Debriefing and confidentiality

Maintaining confidentiality

If you’re working in a position where you’ve got access to your clients’ private information it’s essential to maintain confidentiality in regard to your clients and their information. For information about how to do this go to: How to maintain confidentiality.

Working with sensitive information

A lot of people work with sensitive subject matter as part of their work; for example, police officers, child protection workers, doctors and teachers. Many jobs involve indirectly working with sensitive subject matter; e.g. through my editing role I’ve worked on transcripts and publications about domestic violence, suicide, accidents, mental illness and other subjects that can be disturbing. I’ve also worked with politically sensitive material.

When I’m producing transcripts, I allow myself to become quite engrossed in what the speaker or writer is saying. This highly concentrated listening allows me to accurately transcribe what they are saying, or edit what they have said to get their message across to their audience.

As long as I take plenty of breaks, I am good at handling that type of information.


We all need to debrief at times, especially when working with sensitive or disturbing subject matter. But we still need to maintain confidentiality.

If you’re working with a team you can usually debrief with your supervisor or (if appropriate) a team member. But if you’re a sole trader or freelancer, you’re usually working alone and there may not be a suitable person with whom it’s appropriate to debrief.

Debriefing within a team

When you’re working in a large team, you can’t divulge confidential information to anyone unless they are authorised to access that information. For example, you wouldn’t share confidential information with a staff member working on a different project, but you may share the information with a team member involved in the same project. On the other hand, you may divulge confidential information about any project or client to your supervisor or employer even if they haven’t been involved in that project, because your commitment to maintain confidentiality is to your employer.

If you’re uncomfortable or upset by the information you’ve been dealing with you should always debrief with the most appropriate person, who is generally your direct supervisor.

Debriefing when you work alone

People who work alone – for example, freelancers and sole traders – often don’t have anyone appropriate to debrief with. For example, they are the boss and the supervisor: there is no one above them, except for the client. And it would usually not be appropriate to debrief with a client.

If you work alone and are upset by the confidential subject matter with which you’ve been working, you can:

  • take regular breaks from working with the difficult subject matter
  • juggle the upsetting job with a different task to give yourself a break from the more difficult subject matter
  • when you finish work for the day, make sure you ‘switch off’ from your work, no matter how disturbing the subject matter. Exercise can help you do this
  • debrief to the most confidential person in the world: yourself. Write about your emotions and thoughts in a personal journal. When doing this, make sure you maintain confidentiality by not including any identifying details in your journal
  • talk about the subject in general with a friend or family member, without disclosing any details about the material or client, or breaching confidentiality
  • if the subject matter has upset you and you are thinking or worrying about the subject matter outside work, you should either advise the client you can’t continue with the work or delegate the work to someone else on your team, although warning them first about the subject matter. You should also seek professional counselling.

How we debrief at On Time Typing

On Time Typing has a team of transriptionists that produce transcripts of the recordings that come in. If the subject matter of a recording is potentially disturbing, I remind my transcriptionists:

  • if they find subject matter difficult to deal with, they can ‘give back’ the task,  and I would delegate it to another typist or complete the task myself
  • if they are finding the subject matter difficult but want to complete the task themselves, they can contact me at any time for a chat about it
  • after they have finished the task, I contact them to talk to them about it and make sure they have the opportunity to debrief
  • no matter how sensitive or disturbing the material is, they must not disclose any information to anyone apart from me (i.e. their supervisor) because to do so would breach their Confidentiality Agreement with On Time Typing.

Maintaining balance

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is especially important when you’re working with subject matter that’s sensitive or disturbing and confidential. One aspect of ensuring your life is  balanced is making sure you leave work at work where it belongs. Read more articles at: Work-life balance.

On Time Typing maintains confidentiality in regard to other people’s private information. We are also legally required to maintain confidentiality because we have opted in (voluntarily) to be covered by Australia’s Privacy Laws. For more information see: Blog: Confidentiality and Australia’s Privacy Act.

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