Becoming a counselor is an admirable decision as you look to help improve people's lives; however, it is important to take note of legal issues in the counseling profession to ensure that you do not need to spend a tremendous amount of time and money in court. Legal issues can also result in you no longer being able to have a viable counseling career.
This is perhaps the most known and is definitely one of the most important legal requirements that needs to be followed. You can be sued if you disclose confidential information to a third party. Note that this is not always because you intentionally or accidentally told somebody else about one of your sessions. Simply having your notes more accessible to others than should be the case could be enough for a judge to side with your client in a lawsuit.
Child Abuse Reporting
This is one exception to the confidentiality issue in many states as you will usually be required to report to authorities whenever you become aware of instances of child abuse or likely child abuse occurrences. For example, a child or their parents or guardians can sue you for failing to report child abuse and causing that abuse to be aggravated. Once again, this depends on the laws in your state, and note that these types of laws can change fairly regularly, so make sure that you read and make accessible updated copies at least once a year.
Like child abuse reporting, some states require that therapists contact the necessary authorities in an effort to ensure that these individuals do not harm or kill themselves. However, this is not always necessary and what needs to occur to trigger this reporting requirement varies quite a bit from state to state, so make sure to thoroughly research what the regulations are in your location. Failure to do so can result in a lawsuit. Of course, this is very much a grey area in some locations as you also want to respect your patient's privacy in addition to taking legal issues seriously.
Letting the Patient Know About These Notification Requirements
Just as you are sometimes required to notify authorities or other individuals if child abuse, suicide or something similar has occurred or may occur, your local laws may also require you to let your patients know of this requirement, the limits to your confidentiality of what is being said in your sessions, once you start treatment. Once again, research what your local laws are before proceeding so that this also does not become a legal issue for you.
Seduction and Sexual Assault
Oftentimes, a patient will experience transference – transferring their emotions for others who were or are close in their lives – to their therapists. If this leads to a sexual attraction, a legal and ethical line can be crossed, which needs to be avoided. Serious repercussions can occur, including emotional harm experienced by the patient and perhaps even the therapist, the loss of license and even incarceration. Note that transference is not necessary as sometimes simply showing an interest in the patient can cause an attraction, at least in one direction, to develop.
Unfortunately, you do have to cross a lot of t's and dot a lot of i's in order to ensure that you are meeting all legal and ethical guidelines before you can focus on what got you into this position in the first place, helping people. But legal issues in the counseling profession must be nipped in the bud whenever possible.