As a psychologist, both federal law and the American Psychological Association’s code of ethics require you to maintain clients’ confidentiality. When patients feel comfortable being completely open and honest, treatment can be much more effective.

However, sometimes your clients may reveal something that seems irresponsible to keep to yourself. Both the law and the APA understand that there are certain circumstances in which maintaining confidentiality would do more harm than good. Therefore, there are limits to confidentiality making it possible, and even obligatory, to disclose client information if doing so would be in the interest of the public or the patient.

Court orders

A client’s mental health state may have a bearing on a criminal investigation. A court can order you to disclose information about a client pursuant to a legal proceeding. Failure to comply may result in a charge of contempt of court.

Abuse or neglect

If a client reports abuse or neglect of a vulnerable individual, you have a responsibility to report it to the appropriate authorities. Vulnerable individuals may include children, people with disabilities or senior citizens.

The threat of serious harm

A client may tell you about a plan to commit an act of violence against another person or an intention to commit suicide. If there is a threat of serious harm to the client or another person, you have an obligation to report it to the person targeted or an entity that can reasonably prevent it, such as law enforcement.

When seeing a new client, you should always inform him or her of the limits of confidentiality upfront in the interests of transparency.