Friday, April 14, 2017

--- The confidentiality conundrum ---

Confidentiality is a central tenant of most professional codes of ethics. It's hardly surprising since the wrong information leak can do great harm to a person and unexpected consequences can turn the most innocuous information into a bomb. Further, if a counselor, physician, lawyer, or pastor can't keep information from flowing out of the professional-client relationship, how can they be trusted?

The professional-client relationship is one that has to be based on trust. The client's well being is solidly in the practitioner's hands. That makes it a very special kind of relationship. That is why I quite despise the modern trend of calling the clients of a professional, "consumers".

In the early 80s, I was on a crewboat heading out to the lay barge I was working on. I was a welder helper for a crew laying an oil pipeline about 30 miles out from land in the Gulf of Mexico. The trip gave me plenty of time to get to know a fellow passenger and to strike up a conversation. The talk drifted through several topics until it reached a volunteer job I had in the 70s working for a crisis hot line. We worked that subject over for a while until I explained why I left. One of the callers had found out my real name and address from some very subtle hints I had mentioned and began calling me at my dormitory. Since, as callers, we had to conserve anonymity, that ended my work for the hotline. I was pretty explicit about the case, feeling that a fellow passenger traveling out to a job on an oil rig could not have any connection to an event from my college days.

But his expression changed oddly and he asked, "Was her name....?" and the name he mentioned was exactly the name the caller had given me. He was her boyfriend at the time and I learned the last lesson I needed to learn about confidentiality. It really is a very small world.

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