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The Right Side of Ethics: Professional Will Planning For Mental Health Professionals

Psychologists, counselors, and mental health therapists are all professionals who are bound to a strict set of ethical laws and rules which guide their actions in a professional capacity.

Frequently ethical obligations or laws are inadvertently broken - often by well meaning, and highly competent professionals.

Consider the following scenario:

Sarah, an LMHC, is badly injured in a car accident on her way to the office. She needs to go into surgery for a fractured leg. Sarah calls her spouse, Rachel, and asks her to contact Sarah's clients who are scheduled for the remainder of the week. Sarah needs her clients to know what has happened, and she needs her client appointments to be rescheduled for a later date.

If Rachel does as she is asked, Sarah has broken client confidentiality rules. Even though Sarah made her request because of concerns for the well-being of her clients, she has still violated confidentiality.

A way to avoid a potential ethical pitfall like this, is with a Professional Will.

All mental health professionals should have a Professional Will in place.

A Professional Will, is a document, or set of documents, that lays out who can contact clients, view privileged client information, and access important practice information, if a clinician is incapacitated, or passes away. A Professional Will is not the same as a Last Will and Testament.

This document, or set of documents, names an individual with the same professional title as the clinician. This person is your "back-up." Along with a Professional Will, your client agreements should be updated to reflect that you have named another clinician to contact and access client information in the event of your incapacity or death. This keeps your clients fully informed of who may access their confidential information.

As clinicians know so well, the bond of trust between a mental health professional and their client is so important, that if it is broken, or damaged, a clinician will often be unable to help their client in a professional capacity.

Preserve that bond of trust, and maintain your legal and ethical duties by having a confidentiality plan in place.

Liska Law provides personal and professional planning, as well as legal consulting for clinicians in the State of Oregon. Contact us today at (564) 208-7952 to schedule a FREE 15-minute phone consultation with an attorney.

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