By Megan Zerfahs – Graduate Intern
Typically, mental health professionals are not mandated to report past incidents or suspicions of adult violence towards another adult—domestic violence included. However, some states have laws requiring practitioners to take action when the client is an assault (physical or emotional) victim. Mental health employees would be wise to know their federal and state legislation regarding mandatory reporting when debating breaking confidentiality to report partner abuse. According to Illinois Public Law (740 ILCS 110/11), practitioners may—but are not required to—disclose confidential information to protect an adult in danger of serious mental or bodily harm. The action is mandated when clients communicate knowledge of abuse towards persons who are elderly, disabled, or under 18 years of age or if clients disclose intent to harm themselves or others.
Depending on the state, legislation might exist that provides mental health service professionals immunity following a report of violence between adults (as is true for Illinois); the liability of practitioners who choose not to report hinges on the specifics of a case. Still: uncertainty in professional and ethical responsibility arises during an investigation when it relates to what information can be divulged, how the client would be affected by the release of previously confidential discourses, what signatures are necessary to authorize practitioner disclosure, and to whom the materials go. Professionals should thoroughly analyze the licensing board and court authorization forms requisitioning client information to avoid infringement of client rights. Even if mental health practitioners conduct themselves in accordance with every standard, there remains a chance that clients will feel the professional behaved unfavorably and file a lawsuit. Therefore, it is recommended that practitioners consult with their attorneys and other mental health professionals for serious concerns about client confidentiality.
CPH & Associates’ Avoiding Liability Bulletin on spousal abuse & confidentiality can be found at http://www.cphins.com/spousal-abuse-confidentiality/
Illinois laws & legislation can be found here.