As someone who cares about students and their well-being, it is completely understandable that you may want to know specifics regarding the therapeutic content and/or services that a student might be participating in at University Counseling Service (UCS). However, as mental health-care providers, we are legally and ethically required to uphold standards of confidentiality, and students expect us to uphold these standards.
Treating information confidentially means that we cannot release any protected/privileged information to professors, advisers, parents, or concerned friends without the student’s prior written informed consent. Confidentiality also prohibits UCS staff from confirming or disconfirming that a student has made an appointment or attended sessions at UCS without the student’s prior written permission.
Our staff keenly recognizes that this may be difficult for those concerned about a student; however, our duty is first and foremost to our student clients, and at UCS, we must maintain confidentiality consistent with our professional guidelines and mental health laws. The practices and operations regarding confidentiality utilized by our staff are informed and guided by law (Iowa Mental Health Code), by our ethical standards within psychology and social work licensure boards, and our professional standards (via our accrediting bodies).
Without confidentiality the therapeutic process has little chance of being effective. There are narrow exceptions to when confidentiality must be “broken” including:
- when we consider the student to be a threat to self or others
- in order to protect dependents from current potential abuse
- if court-ordered by a judge in a current legal proceeding.
Release of information
When a student requests and provides a release of information, the student should be making an informed decision about the nature and terms of the release. Signing the release should always be the choice of the student. If a student chooses to sign a release of information, it should be because they feel it is in their best interest to do so and not because they feel coerced (intentionally or unintentionally) to do so. Also, a release of information process can entail some information, but not all.
The best way to communicate concern for a student’s situation is to follow-up directly with the student if you continue to have concerns about their health, well-being, and/or participation in therapy. Most students consider this helpful, supportive, and caring. A simple “check-in” (e.g., how is it going? did you ever have a chance to connect with someone at the UCS?”) can be felt as very supportive.