Seeking therapy is incredibly helpful to many people, and you should never pass up the opportunity to get the help you need because you fear that your therapist might be able to report what you say to the police. Instead, it is important to understand your rights, talk to your therapist about what is protected, and consult with an attorney about what disclosures are not protected by psychotherapist-patient privilege. For help understanding your rights, contact the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth’s Ventura criminal defense lawyers today to set up a free legal consultation.
Can My Therapist Report Me if I Admit to Committing a Crime?
The relationship between a therapist and a patient is one that requires confidentiality to work properly. Therapy should be a safe space where you can discuss problems – which may include your mental state and feelings associated with stressful events in your past. In some of these cases, the events you discuss might be related to the commission of a crime or witnessing a crime and failing to report it. The Laws of California and your psychologist’s or psychiatrist’s ethics rules dictate certain situations where they may need to breach confidentiality to disclose information about a crime to the police.
In most cases, discussing a past crime is protected by confidentiality rules. This means that you should be able to discuss a crime you committed with your therapist, and your therapist is sworn to secrecy. However, you may still not want to do this.
Ethics rules and laws protect a therapy patient by preventing a therapist from disclosing this type of information. However, therapists have competing ethics rules. Their personal ethics as a citizen may override if you admit to committing a particularly heinous or notorious crime. If a therapist discloses this information in violation of their therapists’ ethics rules, that information may be out there in the world, and you cannot take it back. Always talk to a criminal defense attorney about any disclosures you make or plan to make to a therapist.
Present or Future Crimes
Although therapists are bound to secrecy about past crimes, there is a fine line as to whether or not therapists must keep present or future crime secret. If you are actively engaged in crime or plan to commit a crime that you disclose to your therapist or counselor, they may need to report that to the police.
The confidentiality between you and your therapist is important, and it can only be overridden to protect someone else’s safety. This means that if you discuss a plan to commit a non-violent crime like theft, your therapist may still be bound to secrecy and may be unable to warn the victims or the police about the crime. However, your therapist may be legally obligated to warn potential victims or the police about violent crimes.
If you admit to your therapist that you want to kill someone or do serious violence to them, your therapist may need to disclose that information. Of course, people say things they don’t mean all the time, and saying something like, “He makes me so angry I could kill him,” might not be enough to trigger disclosure. However, something more concrete, like a plan of how to murder someone and a time and place the crime will take place will ultimately allow the therapist to break confidentiality and report the crime.
In some circumstances, therapists may also need to break confidentiality to report abuse. This is most common in cases where the victim of child abuse or elder abuse discusses the abuse in their therapy session, but it may also apply to the perpetrator of the abuse’s therapy sessions.
Just as a therapist may need to tell police or others about threats or plans to harm others, they may also need to step in and report credible suicide threats. Passing comments about suicidal thoughts or past attempts or plans to commit suicide are common in therapy and do not automatically breach confidentiality, but credible threats of suicide might. Especially if these threats involve harm to others, therapists may be required to disclose the information.
Many of these rules are something you should discuss with your therapist before seeking therapy in the first place. Talk to a lawyer about what the law protects.
Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege in California
The rules discussed so far dictate what your therapist can say to police and others. Laws surrounding psychotherapist-patient privilege are evidentiary rules that further limit what the therapist can be asked to say in court. Even if the therapist must report information to the police, it may still be illegal to use that evidence in court. You have the right to have certain evidence blocked from coming in as testimony against you in court, which may help block criminal charges altogether. Your criminal defense attorney can help you understand what is privileged, as opposed to merely confidential.
Ventura Criminal Defense Attorney Offering Free Consultations
If you or a loved one was seeking therapy and thinks they may have disclosed too much information, talk to an attorney today. Our lawyers can help you understand confidentiality and privilege and tell you what information should be protected. For help with your case, contact the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth’s Ventura criminal defense lawyers today to schedule a free legal consultation. Our number is (805) 585-5056.