All of the information collected from clients at the Center for Psychology and Education ("CPE"), and all communications that any CPE staff member (including clerical staff) has with or about clients, is strictly confidential. In sum, no information can be given to a third party unless a client specifically requests, in writing, that such dissemination of information or communication take place.
There are federal and state laws, as well as professional codes of ethics, that govern and reinforce the CPE's policy regarding the confidential nature of communications and information handling. Below we outline the most relevant laws and codes, for your review and reference.
The information collected by licensed professionals from the CPE is, in legal terms, considered "privileged." This means that the client has the "privilege" of communication, in the sense that no person, governing body, etc., can demand disclosure of the information collected at CPE. This privilege is removed only in rare circumstances upon direct order from a court (and not simply a subpoena), or when a professional has a "reporting responsibility" (see below).
The Health Insurance Portability Protection Act (HIPAA) is a relatively recent federal law that dictates how information needs to be protected, particularly in relation to dissemination of medical information and maintenance of medical records. While CPE is not a medical practice, some of the services offered here are subject to reimbursement under medical insurance, and therefore it is incumbent on CPE to be compliant with HIPAA regulations. To give but one example, all records that are maintained at CPE are stored in a separate, private, and locked room to which only staff can gain access. Because CPE does not submit claims to insurance companies or "third party providers," many of the HIPAA requirements are not immediately applicable, but please note that CPE is in 100 percent compliance with all relevant regulations promulgated by HIPAA.
Confidentiality, as opposed to "privilege," is generally construed as an ethical obligation that professionals have to protect the information that they have access to in the course of their work. In short, professionals from fields such as psychology, education, and medicine, are ethically and professionally obliged to safeguard the confidentiality of their clients. In rare instances, an ethical obligation to maintain confidentiality may conflict with a legal mandate to waive a client's privilege of communication, and in cases such as these the professional must ultimately determine the best course of action, and would most likely involve the client in such decision making.
The term "privacy" is a less specific and binding concept that is most applicable to the minors seen at CPE. Parents of minors have the "privilege" of communication, not the minor. Both parents and their minor children have a right to confidentiality, although information revealed by a minor to a professional may be shared with a parent, without a breach in confidentiality, as the communication is being shared within a family and in the best interest of the minor child. However, it is sometimes in the best interest of all parties for information shared by a minor to a CPE professional, to remain "private" (i.e., not shared with parents or caretakers), mainly for the purpose of developing a sense of trust that enhances the assessment, treatment, or counseling relationship between minor and professional.
Finally, it is important for CPE clients to know about the rare exceptions when client privilege and professional confidentiality are required to be waived or broken. North Carolina State law requires that psychologists and educators report all cases of suspected abuse of a minor, elderly person, or disabled individual to the Department of Social Services. Such reports are filed and kept anonymously. Psychologists are required to break confidentiality when they learn from a client about an imminent threat to a named individual's safety (including the client him or herself). In situations where a client is judged by a clinician to be at risk to him or herself or to another, the professional has the responsibility of taking protective action, which may result in a breach of confidentiality. These situations are thankfully rare, but the statutes surrounding them need to be understood by all clients receiving services at CPE.