The existence of groups and forums on the internet have given many people a place to discuss their health issues. In some ways this has been helpful, and in many ways this has not.
In a social media world, where employers, lawyers, insurance companies and exes can find out a lot about us, there is a new level of privacy concern around information about our mental and physical health.
It is important for us to openly discuss the importance of confidentiality and to maintain privacy around the details of our own and others’ health information. What we may see as a private group is NOT really that private. What we may see as harmless chatting, the discussed person may see as a breach of trust.
Whether or not we use a full name, (and sometimes people do), it is quite easy for others to make connections and know who is being discussed. This can lead to awkwardness at best, legal issues at worst.
And it is straight-up unethical.
People are vulnerable when they share their intimate details with us, and by keeping it confidential we honor the exchange. This includes recognizing the various power dynamics that may exist within any client/healer relationship.
So before we write up a case study or ask a question in any type of forum–online, in a class, speaking with any other people or practitioners, let’s ask ourselves a few questions:
Am I respecting the privacy of my client or loved one?
How can I do this better?
Would it be better if I used less identifying details, called them person X or “a client” perhaps?
Am I telling their story or my story?
What is my responsibility to this client?
Is there a level of trust here that I am responsible to?
Would I be OK with this person knowing what I’m sharing? What if the roles were reversed? Would I be OK with this?
Do I really know who else can see this, and/or if anyone in this forum now or in the future is trustworthy?
There may be, occasionally, reason to breach the trust of a client or loved one, and that is when serious harm to oneself or another is possibly imminent. But an internet forum is not the place for this. Seek actual help.
And there may be a person who consents to their information being shared, and that is OK.
But ultimately I think it benefits all of us to examine our ethical obligation to keep the details to ourselves, to honor the trust put in us and to remember the expectation that exists that–whether we are practicing herbalists or just people into herbs–we won’t compromise anyone’s livelihood or future by making their personal information available to others. Privacy around our personal information is a RIGHT.
It is not–not, not, not–about calling people out, not saying “you are doing this wrong”. It is only about saying maybe you didn’t know, and that is OK. Let’s consider, going forward, the implications of all of this sharing for the good of the whole community.
For more information about this, please check out the AHG statement on the herbalists’ code of ethics:
and Sevensong’s great handout on community herbalism, with a section on ethics:
As well as HIPAA, the Health insurance portability and Accountability act.