Limited or Unlimited Confidentiality in Biblical Counseling?

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Confidentiality in biblical counseling is when another person entrusts a counselor with sin issues they are struggling with. The Bible informs us to confess our sins to one other and pray for healing (Jam. 5:16). The purpose of this essay is to talk about the kind of commitment to confidentiality a biblical counselor should make with a counselee, when it’s appropriate to limit privacy rights and report a confession to civil authorities, and how a counselor should cooperate with the authorities about these issues.  The ultimate goal is to restore the counselee to a proper relationship with God.

When an individual entrusts their private sins with a counselor, it’s important to be clear with them the exceptions to confidentiality. There are at least three cases when privacy can be breached: (1) If the individual indicates an intention to harm him or herself or someone else. To protect the community, it’s important for another person or agency to be involved. (2) Has recently committed sexual or physical abuse or been abused by a perpetrator. The counselor is bound by the civil law to report any type of abuse, especially towards minors. (3) Has done something that violates the law.[1] Please use proper wisdom here. There is a difference between using an illegal substance like Marijuana and confessing to a murder. Both are violations of the law, but one is more severe than the other. In my opinion, if a person has been clean from drugs for at least 2 weeks and vows not to return to their addiction, you should not report them. However, if an individual confesses to a murder, even if it was 10 years ago, you are obligated to report this crime to the police.

How should a biblical counselor cooperate with the authorities? The Bible informs us that every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn’t any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God (Rom. 13:1). Furthermore, the civil authorities are placed there by God; they are agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13:4). Thus, Christians should have a strong relationship with the government in order to maximize proper justice. That being said, I think the church has an advantage over the government to properly heal, restore, and rehabilitate sinners to a relationship with the Creator.

Confidentiality has been convoluted in recent years. It takes wisdom, discernment, and a tedious methodology to decipher whether or not a counseling session should remain private or be reported to proper authorities. I think our motive should always imitate the way God treats us according to Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This is the same attitude biblical counselors should have when healing broken hearts. Thoughts? Please share.

[1] Deepak Reju, “Strict Confidentiality?” Biblical Counseling Coalition Blog (October 20, 2015). Available at: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/blogs/2012/06/12/strict-confidentiality/

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