Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Confidentiality

There are many oddities associated with being an (almost) psychologist.

The responsibilities are tremendous. Not only are you expected to have an eye on the people you treat and their lives outside your one hour a week, but you also have an assumed responsibility to the people around them. There is an assumed almost psychical power to what we do, as though we are to be able to predict with utter certainty what our clients might do. The consequences for mistakes in either way, overestimation or underestimation of risk, are devastating.

Your job title also carries a lot of weight in your every day interactions. People look for the signs that you are secretly reading them. They ask you for advice, be it at a dinner party or in a bar, leaving you wondering if plumbers are approached by their drunk friends with frantic requests for advice on a rusty drain. 

You are also expected by some to have a certain infallibility to you. It is assumed that in order to be a psychologist, your personal life must be thoroughly in order. (I have many times beat myself up by believing that ridiculous stereotype.) You worry about being seen by your clients in a non-professional environments, and the effect that might have on their image of you. I once found out I was at a beer gardens, in a tank top and shorts, at the very same Canada Day celebrations as a client. I was extremely thankful for the lack of paths crossing that day.

One of the most underestimated responsibilities, though, is that of confidentiality.
I take confidentiality very seriously. I view it as fundamental to what I do, and as something I cannot compromise. Sadly, there are a few of my peers who are a little more lax in their interpretation of the term.

It is an odd quirk of the job to have to hold a lot of charged information in your own head. My own capacities in being able to handle this weight have increased a lot since I've begun training, to the point where I am reasonable proficient at being able to leave it behind when I walk in the front door of my apartment.

Still, I do work in a forensic setting, which often makes for a lot of heavy information being thrown my way, from trauma to violence to insane tragedy. In all honesty, I never believed I'd have the capacity to do this kind of work, and I sometimes sit back and reflect on the fact that I am much stronger than I gave myself credit for. 

I've worked in this particular job for over a year and a half now, and still some friends don't know about it, because I choose not to speak about it very much. People are a little greedy for details, and I don't blame them, because it is fascinating stuff, especially in this era of criminal fascination, of multiple CSIs and talk of criminal profiling. I can't give them these details, though, just a generic job description and vague generalities, no matter how many good party stories I may have floating around in my head. It's just something I have to be black and white about.

Still, some days, it is a lot to take in. Some days, the details of it all just dawn on me. And in those times, I just have to do a lot of thinking. Because (although I can always talk to others at my workplace) keeping quiet is just a part of the package deal I signed up for when I decided to take this path.

18 comments:

Kat Argonza | Tough Girl 101 said...

Oh I hate the fact that people look at me like "So are you analyzing me?" AND I"M JUST AN UNDERGRAD with no aspirations to go any further. They're totally nuts aren't they?

miss. chief said...

wow, your job sounds intense.
and yes, i do believe that people ask their plumber friends questions about rusty drains in social situations. my boss at the tattoo shop refuses to go out in public very much anymore because his clients always find him and ask him tattoo related questions. it's like people forget that you are a person outside of your job as well who maybe wants some time off.

Nelle said...

You job sounds both intense and extremely rewarding. It's funny. My father is a chaplain which includes a dosage of confidentiality and the ability to separate work from home life also. There are days when he's just battered with what happened at work, but refuses to talk about. I can't imagine what that'd be like.

Fascinating stuff!

Andhari said...

All my friends who major in psychology kinda get annoyed with all these assumptions too, people treat them like physics but they sure do get the respects :)

Psych Post Doc said...

I'm not even that kind of psychologist and I get these questions all the time.

You do have someone at work you can talk to right? And you have your own therapist I hope. It sounds like a fascinating and draining career, make sure you take care of yourself.

Jess said...

I think it's really great that you take confidentiality so seriously. This whole post makes me certain that you are very good at your job.

Surfergrrl said...

i would really have a hard time not being able to share the details of my job. you're a strong lady!

Maris said...

I hear you - I had a friend in high school whose mom was a psychologist and she used to tell people she was a photographer, because she was sick of people expecting her to give them counsel, etc outside of work!

Loretta said...

I worked on an adolescent ward of a psychiatric hospital for a summer in college. I found it really useful to debrief with other staff members just because of how hard it was. I decided not to go into clinical psychology because I became way too attached, but I admire anyone who can balance the caring with the detachment.

smidge said...

I don't know how you do this job atall, especially how you keep things from maintaining a hold in your mind. I hope that you do have someone you can talk to, to offload all the confidentiality onto as you cant completely bottle it up.

Alanna said...

I'm glad there are people like you in the world who are able to keep people's secrets safe. Whenever I have the tiniest piece of somewhat interesting personal information, all I want to do is scream it from the roof tops. And that is why I am not a psychologist. But it's really great that you take it so seriously, I'm sure you'll be more successful because of it.

sonrie said...

i understand the part where you said that classmates have different interpretations of confidentiality. i have one friend who thought that as long as she wasn't using a client's name, it was ok. Even her details were too much at times. Not so, not so.

A Super Girl said...

I would totally be one of your friends clamoring for good stories...but I also give you a lot of credit for being able to keep things quiet. I talk about my job so much, I don't think I could do that. Sure, when confidential things come up I keep a lid on it, but if that was all I had to do, it'd be tough!

Michael said...

Amen to that!

I get drug questions all the time socially, and like you, the answer is usually, "it depends".

Have you ever read one of the Spenser books by Robert B. Parker? His longtime consort is a psychiatrist, Susan Silverman, and it is one of the most careful, intimate portraits of professional practice I have ever read.

Mrs4444 said...

Not a good job for me; I can't shut up! Good thing therapists can have therapists.

Daisy said...

It must be so fascinating, but I have a friend who works with sex-offenders and I know it can be incredibly upsetting and difficult to have all that knowledge you can't share. Do you have a colleague that you're able to talk to in confidence to ease the burden?

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

This does happen top plumbers. There is one, a friend, working behind me right now. He constantly gets asked questions about pipes and such like by friends, sometimes before they ask about anything else.

And he is expected to be infallible.

Therapeutic Ramblings said...

I have become accustomed to not talking about my therapy work, as it helps keep the confidentiality issue that much farther away. I always err on the side of caution because you never know where the information will go.

Not everyone is as careful though, and it bugs me.