Understanding Mental Health

Privacy and Confidentiality

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Why do we need privacy and confidentiality standards?

When seeing a mental health professional, there are strict privacy and confidentiality standards in place. This exists so that information regarding an individual’s treatment and condition are in safe hands, and free from potential exploitation or misuse.

This means that anything you say to a psychologist will be kept between you and them. 

However it is important to emphasise that a medical professional is legally obliged to disclose their concerns if they feel that the individual in question is at immediate risk of hurting themselves or others. 

In Indonesia, people are legally entitled to confidential health treatment from healthcare providers. The law also requires that information collected in sessions with health professionals must be stored and maintained confidentially by the service provider.

In addition to the legal framework surrounding privacy and confidentiality, the Indonesian Psychology Association (Himpunan Psikologi Indonesia, commonly referred to as HIMPSI) has a professional framework outlining how privacy and confidentiality function within a clinical context. This guideline outlines the practices and boundaries that mental health professionals must respect when handling client information.

Importance of Informed Consent

Informed consent is defined as a verbal or written agreement obtained from the individual meeting with a mental health professional. It typically outlines how any information provided or collected may be used, and gives an individual control over who knows about their mental health. 

Several factors need to be met to ensure informed consent is covered, such as:

  1. Willingness to undergo psychological treatment
  2. The estimated duration of treatment
  3. What the treatment entails 
  4. Benefits and risks of the treatment
  5. Guaranteed privacy during treatment
  6. Defining the party that would be responsible should there be a less than desirable outcome during treatment. 

Informed consent must be given willingly, without consequences, and with capacity.

 Individuals under the age of 18 are unable to officially give informed consent, thus a parent or guardian is required to give consent on their behalf. It is then the practitioner’s responsibility to ensure that the individual’s privacy remains intact. 

Importance of Privacy and Confidentiality in Mental Health Treatment

Conversations in a clinical setting contain sensitive information by nature. Psychologists are trained to act with discretion and respect your privacy and confidentiality. If you decide to see a psychologist, it may be worthwhile asking for information on their privacy/confidentiality policies. 

What to do if your practitioner breaks the privacy/confidentiality code of ethics?

If you think your confidentiality or privacy has been breached, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Ask your practitioner about it directly. If you are comfortable with it, talk to the person involved or the organisation they work for. 
  2. Try to find out what occurred, why and how your privacy was breached. 
  3. Keep a detailed record of what your complaint is (e.g. specific details and dates) and any conversations or correspondence you have about the breach in order to formalise your complaint.
  4. As your privacy is protected by law, you can also go to the police with your concerns about any potential breach.

Knowing that what you tell a psychologist will remain between you and them can help facilitate an open and honest environment to share your personal experiences. This is invaluable to treatment as the psychologist can then ensure that they provide the best and most effective care possible for you. 

Australia Medical Association. (2013). Privacy and confidentiality. Retrieved from https://ama.com.au/privacy-and-confidentiality

Himpunan Psikologi Indonesia. (2017). Kode Etik Psikologi Indonesia. Retrieved from https://himpsi.or.id/organisasi/kode-etik-psikologi-indonesia

McGuire, J., Toal, P., Blau, B., & Abeles, Norman. (1985). The Adult Client's Conception of Confidentiality in the Therapeutic Relationship. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 16(3), 375-384.

Rubanowitz, D., & Abeles, Norman. (1987). Public Attitudes Toward Psychotherapist-Client Confidentiality. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 18(6), 613-618.

Shah, S., & Freedheim, Donald K. (1969). Privileged communications, confidentiality, and privacy: Privileged communications. Professional Psychology, 1(1), 56-69.

The Health Insurance POrtability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)

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