In recent years we have got used to frequent revelations of “dark secrets” in the media. Some of them are genuinely important and relevant to the general public, but the great majority are mere tittle-tattle, most often of a sexual nature. Editors reveal these secrets merely to get ahead of their rival newspapers by selling a few thousand more copies of that day’s paper. As the Millie Dowler case confirmed, they have total disregard for the effect on those involved, who are often not even “celebs” but quite ordinary people. In this article I’ll be discussing the therapist’s approach to secrets, comparing it with that of the journalist.
Having practiced hypnotherapy in Plymouth for 18 years, I have listened to many closely guarded secrets, that could cause immense embarrassment to clients, or even physical danger. Other secrets may include a client’s real feelings about other people in their lives, which could be deeply hurtful if revealed.
The first thing I explain to clients at their initial consultation is the limits of confidentiality. As a hypnotherapist I am obliged to keep clients’ information secret. But I am also required to discuss my work with two colleagues in regular supervision meetings. No personal information that could identify a client is revealed at these meetings- they focus on problems and therapy techniques. The real limit on secrecy is where some serious crime is being planned or has already been committed. Also, if a client tells me they are planning their own death, I feel justified in assuming that a part of them at least wants me to prevent this. These limits to confidentiality are spelled out before a new client has the chance to tell me anything they might afterwards regret.
I’m interested in all aspects of human life- that’s why I’m a therapist. But I generally ask only about things I need to know- information that helps me understand the client’s problem and decide how I can help.
Counsellors and psychotherapists thus follow policies precisely opposite to those of many journalists. The journalist gathers information from varied sources, many of them hostile to the person being investigated. This information is then revealed to the public for their entertainment, even though it is of no real relevance to them. Or it may be retained on file for years, to be dislclosed at a later date when it can do most harm.
The policy of a therapist is precisely opposite to this. Therapists gather information from the client himself, respecting his right to conceal things they are not yet ready to disclose. Only information directly relevant to the client’s problem is gathered, and even this is closely guarded. Finally, the client is never mocked or vilified for changing his mind or even contradicting himself. Therapy is all about change, and counsellors are well aware that people often have mixed feelings about many things.