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Breaking Confidentiality to Report Adolescent Risk-Taking Behavior by School Psychologists

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In the article “Breaking Confidentiality to Report Adolescent Risk-Taking Behavior by School Psychologists” Rae and colleagues state that school psychologists always find the need to break confidentiality, which they hold between them and students whenever they are confronted with risky adolescent behavior. In this article, Rae and colleagues conducted a survey, in which the members of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) responded to a vignette, which was describing an adolescent engaging in risky behaviors. In the vignette, the participants of the survey were to give their rating regarding the degree to which it is ethical to break confidentiality between them and their students when confronted by behaviors of various frequency, intensity and duration.

According to Rae and colleagues, school psychologists have an ethical responsibility of maintaining confidentiality within a professional relationship with their students (p. 450). They state that the National Association of School Psychologists operates under strict rules regarding maintaining of professional confidentiality with their clients (students). This is because failure to maintain confidentiality can hinder self-disclosure and cooperation from students. School psychologists are usually required to obtain informed consent from their clients (students) concerning disclosure of confidential information. In my opinion, it is important for a psychologist to maintain confidentiality of any personal information disclosed to him/her by the students. This is because students need to build their trust in such a person, so that whenever they are faced with different psychological problems, they have the confident to confide in their school’s psychologists. It is important for students, specifically teenagers to have a person whom they can share their experiences and seek advice from. In many instances, adolescents fear confiding their psychological problems with their parents for the fear of possible reprimand or punishment. They also fear that their parents may share their personal problems with other members of the family, relatives and close friends. Since adolescents try as much as possible to avoid circumstances, which make them look bad in front of their peers, family members, and friends, they therefore find it hard to confide to their parents whenever they are faced by psychological problems. An individual experiencing a psychological problem may suffer from serious psychological or mental problems such as stress, depression, anxiety, and addiction to substances, if he/she does not have a person whom he/she can talk to or look for psychological assistance. This is the reason as to why school psychologists should maintain confidentiality with their students.       

However, there are some instances where a school psychologist may fail to uphold his/her obligation to maintain professional confidentiality with their students. This is when a student discloses to the psychologists that he/she is engaging in a behavior, which is harmful and likely to cause danger to others. Rae and colleagues state that all psychologists have a professional duty of protecting vulnerable individual from danger poses by other individuals. Besides, in my opinion, it is important for a school psychologist to break away from the professional obligation of maintaining confidentiality when a student is observed to be engaging in harmful behavior in order to allow the concerned parties to develop an intervention plan for the student. Such parties include the student’s parents or family members, the school authority and/or community members. However, it is important to note that the process of deviating to the professional obligation of maintaining confidentiality is a difficult one. The psychologist involved must first evaluate the frequency, intensity, and duration of the likely harm/danger that may result from the adolescent’s behavior.

Rae and colleagues indicate that adolescents engage in risky behavior as a way of testing their limits of their independence. This is consistence with what we learnt in class. Besides, Rae and colleagues state that this is a natural developmental task, which every person experiences as he/she matures. Moreover, Rae and colleagues indicate that some of the common risky behaviors that adolescents engage in include suicidal ideation, drug/substance abuse, sexual activity, smoking and alcohol use. This is also related to what we learnt in class.

In the methodology part, Rae and colleagues randomly selected a group of NASP members and mailed them questionnaires, which evaluated their attitudes and beliefs regarding breaking of confidentiality when their clients confided to them that they are engaging in risky behaviors. There was a 43 percent return rate of the questionnaires issues, which was quite valid for the study. The survey used Likert scale as a method of measurement. The researchers then used two-way ANOVA to analyze the data collected, which was later presented in tables and graphs. In my opinion, the methodology applied by the researchers was appropriate, first because it used a random method to select the sample of the study and second because it applied one of the most suitable method of data analysis: two-way ANOVA.

From the article, I have learnt that just like other psychologists, school psychologists have a professional obligation of maintaining professional confidentiality with their clients. An informed consent has to be obtained first from the concerned client (student), when a school psychologist deems it necessary to share client’s confidential information with third parties. Notwithstanding this obligation, school psychologists may sometimes depart from their professional obligation, when certain risky behaviors are involved. I have learnt that, school psychologists also have an obligation to protect individuals from harm that may result from an adolescent’s behaviors. If an adolescent confides to a school psychologist that he/she is engaging in a potentially harmful behavior, a school psychologist has a right to break the professional requirement of maintaining confidentiality in order to protect other individual as well as the adolescent him/herself from potential danger.

However, it was interesting to note that school psychologists must first evaluate the intensity, frequency, and duration of the harm/danger that may arise from an alleged risky behavior from an adolescent. This was astonishing because whenever an adolescent is engaging in a risky behavior, it does not matter the level of intensity, frequency, or duration that a harm/danger from the alleged risky behavior may occur. The thing is if something is perceived to be dangerous, it does not matter how dangerous that thing is. As long as there is some degree of danger that is likely to occur from a given situation, preventive measures should be taken in advance. This is because sometimes, it may be difficult to evaluate the level of intensity that a harm resulting from a certain situation may occur. For instance, if an adolescent in engaging in excessive consumption of alcohol, the most probable harm that may arise is motor vehicle accident when such an individual drives when under the influence of alcohol. Here, it is hard to measure the intensity of the accident. The accident may be fatal, less fatal, or even the adolescent escapes uninjured. Therefore, preventive measures should be taken as early as possible since the intensity of the likely danger cannot be predicted. In my opinion, school psychologists should always break away from their professional requirement of maintaining confidentiality whenever they are faced with potentially risky situations.

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