Confidentiality is of utmost importance in a therapist and client relationship. The sacred relationship formed between the therapist and client forms the bedrock of psychotherapy; the trust that all the client’s and therapist’s secrets will be kept within our 4 walls. Without this trust, no real work can be done.
However, there are cases when we have to breach this sacred relationship to follow what the law mandates us to do.
The few exceptions are:
- Impending harm to the client, like suicide
- Impending harm to other people, like the client having intention to harm another person
In 1976 in America, there was a man named Prosenjit Poddar who met a girl, Tatiana Tarasoff, in university and had a brief romantic relationship with her. The man interpreted this relationship as serious but the same view was not shared by the girl.
He felt rejected and went into deep depression. At that point in time, he was seeing a therapist and disclosed his intention to harm her during the course of therapy.
Eventually, he managed to brutally murder the girl after a period of detailed planning. During the time prior to the murder, he had stopped seeing the therapist and was probably well enough to escape detection by people around him.
The judge deemed that the health professionals did not carry out their due diligence in warning the potential victim of the death threats.
Ever since then, mental health professionals have become more vigilant in trying to pick up risk factors for behaviour that may cause harm to the patient and/or to others.