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September 24, 2013

Balancing Conflicting Interests: A Counsellor's Guide to the Legal Process

Family Law Act & social media the focus of update to third edition

A must-have manual for those employed in mental health as counsellors and educators, with updates related to changes to the Family Law Act, and insights into the legal implications surrounding client interaction and social media, has been released today. The 400+ page manual is available for purchase through the Centre for Counselling & Community Safety, Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC).

Balancing Conflicting Interests: A Counsellor’s Guide to the Legal Process, Third Edition, written by registered clinical counselor Maureen McEvoy, is a compendium of the legal and ethical issues that counsellors need to know as they interact with clients - and with increasing frequency - with lawyers, and the court system. McEvoy describes this third edition as a long time coming, given that the second edition that she also authored came out in 1996.

“The world is changing faster and faster and if they [counsellors] haven’t done any specific professional development around these types of issues,” she said, “they probably aren’t up to date.”

McEvoy says that most of the regulatory organizations can’t keep up with changes in technology and how technology is impacting the profession. “They are scrambling just to get policies in place.”

The high cost to access legal and court services is also discussed in the Third Edition. Last year, McEvoy was working with a client who was a sexual assault complainant. When the case ended up in court, it cost McEvoy $9,000 to have legal representation in order to protect her counselling notes and the client’s confidentiality.  “Most counsellors work with non-profit agencies who can’t afford that kind of cost,” she said.  “What’s the point in having legal rights to protect confidentiality if you can’t afford to exercise those rights?” She worries that the financial obstacle may lead to a chilling effect in which victims of crime feel forced to choose between reporting to the police and going to counselling. “They may believe they can’t do both even though they may benefit from receiving both kinds of support,” she says.

Third Edition Updates

Some of the Third Edition updates relate to:

  • Access to justice
  • The impact of technology (especially  ethical considerations regarding cyber counselling and  Social Media)
  • Regulation and accreditation of counselors and other mental health professionals
  • Accommodation of vulnerable witnesses in the court system
  • Consent issues with clients
  • Guidelines for taking clinical notes
  • How to respond to requests for clinical records
  • Family Law and youth court issues.

“I’m aware of no other resource that covers these important professional issues so comprehensively,” said Judith Daniluk, a professor in the Counselling Psychology program at The University of British Columbia.  She describes the book as an invaluable resource for both new and seasoned mental health professionals.

As well as the timely information on the ethical considerations of counselling and social media, much of the book is focused on changes to the Family Law Act that came into effect in March 2013, and how those changes may impact clients who must participate in the legal system.

“A lot of the changes to the Family Law Act are attempts to reflect societal changes,” said McEvoy. “For example, the new Act addresses issues such as co-habitation outside of marriage, assisted reproduction and breakdown of marriage. Nationally, about 38% of marriages end in divorce each year which translates into 10,000 divorces in BC annually.”

The new Act hopes to deal with the minority of high conflict couples who take up a disproportionate amount of the court’s time. “A lot of effort went into determining how to assist couples through mediation, arbitration and by establishing the role of parenting coordinator, an individual who is assigned to make decisions on behalf of the couple. We haven’t even talked about how serious a problem court delays are in relation to family law.”

Tags: Balancing Conflicting Interests, Centre for Counselling & Community Safety

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Last updated February 3, 2017