Does My Therapist Have To Report Illegal Things?

I get asked often…. “If I tell you, do you have to report me?” Or “If I did something illegal, do you have to tell on me?” or “I’m afraid you will hospitalize me”. or “This is confidential, right?”.

Your secret is safe. Mostly.

Your therapist is obligated to share only certain and specific information. This should be discussed with you in your first session and most likely, you will be signing a form acknowledging this. Generally speaking, your therapist is obligated to report 3 things:

  1. If you are going to hurt yourself. Do you have a plan? Do you have serious thoughts about how you would hurt yourself? Do you have a plan of when you will kill yourself? These are hard questions to ask and answer, but sometimes your answer to these will be reportable.
  2. If you say you are going to hurt someone else. Therapists have a “duty to warn”. If you report that you have a plan or intention of hurting an identifiable person, this would be reportable.
  3. If we suspect child abuse (or elder abuse). We are mandated reporters. This is handled differently by different providers. Most therapist I know HATE calling CPS (child protective services) for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, we will include you in that call and would prefer to discuss this with you prior to making that call. Other times, we just support you as you make that call with us present. Yet, other times, that’s just not possible and we will make that call on our own.

So what if I confess to a murder?

Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this. Generally speaking, even if you confess to a murder, your therapist can’t ethically tell on you. There are few and rare exceptions with any general statement. This can vary and is difficult to identify every single exception. I rarely use the words “always” or “never” and prefer the word “generally”. In the majority of cases, your therapist will maintain confidentiality EVEN if you confess to murder.

Cheating on your spouse? That’s a secret

Steal something? That’s a secret

Cheat on your exam? That’s a secret

Fraud? Secret

You get the point.

The general rule of thumb is…”is the client in danger from themselves? Are they an immediate danger to someone else?”

If you still have questions, please ask your therapist.

If you live in NJ, DE or MD and have something weighing on you that you wish to discuss, call me. We can discuss confidentiality a bit more and hopefully, I can ease your mind that what you say (with few exceptions) is confidential and shared without judgement.