Protecting your privacy: understanding confidentiality

Psychotherapy is most effective when you can be open and honest. If you’ve never seen a psychologist before, you may have some questions about privacy.

If you have specific concerns about confidentiality or what information a psychologist is legally required to disclose, discuss it with your psychologist. He or she will be happy to help you understand your rights.

Reference: APA (American Psychologists Association), entity responsible for all the ethical principles of the worldwide psychotherapeutic practice.


Will the things I discuss in therapy be kept private?

Confidentiality is a respected part of psychology’s code of ethics. Psychologists understand that for people to feel comfortable talking about private and revealing information, they need a safe place to talk about anything they’d like, without fear of that information leaving the room. They take your privacy very seriously.


When can a psychologist share my private information without my consent?

In some specific situations, psychologists can share information without the client’s written consent. Common exceptions are:

  • Psychologists may disclose private information without consent in order to protect the patient or the public from serious harm — if, for example, a client discusses plans to attempt suicide or harm another person.
  • Psychologists are required to report ongoing domestic violence, abuse or neglect of children, the elderly or people with disabilities. (However, if an adult discloses that he or she was abused as a child, the psychologist typically isn’t bound to report that abuse, unless there are other children continuing to be abused.)
  • Psychologists may release information if they receive a court order. That might happen if a person’s mental health came into question during legal proceedings.
  • Your psychologist may ask for your consent to share information, or discuss your care, with your other health care professionals to coordinate your care.


I’m under 18. Will the psychologist tell my parents what we talk about?

In most cases, a parent is involved when a minor receives psychotherapy services.

Psychologists want young people to feel comfortable sharing their feelings, and are careful to respect their privacy. Often, at the first psychotherapy visit, the child, parent and psychologist will sit down together to discuss ground rules for privacy. That way both parents and children know exactly what types of information the psychologist might share with parents, and what he or she will keep private. For example, it is common for parents to agree to be informed only if their minor child is engaged in risky activities.


What information can I share about my psychotherapy treatment?

Privacy is your right as a patient or client. If you choose to tell your friends or family that you’re seeing a psychologist, you are free to do so. How much information you decide to share is up to you. Psychologists are ethically bound to protect your privacy regardless of what information you choose to share with others. For example, psychologists typically won’t connect with clients on social media sites, even if the client initiated the request.

Sometimes, psychologists find it helpful to discuss your concerns or behaviors with other people in your life. A psychologist may want to interview your spouse to better understand what’s going on in your home, for example. If a child is having trouble at school, the psychologist may want to interview the child’s teachers. But whether you involve others is completely up to you. Psychologists can’t contact anyone else without your written consent.