When clients have a history of criminal activity, in many circumstances counselors and therapists are bound to keep that history confidential. A client who reveals to a licensed psychologist that she robbed a liquor store last week, for example, probably has a right to have that information kept confidential unless she injured a child or an elder or otherwise acted in ways that come under the mandated reporting laws. How do you feel about keeping such information confidential?

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To my mind, the confidentiality of the relationship between the therapist and the patient is a fundamental prerequisite to successful treatment and should only be broken in extreme or exceptional circumstances.

If the patient discloses to the therapist details about a crime that he or she has been involved in,...

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To my mind, the confidentiality of the relationship between the therapist and the patient is a fundamental prerequisite to successful treatment and should only be broken in extreme or exceptional circumstances.

If the patient discloses to the therapist details about a crime that he or she has been involved in, such as robbing a liquor store, he or she presumably does so on the understanding that an open and honest relationship will be more conducive to successful treatment. If the patient understood or suspected, prior to seeking treatment from a therapist, that such disclosures would or even might be disclosed, then the patient would be much less likely to seek or cooperate with therapy in the first place.

Assuming the patient has criminal tendencies, successful treatment might be defined, in part, as treatment which helps the patient to understand, guard against, and possibly eradicate those tendencies. In other words, successful treatment in this instance is rehabilitative, which is also what the criminal justice system should be. If the therapist were to disclose to, for example, the police that his or her patent had robbed a liquor store, the consequences for the patient would likely be much less rehabilitative than if he or she had continued to receive treatment from a good therapist. This argument is especially true if we consider that prisons do not effectively rehabilitate a large number of prisoners. Indeed, a report published in 2011 by the Pew Center of the States found that forty-three percent of prisoners reoffended after being released from prison. Other similar reports, linked below, report significantly higher percentages. If the criminal justice system is meant to be rehabilitative, rather than retributive, then it, and society in general, is better served by the aforementioned patient remaining in therapy, rather than being sent to prison.

There are, of course, exceptions, whereby a disclosure from a patient may need to be revealed to the relevant authorities. For example, the patient may reveal that he or she intends to harm another person. The patient may even reveal that they intend to rob a liquor store again and express indifference as to the possibility of harming or even killing people in the process. Or the patient may reveal that he or she has been abused as a child and that the abuser is still in a position to abuse more children. In these exceptional circumstances, the therapist has a responsibility to protect other members of the public from harm, and this responsibility should override the therapist's responsibility to the patient, or at least the therapist's responsibility to the agreement of confidentiality with the patient.

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