The information below is for informational purposes only, and it does not represent or substitute for legal advice.
The privacy of client-psychologist communication is protected by law, and a psychologist can only release information about a client with the client's written permission.
In very rare occasions, situations may occur that may permit and even require the psychologist to disclose a client's identity and other information about the client. For example, a judge may order the release of a psychologist's records or the psychologist's testimony as a fact witness. If a psychologist believes that a child or a vulnerable adult is being abused or seriously neglected, or that a client or another person is at foreseeable risk** of death or serious bodily harm, then the psychologist may have to take protective action and even report this to an appropriate state agency. In Washington State, the psychologist may have to take additional action to protect a third party at risk.
In all cases, a psychologist will first attempt to discuss this with the client and to find a solution that protects the client's confidentiality. Clients are always entitled to receive information about confidentiality and any limits to confidentiality.
** In Washington State, a 2016 court case appeared to set "foreseeable risk" as the criterion for a psychologist to take protective action. In other states, the criterion may be "imminent risk." Protective action sometimes requires the disclosure of otherwise protected information.
Professional ethics is one of the cornerstones of psychology and psychotherapy. The ethics code of the American Psychological Association emphasizes doing well by our clients and prioritizing their rights.
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