What Happens if a Client Confesses to Murder? – Counselor Limits of Confidentiality…


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Date: July 25, 2021

01) LINK


“This video answers the question: If a client confesses a murder to a counselor, does the counselor have to report it? I’ve heard a number of variants of this question as well, so not just murder, but other serious crimes like assault kidnapping, bank robbery, drug trafficking, and other crime. Now this may seem like a rare situation, but we do know that 40% of murders remain unsolved and of course high percentages of other serious crimes are unsolved as well. Many of these offenders do continue to commit crimes, so they could be in prison for something else and not the crime that they’re trying to hide. However, it is still possible and there have been counselors who have been in this situation before.

One key consideration would be the Duty to Warn / Duty to Protect as they may be applicable depending on the circumstances. This is combining the responsibilities of a mental health clinician to treat a client and help that client with this idea of protecting other people or protecting the public from the client. It gets into an area that a lot of counselors feel uncomfortable with and there are actually a lot of reasons to feel uncomfortable with it, because the law the duty to warn law or the duty to protect law is different in each state.
When we talk about the Tarasoff case, we’re really actually talking about two cases: there was a Tarasoff ruling in 1974 that provided this duty to warn (Tarasoff I), and Tarasoff II in 1976, which changed the duty to warn over to a duty to protect. The key finding in these cases was that the protective privilege of therapy ends where public peril begins.

Granich, S. (2012). Duty To Warn, Duty To Protect. New Social Worker, 19(1), 4–7.

Downs, L. (2015). The duty to protect a patient’s right to confidentiality: Tarasoff, HIV, and confusion. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 15(2), 160–170

Goodman, T. A. (1985). From Tarasoff to Hopper: The Evolution of the Therapist’s Duty to Protect Third Parties. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 3(2), 195–225.

Pabian, Y. L., Welfel, E., & Beebe, R. S. (2009). Psychologists’ knowledge of their states’ laws pertaining to Tarasoff-type situations. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40(1), 8–14.

Simone, S., & Fulero, S. M. (2005). Tarasoff and the Duty to Protect. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 11(1/2), 145–168.

Stone, A. A. (1976). The Tarasoff Decisions: Suing Psychotherapists to Safeguard Society. Harvard Law Review, 90(2), 358.

Monahan, J. (1993). Limiting therapist exposure to Tarasoff liability: Guidelines for risk containment. American Psychologist, 48(3), 242–250.

Gutheil, T. G. (2001). Moral justification for Tarasoff-type warnings and breach of confidentiality: A clinician’s perspective. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 19(3), 345–353.

Weinstock, R., Leong, G. B., & Silva, J. A. (2001). Potential erosion of psychotherapist–patient privilege beyond California: dangers of “criminalizing” Tarasoff. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 19(3), 437–449.

Borum, R., & Reddy, M. (2001). Assessing violence risk in Tarasoff situations: a fact-based model of inquiry. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 19(3), 375–385.

Buckner, F., & Firestone, M. (2000). “Where the public peril begins”: 25 years after Tarasoff. Journal of Legal Medicine, 21(2), 187–222.”

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