One of the most sacred and foundational tenets within the mental health professions, whether psychotherapy, counseling, or any other discipline, is often cited as the right to client privacy. The basic concept of confidentiality has driven both public and private practice for quite some time, and it is precisely this asset that allows many people to approach therapy and other mental health services with a sense of security. Sometimes, however, this basic principle is called into question, especially when those in the public spotlight are being discussed. The issue has become prominent in the election campaign of a candidate for Governor of Minnesota, who has recently disclosed that he has a history of alcohol abuse and depression, both of which he has overcome through professional treatment.
Volunteering the information, the candidate expressed his belief that the public had the right to know that such issues existed in his past, yet declined to offer many personal questions posed about the nature of his prior difficulties. The candidate discussed a recent relapse with alcoholism, but did not answer questions posed about the nature of his depression or whether he had abused alcohol while working. While some commentators have praised the candidate’s disclosure, others have criticized the limited nature of the information, and have begun to press for details, suggesting that keeping such information confidential conflicts with the legitimacy of a campaign for public office.
The conflict has brought the issue of client confidentiality into the greater scope of national attention, as many wonder whether the candidate’s attempt at straightforwardness will cause a demand for further disclosure capable of harming his campaign. Meanwhile, however, the gubernatorial hopeful can rest assured that mental health professionals themselves will guard his information thanks to the great respect for confidentiality within the field.
© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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