As a mental health provider, your license demonstrates that you have the experience and training to help people meet the psychological challenges of living in such a remote location as Alaska. According to the United Health Foundation, there are approximately 520 practicing mental health professionals for every 100,000 people statewide, which is higher than the nationwide figure of 269 per 100,000 people.
You have a duty to maintain the confidentiality of the information your patients tell you. You also have an obligation to observe the limits of confidentiality, disclosing information that could prevent harm to your patients or others. Failure in either regard could mean losing your license.
Decide what you will do
You know what the law says about the limits of confidentiality, and you know what the ethical code of your profession requires of you. It is your responsibility to determine how to apply each when faced with a concrete ethical dilemma in the course of your practice. You need to be able to describe what you will do in this situation to your patients before they begin therapy, so it requires deliberation beforehand so that you know exactly what to say to them.
Be upfront about the limits of confidentiality
When you see a new patient, the first conversation you should have is about the limits of confidentiality and the responsibility you bear to disclose certain information. This allows the patient to decide whether to assume the risks, facilitating informed consent. For your patients’ protection as well as yours, it is essential that you have this conversation and receive informed consent from your patients before they reveal any potentially compromising information.
The American Psychological Association encourages you to “reach toward the ethical ceiling” when it comes to confidentiality. This means exceeding the threshold required of you by a professional code of ethics while remaining in compliance with the law.