High-Security Jobs: Will Counseling Disqualify Me?

Reader’s Question

I have a really important question. Before I ask, I must explain that I have been wishing to seek counseling, because I am going through a lot of things and sometimes I feel like I can’t take it anymore, living like this forever with depression, etc. It’s not just a phase, I have realized it’s much more than that.

But my real problem is that I will be in the military in a few months from now and after that I will apply to either a police department or the FBI academy. If I seek counseling I will probably be disqualified. I need to know whether anyone especially (the military, FBI academy, police department) can find out whether I received counseling? Is that a record that they can pull out? Or is it completely confidential? As an applicant I haven’t received counseling and I have been trying to deal with certain things on my own, but it’s just too much; can I seek help and be assured privacy? Or do I have to be worried about possibly getting disqualified from my future career?

Psychologist’s Reply

In most countries, relationships between client and counselor/therapist are confidential. No agency (FBI, police, military, etc.) scans or reviews professional records for who has been in counseling or under treatment. Professionals also do not submit information to any agency without the written consent of the client. From this side, there is no problem.

The issue you will face is the personal disclosure required by applications to high-security positions. When applying for these jobs, you will be asked if you have ever had professional mental health treatment. I live in an area of the US that has a federal nuclear facility nearby and over the years have treated many of the employees. When each employee renews his/her security clearance, they are required to honestly disclose if they have had counseling. When this disclosure is made, I receive a visit from the FBI or related agency. In this visit, I am never asked about the details of the client’s problem — only if their psychological state represents a security risk or danger to others or national security.

Confidentiality is the legal right of the client — not the therapist. You might contact a professional, explain your concerns, and request a “consultation” rather than treatment. You might also seek counseling over the Internet. When engaging in counseling in any form, considering your situation, do not mention it to your friends or relatives. Applications to the FBI and some security-sensitive agencies often involve extensive background checks — including interviews with family, neighbors, and friends. Those interviewed may be asked if you have sought treatment.

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Bottom line: Honest disclosure is required in almost all security-sensitive employment applications. Many agencies backup the requirement for honest disclosure with a lie detector examination. If you are dishonest in your responses on the application, or fail the lie detector examination, you will be fired immediately — even if the dishonesty is discovered years after your employment. I recently had an FBI interview for an ex-patient who was briefly treated in 1983. From a security standpoint, disclosure is honest and total. By the way, in my experience, no employee has ever lost their security clearance due to seeking mental health treatment. Employees have often lost their job due to their lack of treatment and how the psychiatric issues create problems on the job however. Your privacy will be assured in any counseling situation. It’s the requirement for disclosure that will be the issue.

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