Answered by Sidi Wasim Shiliwala

Question: As a psychologist I am privy to a lot of personal and private information in sessions with clients, this occasionally places me in situations where people (i.e. who are not my clients but know my profession) open up to me and seek advice.

1) Is it permissible for me to find out about my client’s private/intimate life if it will assist in the therapy?

2) If someone who is not my client has called for general advice on a situation which involves sharing private information about a specific person/place, is this classified as a form of backbiting?

Answer: Walaikum As-salaam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu,

May Allah reward you for your service in counseling others!

Discussing Private Matters for the Sake of Therapy

1. Is it permissible for me to find out about my client’s private/intimate life if it will assist in the therapy?

Although it is usually discouraged to discuss the details of one’s personal life, this discouragement is lifted when such discussion has a clear benefit. This falls under the general rules of speaking outlined by the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he said: “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak [that which is] good or be silent” [Sahih Bukhari].

Since disclosing intimate details is an important part of therapy, then the benefit from such disclosure makes it permissible and in fact encouraged if it can improve the patient’s health. Of course, this permissibility is limited to that which is beneficial: you should only pry into your patient’s private life to the extent needed for the therapy.

Is Disclosing Private Information About Others a Form of Backbiting?

2) If someone who is not my client has called for general advice on a situation which involves sharing private information about a specific person/place, is this classified as a form of backbiting?

Backbiting, as defined by the Prophet (peace be upon him), is to “say something about your brother [or sister] that he [or she] would dislike” [Sahih Muslim]. Muslim scholars ruled backbiting to be haraam except when there is a clear benefit sanctioned by the shari`ah, such as when one is demanding their rights in court, consulting others about a potential spouse or business partner, and similar situations [Nahlawi, Durar al-Mubaha].

Therefore, the sharing of private information depends on this rule of necessity and benefit. You must ask yourself: Is there a clear and beneficial purpose in disclosing this information? Is there any benefit in speaking about this specific person and what he/she did, or can I keep the person anonymous and speak in generalities?

Use your own professional judgment in deciding what is necessary and what is not, keeping in mind that the health of your patients is of utmost importance.

The Need to Speak About Personal Issues

As a closing remark, I want to emphasize the need for Muslims to have an outlet to discuss their personal issues. Mental and emotional health are often neglected in our communities, thereby causing great harm to many individuals and their families.

Alarmingly, many Muslims think that Islam sanctions such neglect. Rather, what Islam teaches us is that all problems, even those of an intimate and personal nature, can and should be discussed, but in an appropriate setting. The Prophet (peace be upon him) famously praised the women of the Ansar for asking him detailed personal questions and not letting shyness prevent them from learning the details of their religion [Sahih Bukhari].

It is therefore important for professionals like yourself to offer your invaluable services to your local Muslim community. Speaking about private matters might not be appropriate in a public setting, but it is absolutely necessary when counsel is sought. May Allah reward you for your efforts!

Jazakum Allahu Khairan,
-Wasim

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)