In order to provide a safe environment for students to explore their thoughts and feelings, all counseling and consultation services are confidential. This means that our staff does not reveal the identity of students who seek services, cannot discuss whether a student has sought services, and will not discuss the details of therapy sessions with anyone outside of the counseling center without the student’s knowledge and written consent. This includes parents, even if the student is financially dependent upon them.
Sometimes students hesitate to seek counseling because they worry that they might face some sort of university disciplinary action if, in the course of talking with the counselor, they reveal behavior that violates UMW rules (e.g. underage drinking, use of illicit substances, etc.). the counseling center staff members are clinicians, and our concern is student safety and health, first and foremost. We will ask about personal habits, including use of substances for example, because this may impact mood, health, and one’s sense of well-being; but we do not become involved with the student discipline process. Confidentiality still applies, with the limits described below.
The principles of confidentiality also apply to our written records. Although the counseling center maintains case files, our records are open only to authorized the counseling center staff members. They are not shared with other offices or departments at the University of Mary Washington and they do not become part of any central record held at the university. Confidentiality is not absolute, however. The ethical guidelines of the American Psychological Association, The American Counseling Association, and the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, mandate certain limits to confidentiality, and there are extraordinary circumstances when information can be shared without student consent. These situations occur when:
- a student is in danger of harming him/herself or others or is unable to engage in appropriate, basic self-care.
- a student has been referred for and agreed to an evaluation under applicable university procedures in which case the results of the evaluation will be shared with the student and the university administrator requesting the evaluation (usually the Dean of Student Life).
- student records have been subpoenaed by a legitimate court order.
- a staff psychologist or counselor has reason to suspect that a minor (under age 18) is being abused or neglected. State law requires that mental health professionals make a report in this situation.
Any of our staff members can answer your questions about these or any other aspects regarding confidentiality.