Mental Health

What Do I Need to Know About Privacy and Confidentiality?

By Lisa Smusz, MS, LPCC

Having a safe, private space to talk about very personal feelings and problems is one of the main reasons people go to a professional therapist. Mental health professionals are required by laws and their professional codes of ethics to protect your information and maintain confidentiality . However, there are three exceptions that you should know about:

  1. The mental health professional may share information without your consent in order to protect you or someone else from serious harm. For example, if you are threatening your own life or the life of another person.

  2. Mental health professionals must report abuse or neglect . Some examples include: A person neglecting the physical needs of their child, someone taking financial advantage of their elderly parents, or a caregiver who is physically abusing a disabled person they care for. In these cases, the therapist must report this to the appropriate authorities. If you are an adult and tell your therapist that you were abused as a child, the therapist may need to disclose this if the abuser is likely to harm other children. If the person who abused you is no longer able to harm children this may not be necessary.

  3. Your mental health provider may have to release information if your mental health is an issue in a court proceeding, or if they receive a court order to provide records.

There may be other circumstances in which your mental health professional may share information. For example: If you use insurance to pay for your care, some limited information (like diagnosis) may be provided to the insurance company for payment purposes. Or, you may be asked to give your mental health provider permission to talk to another professional (like your primary care doctor) so they can coordinate with one another. If you are under the age of 18 your rights are somewhat different from the laws for adults. Your rights as a parent depend on the age of your child and the circumstances that brought them to therapy.

Your therapist should answer any questions you have about privacy and confidentiality during your first meeting. To learn more about the laws that protect your privacy, check out some of the resources below: