Introduce strict data protection rules in counselling

A circle of chairs used during counselling sessions for gambling addicts.
A circle of chairs used during counselling sessions for gambling addicts.PHOTO: ST FILE

Valid concerns about counselling were raised by Mr James Leong and Madam Shirley Woon Li Lin (Restoring trust in counselling profession, June 17; and Review counselling system in all institutions, June 19).

To help bridge any potential systemic or practice gaps and raise the standards of professionalism in the vocation, it might be an opportune time to explore implementing a mandatory and uniform set of data protection rules that are specific to the counselling profession.

This should also cover data peripherals - such as counselling case notes - and anyone who is given access to the data peripherals.

This makes sense considering that the counselling profession collects and processes huge amounts of personal and confidential data as a consequence of the unique nature of its work.

Some of the main principles driving this data protection regulatory framework could include accountability by counselling professionals to demonstrate compliance with the data protection rules, mechanisms for the immediate notification of any data breaches, and enforcement for non-compliance such as fines.

This data protection regulatory framework would dovetail with the counselling profession's ethics manual of procedures, and extend over the entire counselling life cycle starting from the establishment and execution of a client-counsellor relationship, to the termination of the relationship.

Also this data protection regulatory framework could clearly stipulate the time frame within which clients' data may be processed and stored and beyond which the data must be destroyed.

By raising standards in the counselling profession with such a data protection regulatory framework, client interests are protected.

But it would also shield counselling professionals from lawsuits by litigious clients.

Woon Wee Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2019, with the headline 'Introduce strict data protection rules in counselling'. Print Edition | Subscribe