before a career services professional seeks advice on their case and should be informed of the rights to confidentiality.

    The client should be informed about the breach of confidentiality and given a copy of the “Playing Fair” article. He or she needs to be assured that this breach of confidentiality is being taken seriously and steps have been taken to prevent this from happening in the future. The counselor should consider posting the “Playing Fair” article in the career services office so that students are made aware of their rights.

    Posted June 2017.

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