You may or may not feel safe, but….
My office is private, comfortable, and secure.
Talking to me will NOT get you in trouble.
I won’t tell the police what you tell me.
I hope you find the following reassuring. Please ask me any questions you may have. I encourage you to ask other clinicians these questions as well, if you are concerned.
Will anyone else ever know what I say to you?
Yes and no.
I do discuss patients in clinical contexts. I supervise, and I receive supervision. In clinical discussions, when we discuss treatments, we preserve patient anonymity and confidentiality. We never transmit enough information for even a curious listener to Google a patient. I have to talk about my patients, though, to give patients good treatment – and to help other therapists provide good treatment.
I’ve committed a crime, or plan to commit a crime. Are you going to tell the authorities?
I never have disclosed anything a patient told me to the police, to child protective services, or to any other governmental authority. There are circumstances – very limited, described below – in which I might be required to “report” something I was told in a session, but a) I’ve never encountered such a circumstance, b) I don’t anticipate ever encountering such a circumstance, and c) such a circumstance would never come as a surprise to you.
If you murdered someone (or committed any crime) an hour before our session and you told me, I couldn’t tell anyone. Period.
My license prohibits me from reporting knowledge I have of any past, present or future crimes committed by my patients – or anything else I’m told in session.
You said there are circumstances when you might be required to report something. What are those circumstances?
I am required to report knowledge I have of ongoing abuse of a child or disabled adult by a person legally responsible for their care, such as a parent, healthcare professional, or teacher. If you are engaged in ongoing abuse of a person for whom you are legally responsible and you tell me this, I will understand your telling me as, itself, a request that I intervene. I believe strongly that it is important that people be able to seek help, but the law is clear in this particular situation, and I have very little discretion.
I am required to act if I know you plan to kill yourself or another. In those circumstances, I might walk with you to a hospital. I might stay on the phone with you while you or I call 911 or 988. I might call 911 for you. Or, I might contact an individual to warn them of your plan to kill them. In any of these cases, I imagine that I would tell you, that you would know, what I was doing, unless doing so would put you, me, or someone else at risk.
What about testifying in court?
Different clinicians see this question differently. My understanding and view is that I similarly am prohibited from testifying about anything I come to know in session in court proceedings, unless specifically asked to do so by a patient – and even then, it’s unlikely that I would do so.
I’m involved in judicial/criminal proceedings. Would you write a letter to my lawyer, or to prosecutors or the judge, if I ask?
Any letter I write will concern only my background, training, and experience, and the duration (start, end, and frequency) of our work together. Under no circumstances will I write or say anything to anyone about what we talk about, or about either your past or your future.