Can you tell your therapist illegal things?

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In this blog we will answer the question “Can you tell your therapist illegal things?”

We will also discuss issues related to confidentiality and when a therapist is required to report a client. 

Can you tell your therapist illegal things?

Yes, You can tell your therapist illegal things- they are bound to listen to you, be empathetic as they help you process these confessions and help you through the process of coming to terms to what is being shared. 

However, the main issue here is “Can you tell your therapist illegal things without being reported?” In this case, the answer is not as straightforward. 

The response of your therapist differs according to State laws as well as the regulations set by the licensing board that your therapist is bound to. 

Confidentiality is sacred in the profession and anything and everything you say in therapy is protected by law, and a court order is required to allow the therapist to break that confidentiality.

Even when the therapist is bound by court order to break confidentiality, most judges are very reluctant to issue such an order.

However, a therapist is bound by some form of “mandatory reporter” law where if a client makes the therapist aware of a crime that they are involved in, the therapist is more or less required to report this to the authorities. 

Some of these crimes include:

Ongoing or impending abuse of others

Ongoing or impending abuse or neglect of a minor or a vulnerable adult- with disabilities. In such a case, the therapist will be required to report the crime to the authorities. This means that the crime is either happening or the therapist believes it will happen. 

For example, a man confesses to his therapist that he recently beat his child, the therapist may have to report this to the authorities, and the patient’s incriminating statements will be used in court. 

Threat to self or others

A therapist may be required to notify authorities and/or potential victims if clients threaten physical harm to themselves or others- this include suicidal ideation.

While duty-to-warn is not mandatory, a therapist is permitted (but not required) to break confidentiality if he or she believes the client is a threat to other people as well. Therapists will be required to disclose statements when the patient presents a risk of serious harm to others to prevent that harm.

Fraud

Another exception to the therapist-patient relationship and confidentiality in some states involves the patient seeking the therapist’s services in order to commit a crime or form of fraud. 

One such example is pretending to have a certain disorder inorder to access controlled pharmacological medication etc for illegal drug use. 

Drug use

In most cases, therapists are not legally required to report drug use. Crimes that you might report to them such as drug use (illegal drug use) remains strictly confidential and it is unlikely that you will be reported to the authorities when you tell them about your drug use. 

In the case that the therapist is required to report the client for illegal things and possible crimes, this can take various courses of action such as notifying the potential victim, the police, the family, or all parties included. 

For example, if the client tells the therapist that they plan to hurt someone in her family, the therapist will have to notify the family and the police as well. 

If the therapist assesses that the patient is incapable of reason, incapable of taking care of themselves, the therapist might have to report to other authorities for involuntary commitment and hospitalisation as well. 

When the therapist reports to various authorities, they might also have to testify in court when they are called for trial and any information that the therapist has collected in sessions may be used in trial.

When is a therapist required to break confidentiality?

Confidentiality is an important aspect of therapeutic care considering that trust is necessary for clients since most of what is shared is often something they would like to conceal from others or at times, the problem tends to be the parents themselves. 

While a therapist must keep things confidential and it is part of their ethics to maintain confidentiality, there are limits to this confidentiality since therapists are bound by the ethical guidelines of their state licence.

For your own safety, there are some exceptions to the rule when it comes to confidentiality in therapy. Generally, these rules have to do with the well-being of the patient or people in the patient’s life.

For example, therapists are required to report if a patient is a threat to themselves or others. This may mean the patient has threatened suicide, is repeatedly harming themselves, or has threatened to harm another person. In this case, a therapist may recommend hospitalisation so the patient can be monitored. 

Once the patient is deemed stable, the therapist may then work with close friends or family members to develop a support plan for the patient in order to maintain that sense of stability.

Additionally, therapists are also required to report cases of ongoing child abuse or neglect. In these cases, a variety of public servants may be brought into the fold, including law enforcement or child protective services. Again, this is a measure created to ensure the safety of a patient and it should not deter you from being open and honest about your situation with your therapist.

Finally, if a minor is seeking therapy and is engaging in risky behaviour, their parents or guardian may be informed. Different states have different laws regarding minors in therapy, so it can be a good idea for the parent, therapist, and patient to sit down in an early session and establish ground rules.

What this means is that your therapist, if you are a minor, is mandated to disclose information if you are in danger or in harm’s way or if your behaviour is harming others, depending upon the laws of their state.

Your therapist will not tell parents about various situations that you present in sessions unless you are in threat of harm according to ethics and state law. However, you have to understand that all of this is for your own well-being and safety and otherwise they would not normally do this since they want to provide you a safe space to talk as well as they take your privacy very seriously.

There are some Laws that are also in place to protect your privacy such as The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which contains a privacy rule that ensures that an individuals’ medical records and personal health information are protected which also includes information about therapy. 

However, The HIPAA Privacy Rule is a minimum level of protection and some states have additional laws with even stricter laws in place to protect your personal health information. 

Some of what HIPAA covers include:

HIPAA allows your therapist to talk with your family about your mental health treatment in a variety of ways and in some context such as If you want your family to be involved in your treatment, HIPAA allows your therapist to share your information.

When you are connected with a session or are seeing a mental health care professional for prescription medication, HIPAA allows for information to be shared with the family in the case of side effects of the treatment. 

HIPPA also allows for sharing of information when you are incapacitated and If you are unable to make decisions for yourself, either because you are unconscious or deemed not of a sound mind.

At your first visit with your therapist, they should give you enough information about confidentiality and limits of confidentiality as well as information explaining privacy policies and how your personal information will be handled. 

When it comes to discussing confidentiality and privacy with younger children, the therapist along with the child and parents will discuss confidentiality together and also discuss ground rules so that both parties know what type of information will be shared with parents and what will be kept private. 

Conclusion

In this blog we have answered the question “Can you tell your therapist illegal things?”

We have also discussed issues related to confidentiality and when a therapist is required to report a client. 

FAQ related to Can you tell your therapist illegal things?

Do therapists get angry with clients?

Yes. therapists do experience an intense emotion during a client session because they are also human beings. It could be triggered by various issues such as anger triggered by the client who consistently shows up late or a client tends to lie often or fake details often etc. 

While a therapist might get angry with clients, an ethical therapist will not let that affect the sessions and they will be mindful of what they do with these feelings. 

Do therapists cry in therapy?

Yes, therapists do cry in therapy with their clients when they are able to feel and empathise with their clients at a deep level. 

Do therapists have favourite clients?

Yes, Most therapists have favourite clients but they will never admit it to others including their clients. This favouritism can be because the therapist likes their personality, and other factors that the therapist is able to connect with and appreciate it. 

Do therapists worry about their clients?

Yes , therapists do worry about their clients and there is nothing wrong with that, however, therapists don’t operationalize these aspects to help their clients as it could be a breach of boundaries which may do more harm than good.

Do therapists report drug use?

In most cases, therapists are not legally required to report drug use. Crimes that you might report to them such as drug use (illegal drug use) remains strictly confidential and it is unlikely that you will be reported to the authorities when you tell them about your drug use. 

References

How Confidential is Confidentiality? Joshua Tree. https://joshuatreecounseling.us/2021/07/19/what-happens-if-i-tell-my-therapist-i-did-something-illegal/#:~:text=Anything%20and%20 everything%20you%20 say,to%20issue%20such%20an%20order.

If I Tell My Psychologist About a Crime I Committed, Can I Get in Trouble? NOLO. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/if-i-tell-psychologist-crime-i-committed-can-i-trouble.html

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