Law Note Series

Client Confidentiality and Privileged Communications

nasw press By: Carolyn I. Polowy, JD, Sherri Morgan, MSW, JD, Amber Khan, MA, JD and Carol Gorenberg, Law Clerk*
First edition published by LDF:  May 1997  
© 2011 National Association of Social Workers.  All Rights Reserved.
Pages: 45
Endnotes:  199
Appendix A:  NASW Code of Ethics, § 1.07 Privacy and Confidentiality
Appendix B:  Review of SAMHSA’s Frequently Asked Questions:  Applying the Substance Abuse Confidentiality Regulations to Health Information Exchange
Appendix C:  Social Worker – Client Privilege and Confidentiality Laws (50-state list)
Appendix D:  Bibliography

A majority of the legal concerns raised by individual NASW members involve questions relating to the privacy of clients’ mental health treatment information.  For many people, the acronym “HIPAA” has become synonymous with health care privacy; however, the underlying principles of confidentiality and privilege remain fundamental to any analysis of patient privacy.  Applying the concepts of confidentiality and privilege to the professional services provided by social workers requires an understanding of federal health privacy laws and regulations, as well as state law standards and ethical obligations.  This paper discusses the two principles and outlines some of the exceptions applicable to them, particularly in the context of clinical social work practice. In an era of rapid change in information technology capacity, society is experiencing a paradigm shift that impacts expectations about privacy; however, the fundamental need for confidentiality remains as a lynchpin to successful mental health treatment and effective social worker interventions.

Available from NASW Press

*Carol Gorenberg provided research and writing for the first edition of this publication in 1997.

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