How much do you think about, or notice, the information you give other people or organisations – verbally, or in written or electronic form?

Do you know what they know about you or what they do with that information?

This issue has been highlighted in the news recently regarding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is investigating and it comes at just the time that that all responsible businesses and organisations in the UK and the rest of Europe are busy reviewing their systems and practices to ensure compliance with the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

This comes into force in the UK in May, despite Brexit.

It has a world-wide impact, too – as I understand it, anyone who does business or trades with Europe will need to demonstrate compliance.


If you’re not directly responsible for other people’s data through your job, or as a volunteer, you may not be quite so aware of GDPR.

Although, like me, you’ve probably had some letters or emails already from some of the organisations who hold data on you to let you know about your rights.

I’ve attended various seminars and workshops on the subject recently and, at one of them, an IT expert coined a revised expansion of GDPR as ‘Give Data Proper Respect’.

I like this as it really does sum up the spirit of the new regulation.

I suspect that the counselling profession may be a bit ahead of the curve here as we’re already very careful and respectful with regard to our clients’ information.

I’m already registered with the ICO as a data controller and processor but I’ll be updating the information on my website and my contracts regarding the other requirements of GDPR over the next few weeks, and talking to my clients about it.

Going back to the news reports I’ve seen regarding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the main advice seems to be: be careful what you reveal even if you think you’re just having a bit of fun online – such as completing a personality questionnaire – and think about, and check, how that data will be used.

For example, I think most of us are aware that having a supermarket reward card gives the supermarket data on what we buy, when and how often, too, and that they use this data to market their products and services to us more effectively – analysing it (us?) and targeting our preferences and lifestyle.

And when we make searches online, data is gathered on what we’re interested in so that we receive news articles that we’re likely to enjoy and adverts for products that we might like and buy.

Social media data tells other people even more about us. I don’t have much of a social media presence myself – mainly for work which is my personal choice – you may use it differently.

I love what technology does for us in terms of making some things possible that we couldn’t do (so easily/conveniently/or at all) just a few years ago.

Just this week I ‘attended’ a conference organised by Online Counselling and Therapy In Action (OCTIA) – I registered to attend the webinar on the day which would have meant I could have watched live from home and participated in the chat room to ask questions of the presenters. As it happened, I had theatre tickets for that day so, instead, I watched the recordings of the presentations later on.

The last session of the day was about apps. Apps that might help counsellors and clients in terms of mental health and lifestyle.

I’ve fallen out of some of my good habits lately so this was a timely reminder and I’m now trying out Headspace to see if it’s something that might help me and whether I might suggest it to some of my clients

But I’m aware – and being mindful – as I go, of any data that I’m entering. This is no reflection on this particular app, by the way, and I’m not a conspiracy theorist – but I do try to be careful about what personal information I give to people or organisations I don’t know.

This is partly to protect myself from identity theft or fraud and also to protect myself emotionally.

On this last point, I’ve written previously about the benefits of getting support when we’re having a difficult time but limiting our self-disclosure on very personal aspects to those relationships within which it’s appropriate.

I’m not suggesting we all start being secretive about everything, just that we maintain an awareness of who we tell what, who we trust, and why.

silhouette-3267887_1920It’s fine balance we walk between being ourselves – open, honest and congruent – and protecting ourselves from unnecessary harm.

But it ought to be possible…