General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will be introduced on 25th May, 2018 and will apply to all businesses that collect any personal information from you. Even though this is causing me some headaches at the moment in terms of figuring out the guidance and trying to make sense of a lot of conflicting information on the internet, I believe GDPR is a good thing. Listening to the news recently and hearing about how companies can misuse our data is concerning. Data is valuable and precious and some companies may misuse it, for example by selling it or using it to harass you. It’s not a great experience to be besieged by spam email from someone who has managed to obtain an email address which you had freely given for an entirely different purpose.
The impact of GDPR on counselling
Counselling is predicated on a confidential agreement between the counsellor and client. This means that certain information is collected and stored safely and the counsellor discusses the reasons why they might have to break confidentiality with you when you start counselling. This has always been the case and will continue to be the case. It is very important that clients understand why and how their counsellor might break confidentiality. For example, a counsellor might break confidentiality if a client disclosed they were going to harm themselves by contacting their GP. To do this, they would need to collect your GP’s details at the start of counselling and store this information safely. GDPR asks counsellors to clearly tell clients why they are collecting each piece of personal data and how they will process it and to provide the lawful basis for doing this. This means that if I ask a client for their address, then I need to explain why I need this, how I will store it, how long I will store it for and how I will dispose of it and on what basis I am allowed to do so. GDPR also gives clients a number of rights and these are to be outlined in a Privacy Statement given to the client by the counsellor.
I hope this gives you an idea of what GDPR is because over the next few weeks you might hear a lot about GDPR on the news and wonder how it might impact on you if you have counselling. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website is a good source of information about GDPR. To be clear, I will never use your personal information for unethical reasons or to send you marketing emails, to try and get you to attend training or groups I am running or to flog a book I am writing. I make it very clear at the start of counselling the only reasons I would ever share any information about you, in line with good ethical practice.