Will My Therapist Keep My Depression a Secret?
There are two key concepts related to confidential information between a therapist and patient. The first is doctor/patient confidentiality, an ethical standard the medical community practices and that states manage through statutes. The second key concept is the doctor/patient privilege, which maintains a physician’s right to avoid disclosing a patient’s confidential information in court. It is important to note that there are exceptions to these privileges. It is also important to realize that there is no law governing the physician’s privilege, and that laws vary from state to state.
Confidentiality between Doctors and Patients
Confidentiality exists so that patients will feel safe disclosing personal information to their healthcare providers. Confidentiality is an ethical standard the medical community takes very seriously. In some states confidentiality statutes cover relationships between patients and medical professionals, but in other states statutes only cover licensed medical practitioners.
Exceptions to Confidentiality between Doctors and Patients
There are exceptions to doctor/patient confidentiality. In some cases a healthcare provider may be allowed or even compelled by law to disclose a patient’s information. Usually this involves knowledge of child abuse or if the patient may be a threat to herself or others. In cases involving depression, your therapist may invoke this right if he thinks you may be at risk for suicide, but also if he thinks your depression prevents you from adequately caring for yourself.
Another exception to confidentiality involves cases where a patient puts her condition at issue in court. For instance in a personal injury suit someone may claim that depression developed due to the accident, and she may seek a disability claim for psychiatric treatment. In such cases the court assumes the patient has waived the confidentiality of the medical relationship. If the patient does not object to the therapist’s testimony, the physician privilege is considered waived.
A therapist may also disclose psychotherapy records to a court any time a patient makes a claim for emotional distress, whether or not the records in question relate to the claim at hand. A therapist may be compelled to testify in a case if a lawyer introduces the patient’s state of mind into evidence. Finally, while a therapist may claim privilege, she can be forced to disclose records under a court order. While courts are judicious about this and respect confidentiality, final authority does rest with the court.
Insurance providers may receive detailed information regarding your treatment. If the treatment was covered under a large healthcare system such as an HMO or the Veterans Administration, then your records may also be available to any healthcare provider treating you.
Psychologists and therapists must inform patients at their request about limits to confidentiality, so if you have concerns ask your therapist who is privileged to your private medical information.
Help for Depression
Call our 24 hour, toll-free helpline today for immediate help. We can connect you with trustworthy therapists, and we can answer your questions regarding confidentiality. Give us a call and put your worries to rest.