NCPS | Confidentiality in Counselling: The Impact of Routine Police…

NCPS Highlights Issues with Routine Police Requests for Therapy Notes

The NCPS has released findings from a recent survey, conducted in December 2023, that reveals significant concerns among therapists about routine police requests for counselling notes, especially in cases involving sexual violence.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • A significant number of cases where notes have been requested relate to sexual violence
  • The majority of therapists cite issues with the impact of Government proposals on the therapeutic relationship and client confidentiality
  • Therapists advise the fear of note disclosure leads clients to self-censoring, which impacts the efficacy of therapy
  • A number of therapists have reported clients choosing not to access therapy in cases where notes may be requested
  • Proposals to negate the need for client consent in order to request notes pose significant ethical challenges
  • The majority of therapists support judicial oversight as recommended by the Keep Counselling Confidential campaign

The NCPS aligns with the Keep Counselling Confidential campaign, advocating for a change in the law to protect the confidentiality of therapy notes. Based on this, the Society recommends adopting a legal framework with judicial oversight for any requests for therapy notes and stresses the importance of safeguarding the therapeutic relationship and client confidentiality.

The survey's findings highlight the ethical and practical challenges faced by therapists and clients. The NCPS calls for immediate action to address these concerns, emphasising the need for a balanced approach that respects both the rights of victims and the integrity of the therapeutic process.

More information about the Keep Counselling Confidential campaign can be found here:

The full results of the NCPS survey can be found here: https://nationalcounsellingsoc...

Key Figures & Considerations:

23% of therapists surveyed have had their notes requested by the police.

86% of those who have had their notes requested said that the case related to sexual violence ‘most of the time’ or ‘all of the time’.

62% of therapists who have had their notes requested said that it related to sexual violence ‘all of the time’.

94.5% of therapists who responded feel that there are ethical concerns to the police requesting counselling notes.

92% of therapists who responded disagreed with the Government's plans to make it explicit in law that the police do not need a client's consent to access therapy notes.

Only 26% of therapists who responded would feel confident in deciding as to whether to disclose counselling notes when requested by the police.

90% of therapists who responded support the Keep Counselling Confidential campaign.

96% of therapists who responded support the need for access to free legal advice for clients whose notes have been requested

Anonymised Quotes from NCPS Members:

“If the police, or any other organisation, are able to access client records without explicit consent, then how are we therapists supposed to build trust with our clients?”

“I’ve worked as a therapist supporting CYP who have been sexually abused - notes are frequently requested as a ‘fishing’ exercise by police. People should be able to access therapy in order to heal.”

“Counselling is an essential support to victims and survivors. Clients need to know their notes are kept in the highest confidence. Without this, they may be even more reluctant to seek the support they need.”

“Survivors tell me it feels as if the rapist is back for more, this time with the law on their side. They grant access because they may be told the case will be dropped if they don't. They say to prove they aren't lying they give access without knowing what else from their private lives, or the lives of their loved ones, will be released.”

“Counsellor notes are NOT a regulated form of work (e.g. some counsellors will not take any notes, some counsellors may write their own opinions in notes, nobody is checking or verifying the notes, usually the client doesn’t ever even see these notes) and so should not be used as reliable evidence source.”

“Confidentiality is one of the most important aspects of the therapeutic relationship and process of therapy.”

“The only reason to request notes is usually to try and either discredit the therapist or discredit the witness. Therapy is not fact finding or investigative.”

“I think counsellors are generally scared of consequences to themselves if they don’t obey the police.”

“For those that have taken decades to report, to then 'open the box' and disclose childhood abuse without feeling they can access full therapy for years is incredibly difficult.”

“Police strong-arm us into handing over information, and guilt-trip us if we refuse.”

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