Confidentiality: HIPAA, FERPA and Codes of Professional Ethics
Educators are sometimes confused by the array of government regulations and codes of professional conduct that pertain to confidentiality of student information. Here is a brief primer to introduce you to the guidelines we follow on campus.
While not technically bound by the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations, Counseling Services does follow the American Psychological Association (APA) code of ethics which informs our policy on confidentiality.
Messiah College’s FERPA policy is contained in the Student Handbook under “General Policies” and on the web at http://www.messiah.edu/offices/student_affairs/student_handbook/.
The APA code of ethics, which the Engle Center follows, and FERPA regulations, which faculty and administration must follow, have very different rules regarding the release of information. FERPA does not consider counseling records part of a student's "educational record."
The following questions and answers are intended to give an understanding of the most common situations that arise between the counseling center staff and faculty regarding the sharing of information about a student.
If I refer a student for counseling will I be notified when the student makes an appointment?
It is our policy to notify you when a student you have referred makes an appointment; however we must ask the student’s permission and they can choose to refuse.
How would counseling services know if I have referred a student?
Our intake form asks for this information but the student could leave it blank or say “no one” if asked. The surest way is to let the student know you wil be contacting us, then call or email Dr. Lawlis, the Director of Counseling and tell him of the referral.
Could I inquire at the counseling center about whether a student is receiving counseling?
No. We can disclose that information to you only in those situations where you have referred the student and the student gives us permission to speak to you about the treatment.
Can I disclose to the counselor information about my student’s performance, class attendance, participation, etc. without violating FERPA regulations?
The Student Handbook indicates FERPA regulations allow the release of educational records without the student’s permission to a school official who has a legitimate interest. So you may release this information to us when you have a significant concern about a student’s well-being.
Can the counseling center give me more detailed information regarding a student’s treatment?
Generally speaking, we can only provide that kind of information if it would be of some specific benefit to the student and then only with her or his written permission. For example, if a student is requesting an “I” in a course at semester’s end or leaving school for a short time for mental health reasons, it is likely that we will encourage the student to give us permission to speak with faculty.
If I am concerned about a student, may I consult with a counselor about how to be helpful?
Yes. We encourage you to call us anytime you would like to discuss your concerns, regardless of whether the student is a client or not. Typically you will be directed to Dr. Lawlis, Director of Counseling and Health Services, or to another counselor who is not working with the student. You may then have a discussion about how to respond without the Engle Center disclosing confidential information.
In summary, once you have developed a relationship with a student, expressed your concerns, and persuaded him or her that counseling is a good idea, it is certainly understandable that you want to know whether the student is receiving help. In order to allow for an environment of safe, open, and honest communication, the content of sessions is confidential. It is often appropriate, however, for you to ask the student directly how counseling is going, assuming you have a relationship of warmth and trust with the student. The student is then free to share whatever he or she is comfortable with. Any more specific information from the Engle Center would require the student to sign a release of information form. Rules about confidentiality do not prevent us, however, from listening to additional information or your current assessment of a student. Although we would be able to say frustratingly little in response, we would be glad to listen. Often your impression can be quite helpful to us in providing care for the student.