Firstly and importantly, do make yourself familiar with the stipulations in the Data Protection Act. Checking the present regulations, as well as keeping abreast of any further changes can be done by logging on to www.gov.uk/data-protection/the-data-protection-act. The Data Protection Registrar is usually very helpful and in an attempt to make the process as simple as possible will complete your form for you so that all you have to do is check it and pay the £35 annual registration fee.
You’ll also need to abide by the code of ethics and practise of your professional association for document storage and confidentiality. The British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) can provide you with a range of fact sheets to assist you with this.
In legal terms, professional Codes of Practice are not necessarily recognised in a court of law. Whilst they do carry some weight in some courts, it is important to ensure that your record-keeping bible is the Data Protection Act.
An important point to keep in mind is that these ethical requirements don’t necessarily fully cover your legal requirements. You’re under further obligation to ensure that you fulfil these as well, in case of investigation.
Whilst we don’t yet have in the UK quite the culture of litigation that is prevalent in the USA, the situation is changing, and you’ll need to ensure that you’re legally protected in two ways: firstly, a client may decide to take you to court for some reason, and secondly, you may be asked to give evidence in a court on behalf of a client (this is not uncommon in insurance claims following car accidents, for example, where you might have been treating the client for PTSD).
To cover the first eventuality, do ensure that you have adequate personal insurance cover. There are companies who specialise in insuring self-employed professionals, and it is essential that you arrange this before you see your first client. The second eventuality may result in your being asked to make case notes available to the court. There has been much debate in recent years as to whether this involves the therapist in violating their code of professional confidentiality.
If you wish to know more about this, Peter Jenkins has written an excellent booked entitled “Legal Issues for Counselling and Psychotherapy” (Sage, 2002). As a rule of thumb, expect that you’ll have to make your notes available if a court of law requests them.
This post is part of the free E-Course “How to Develop Your Therapy Practice”. Each lesson only covers the bare essentials of what you need to learn and should not form your only source of information.
For the complete detailed guide which takes you through each step of setting up and building a successful Therapy Practice, click here.