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Confidentiality in Group Counseling

Updated on May 8, 2012

In group counseling or therapy the sessions are confidential. The clients and the group leaders are bound ethically and legally not to disclose any information or content of the sessions. The clients and leaders have to sign a consent form and or told about the confidentially agreement. The meaning and the importance of having client and leader confidentiality is for the respect of the client and is reviewed at the first session and when every time a new member joins the group sessions.

Confidentiality is a central ethical issue in group counseling, and it is an essen­tial condition for effective group work. The legal concept of privileged commu­nication is not recognized in a group setting unless there is a statutory excep­tion. However, protecting the confidentiality of group members is an ethical mandate, and it is the responsibility of the counselor to address this at the outset of a group (Wheeler & Bertram, 2008). The American Counseling Asso­ciation's (2005) ACA Code of Ethics makes this statement concerning confidenti­ality in groups: "In group work, counselors clearly explain the importance and parameters of confidentiality for the specific group being entered"(B.4.a.). The ASGW (2008) addresses the added complexity entailed in coming to a mutual understanding of confidentiality in diverse groups: "Group Workers maintain awareness and sensitivity regarding the cultural meaning of confidentiality and privacy. Group Workers respect differing views toward disclosure of infor­mation" (A.6.).

As a leader, you are required to keep the confidences of group members, but you have the added responsibility of impressing on the mem­bers the necessity of maintaining the confidential nature of whatever is re­vealed in the group. This matter bears reinforcement along the way, from the initial screening interview to the final group session. Although group leaders are themselves ethically and legally bound to main­tain confidentiality, a group member who violates another member's confi­dences faces no legal consequences (Lasky & Riva, 2006). If the rationale for confidentiality is clearly presented to each individual during the preliminary interview and again to the group as a whole at the initial session, there is less chance that members will treat this matter lightly.

Confidentiality is often on the minds of people when they join a group, so it is timely to fully explore this issue. A good practice is to remind participants from time to time of the dan­ger of inadvertently revealing confidences. My experience continues to teach me that members rarely gossip maliciously about others in their group. How­ever, people do tend to talk more than they should outside the group and can unwittingly offer information about fellow members that should not be re­vealed. If the maintenance of confidentiality seems to be a matter of concern, the subject should be discussed fully in a group session.

In groups in institutions, agencies, and schools, where members know and have frequent contact with one another outside of the group, confidentiality becomes especially important and is more difficult to maintain. Clearly, there is no way to ensure that group members will respect the confidences of oth­ers. As a group leader, you cannot guarantee confidentiality in a group setting because you cannot control absolutely what the members do or do not keep private. Members have a right to know that absolute confidentiality in groups is difficult and at times even unrealistic (Lasky & Riva, 2006). However, you can discuss the matter, express your convictions about the importance of main­taining confidentiality, have members sign contracts agreeing to it, and even impose some form of sanction on those who break it. Your own modeling and the importance that you place on maintaining confidentiality will be crucial in setting norms for members to follow. Ultimately, it is up to the members to respect the need for confidentiality and to maintain it.

Members have the right to know of any audio- or videotape recordings that might be made of group sessions, and the purpose for which they will be used. Written permission should be secured before recording any session. If the tapes will be used for research purposes or will be critiqued by a supervisor or other students in a group supervision session, the members have the right to deny permission.” (Corey, 51-52)


Corey, G. (2012). 3. Theory & practice of group counseling (8th ed., p. 51). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

Nicholson, J., M.S.W.., & Ph.D.. (n.d.). Shhh! Confidentiality in group therapy: It's no joke | Psychology Today. Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. Retrieved March 21, 2012, from

companies, i., & laboratories, m. (n.d.). Patient Confidentiality (Encyclopedia of Nursing & Allied Health) - eNotes - Literature Study Guides, Lesson Plans, and More.. Retrieved March 21, 2012, from


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