The College has recently been informed that at least one registrant has received an offensive and disturbing piece of hate mail. It appears timely to remind registrants that while client welfare is of paramount importance, registrants are also fully entitled to ensure their own safety and welfare. Given that registrants are by nature of their profession often working with individuals who have psychological issues, the possibility exists that a client or other person associated with that client may direct harassing, threatening, or otherwise inappropriate behaviour towards a registrant. Here are some points to consider in the event you are the target of any such behaviour:
- Do you feel that your safety is at risk? If so, you are entitled to contact the police and you should make appropriate arrangements to ensure that you and those associated with you (such as family and colleagues) are safe.
- Is the person who has targeted you identifiable? If so, is it a client or someone linked to a client? If it is a client or client associate, you may need to consider confidentiality issues when making a report. Even identifying a person linked to a client may entail disclosing the identity of the client when making a police report. Code of Conduct Standard 6.7 specifies that registrants may disclose confidential information without client consent if certain conditions are met, including if it “is necessary to protect against a clear and substantial risk of imminent serious harm being inflicted by the client on him- or herself, or on another individual.” Standard 6.8 sets limits on what can be disclosed if a registrant is acting under Standard 6.7.
- If the person targeting you is associated with a client and you have determined you need to report the identity of the person to the police, will this require you to disclose the identity of your client? If so, do you need to discuss with your client the action you are contemplating and try to obtain their consent to proceed? Is the client also potentially at risk? What impact will a discussion of the situation have on your client and your therapeutic relationship? How can you minimize any negative impact? Standards 6.2, 7, and 6.8 set out requirements for consent to disclose and when disclosure may occur without consent. Standards 5.1, 5.26, and 5.33 relate to client welfare and therapeutic relationships, and it may also be helpful to review these requirements as part of determining how best to proceed.
- Would a clinical consultation be valuable in helping you determine whether, and if so, how best, clinically to manage the situation? This step may be useful both in considering issues related to client welfare (Standard 5.1) and to your own safety and welfare.
- Would a peer consultation or professional support be helpful in assisting you to address any impact on yourself of dealing with the behaviour? Has your ability to work with your client been compromised by the behaviour of the client or someone associated with him or her? Standards 3.27, 28, and 3.29 require registrants to monitor and maintain personal wellness as part of maintaining professional competence, and to evaluate the impact of events on one’s ability to provide competent and appropriate services to clients. Standard 3.6 requires registrants to make or recommend a referral when this is in the best interests of the client.
- Do you need to consider terminating with your client? Standard 5.20 identifies conditions under which a registrant may terminate psychological services, including clause (d), which specifies that registrants “may terminate psychological services if threatened or otherwise endangered by the client or another person with whom the client has a relationship.” As per Standard 5.19, the obligation to offer to help a client find alternative services when terminating services is obviated when acting under Standard 5.20(d).
- Do you need to seek legal consultation as part of determining how best to address any reporting or other decisions you are facing? Standard 6.2 anticipates there may be times when a registrant needs to seek legal consultation regarding one’s disclosure rights and obligations.
Potentially helpful links:
A link to the Code of Conduct may be found here.
The College has previously published a Legal Corner in the Chronicle that addresses considerations when a registrant is stalked by a client. A link to the September 2008 Chronicle edition that contains the article may be found here.
The following website may be helpful if you have been subjected to a hate crime: http://hatecrimebc.ca/contact/.