The dust is beginning to settle after the panic which we all went in to about the GDPR enforcement date last month. In common with most therapists and therapy supervisors I have produced a privacy statement, reviewed my procedures and revelled in my lovely empty email inbox. It is like weeding the garden, only the flowers grow there now (and if you are reading this I am assuming that you are categorising it as an inbox flower rather than a weed, for which a heartfelt thank you from me! I will do my best to earn the place in your newly filtered email life).
It got me thinking about privacy , spiritual life, and psychotherapy. There are a number of levels at which we can consider this. Of course, psychotherapy deals with the most private aspects of people’s lives. Psychotherapists are ethically bound to keep their clients’ lives confidential and the circumstances are very limited in which revealing that material is appropriate. In fact, a very good case can be made (Christopher Bollas makes this case in his book ‘The New Informants’) that therapists should never reveal any confidential client information at all, under any circumstances whatsoever. Bollas argues (quite persuasively) that because therapy is about inviting the unconscious to come forward, the only way to ensure that the deepest material can surface is to offer absolute unconditional privacy regardless of who is at risk of harm, regardless of court order, legislation he says we should offer unconditional absolute privacy. Then, he observes, there is a chance that the darkest and most important material might just creep and peep out in to the therapy room and have a chance to be processed, explored, and the person may have a chance to heal.
Think about this in terms of the alchemical container. For transformation to have a hope of proceeding the container, the vessel, must hold. A leak and the work is doomed to fail. This is why we focus so intently on boundaries.
Psychotherapy in the UK is not really set up for this radical position – the UKCP, BACP and most insurers steer therapists towards a more cautious position in which breach of confidentiality is permitted and even mandated in some circumstances such as risk of imminent harm coming to someone. In most circumstances I do not argue with that position, but as thoughtful people we need to be very alert to our responsibilities with other people’s private material. We are debating privacy at the moment because of GDPR – lets talk about all of this as well.
Increasingly therapists are facing requests from solicitors for notes of sessions. I deplore this turn of events – therapy is not going to work very well if everyone is looking over their shoulder for the pursuing lawyers.
I want to find a way for deep and unconditional privacy in the work. I don’t want therapists to join the court system, the policing system, even the social work system. I want to offer a place of healing, where the heart can open safe in the knowledge that it’s secrets will be honoured. That is what privacy is about – sealing the container so that the alchemical process of transformation has a chance.
Good luck navigating this territory. It’s actually more interesting than it at first seems…!