Psychology Primer: Ethics/Confidentiality

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Psychology Primer
By Clinton M. Williams, BA Psych

Tutorial 1: Theory

Tutorial 2: Application

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The first and foremost ethical consideration is confidentiality. Never under any circumstances should you ever share with other members of the crew things that have been discussed in the counseling session. There are a few exceptions to this rule, however none of them must ever be conducted in public forums such as the officer’s lounge, or any other place where those without a need to know are present and may “overhear” the information divulged.

When to Share Information

In cases where you have been directed to evaluate a crewmember due to some concern on the part of the command staff or for the purposes of yearly crew evaluations, your findings may be shared with the First Officer or Commanding Officer. At times, it may be necessary to discuss a particular condition or psychiatric issue with the CMO in order to rule out a medical diagnosis for the particular problem. Regardless of the situation, each and every person having access to this information is also bound by the same confidentiality agreement.

Additionally, there must be a purpose for the exchange of information beyond mere curiosity; a need to know as it were. While there have been examples on TNG of Counselor Troi and Commander Riker discussing crew evaluations in Ten Forward it should be noted that they were far enough away from other crew members and talking quietly enough that the writers probably felt it was okay for them to do so.

Appropriate Venues

I would assert that unless you can establish that you are alone with no chance of someone entering the “scene” being able to overhear what you are saying, that you leave the conversation to another time. Quick updates within the turbolift may be acceptable, provided that there are no other persons present, however never at any time should the conversation be continued while walking the corridors of the ship.

It is important to remember, that once posted, sims are fair game for others to sim around, if they can establish a plausible explanation for their IC knowledge of what’s being said. Obviously, what is shared in counseling sims is going to be known by the rest of the crew, but they cannot act on the information. Do not give them an opportunity to have access to sensitive information, because it not only violates the trust between the counselor and client, it could cost you your “license” to counsel.

Confidentiality Exception to Prevent Harm

Another exception to the confidentiality rule involves notifying Security personnel regarding confessions of desires to harm other persons, or the client indicating suicidal or self-injurious thoughts. Confessions of certain crimes, such as homicide may be shared as well, but petty crimes such as taking PADD’s or sleeping on duty may not rise to the same level, and are often indicative of a psychological or behavioral issue better handled by the counselor.

Of course whenever you notify Security, you should speak with the senior officer and must notify the command staff as well immediately. Additionally, you must remind the Security staff members that they are bound to confidentiality as well and may not discuss the situation with anyone who does not have a need to know.

Threats Made Against a Specific Person

If a threat has been made towards a specific person you are required to notify that person immediately but only about the specific threat and the steps being taken to safeguard their well being. While they may choose to disclose to their friends or colleagues their distress over the situation, they are not necessarily bound to keep the information confidential, however they should be encouraged to do so anyway.

It would be entirely in character for you to offer your services to the threatened person as a safe alternative to sharing the information with friends or colleagues. In some cases, while confidentiality is not the key issue, the command staff may order the aggrieved person to not discuss it outside of your office. This would still constitute a lawful order, regardless of confidentiality laws and must be obeyed by the subordinate crewmember.