As a psychologist, counselor or psychiatrist, you have a legal and ethical obligation to disclose information about a patient under certain circumstances. If you receive a court order, or a client tells you about a threat of harm to self or others, you must report this to the appropriate authorities.
If you fail to comply with the limits of confidentiality, you risk the loss of your professional license as well as other legal consequences. However, when you observe limits of confidentiality, your patients or clients assume the risk of potential exposure of sensitive information. The patient has a right to know about this risk. It may be difficult to discuss limits of confidentiality with your patients, but failure to do so can be of detriment to both you and them.
1. Be proactive
You should tell your clients about the limits of confidentiality during the initial intake. It should be one of the first things you discuss before the patient has the opportunity to tell you anything of a deeply personal nature.
2. Plan ahead of time
The explanation of limits of confidentiality is not a conversation that you should improvise. You should give careful consideration beforehand to foreseeable events in which you might have to disclose confidential information and decide exactly what you will do in each scenario. You should then plan what you intend to say to the patient to explain confidentiality limits and how they might apply to the client’s situation.
3. Be specific
Patients should know exactly when and how confidentiality limits may apply. Your explanation should be as detailed as possible.
4. Make it understandable
While your explanation should be specific and detailed, it should also use language that the patient can comprehend easily.