What Are The Exceptions To Confidentiality?

Revised: January 01, 2009

By:  Mentor Research Institute

Confidentiality is not absolute and there are circumstances in which information can or must be released.  These exceptions  will vary depending on the type of professional you work with. In generally, your communication is not confidential if your therapist tells you that your communication is not privileged or confidential. You should not assume that your communication is confidential and you should ask.

Under certain circumstances certain information may or must be revealed or released to others. The following are examples of exceptions that may apply:

  • If your therapist or counselor is subpoenaed and ordered to testify in a court of law and their objections are overruled. This happens in very few instances and typically occurs in legal proceedings involving child custody, law suits in which services you received are considered to be evidence in a court of law, or charges involving certain types of criminal behavior.

  • If you request that your counselor or therapist communicate with someone, you will normally be asked to sign a "Release of Information" and to specify what can be communicated and for how long the release will remain in effect.

  • If your therapist believes that abuse or harm has been done or may be done to a child or to an elderly person. This would involve situations where they find it is necessary to report this information to proper authorities.  For more information see the content on Abuse.

  • If your therapist or counselor believe that you are dangerous to yourself, or another person, and it is necessary to take steps  to protect you or the safety of others.  They can only release that information that is necessary to protect or insure the health and safety of you or a person at risk.

  • If during a medical emergency your therapist or counselor needs to reveal information that is necessary to protect or insure your health and safety.   They can only release that information necessary to protect or insure you health and safety.

  • If your therapist or counselor must take action to collect a debt incurred for services, your name and the amount of your debt may be revealed to a collection agent.

  • If you are told that you are not a client or patient or if the professional tells you that your communication if not confidential.

  • If you are a minor, or a minor that is not emancipated, a therapist or counselor may be required to advise or involve your parents or guardian in your treatment.  There are circumstance in which a psychotherapist is not required to notify the parents of a minor.

If you have any questions, concerns, or confusion regarding your rights to confidentiality, or any potential exception, you should discuss this with your counselor or therapist.  Your counselor or psychotherapist should provide you with a written statement regarding their policy and the law pertaining to their profession.  Licensed Counselors and Social Workers are required by state law to provide a comprehensive statement of their services and policies.