As current or future clinical psychologists or people just interested in the area. We are all aware that when a client comes to us, whatever they share is protected by confidentiality. Meaning within set limits, we cannot tell other people what the client has informed us about their mental health, their difficulties and their life. However, there are certain times and situations when a court of law might make us break their confidentiality. And when this happens, it raises the question of what is admissible in court?
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Present and Past Mental State:
Whilst I haven’t been following the Amber Herd versus Johnny Depp trial because it seriously doesn’t interest me. I am aware that there has been a lot of therapists and forensic psychologist testifying about the mental health states of both of them. And this is where our first area comes in.
Since in court proceedings, a person’s current and past mental state can be called into question and asked to be examined. This includes, but really isn’t limited to, does the client have any history of mental health conditions or addiction?
As well as all this includes information that was provided to the therapist under continentality.
In addition, in order for a court to properly understand the domestic situation. A marriage counsellor, for example, might be called in to give evidence and explain what both parties (or just one if that’s all they helped) told them about the living situation and the events.
Also the therapist would have to turn over most private communications, diagnoses and other sensitive information to the spouse’s counsel and/ or the court. As well as either party involved in the proceedings may call the therapist to the stand to testify as an expert witness on their client’s or their opponent’s mental and emotional state.
For example, if we look at what’s currently going on in the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trial. Dr Anderson, who served as the couple’s marriage counsellor, gave the court sworn testimony that there was mutual abuse between the couple. As well as Dr Curry testified that Amber Heard was given a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Something that Amber Heard’s psychologist doesn’t agree with and testifies that she suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress
Disorder due to the trauma from Johnny Depp.
However, what we’re interested in is those conversations that the couple probably believed were personal and private are now in the public domain for a lot of people to read. Something that could be very scary for different people for different reasons.
But the problem with this example is that the couple is very popular, famous and very, very high-profiled. So what is admissible in court for normal people?
What is Admissible In Court?
Well, it turns out that the question itself is very flawed because a lot of personal information you would never imagine coming to light because of confidentiality does end up coming out in a court. Regardless of how high-profile you are. Due to it is fairly common for people involved in court proceedings to have a history of mental health challenges, regardless of whether it is both or just one of the parties involved. Or these people have been known to see a therapist or counsellor.
Therefore, because they have a mental health record that needs to be submitted into evidence. As well as it is fairly common to have expert testimony given by mental health professionals.
You never know one of us might be expert witnesses one day!
Furthermore, when it comes to child custody cases, the parents in this situation tend to waive their right to confidentiality. Due to in custody cases the court must determine what is in the best interest of the child, which means the need for transparency is extremely important as the court must understand if one or both of the parents has health or mental health difficulties.
As a result, to better understand the entire situation, a court may order a therapist to turn over their patient’s most private diagnoses, communications and other sensitive information to the court and opposing counsel.
I definitely think that custody battles can be rather heart-breaking, but if you’re familiar with the history of children and the law. Then it is great to know that children are valued are individuals who need to be cared for, considered carefully and protected.
Also on the topic of custody battles, if both parents go under a mental health evaluation, then the therapist will most probably have to turn over all the notes, medical records amongst other things as well.
In some instances, courts have ordered an in-camera review of several years of a person’s mental health records. With this being legal parlance for a process in which a judge privately looks at confidential, private or sensitive information to determine which material is relevant and which may be shared with the opposing counsel.
Personally, I’m quite glad that there is a legal mechanism that helps to protect people with mental health conditions. Because you don’t want every little thing about your history to be turned over to the opposing counsel if it isn’t relevant, so it is important that there is a type of protection to prevent this over-giving if you will.
For example, there was one such case where a mother’s medical records showed how she had been hospitalised 15 times over a space of ten years because of her mental health conditions. Resulting in the court deciding she would be unable to give the child proper and adequate care.
How Do People Prepare For Court?
Of course nothing on this podcast is ever official advice but it’s interesting to look at the types of things people (including us psychologists) do to prepare for these court proceedings. For instance, mental health professionals must prepare themselves for handing over all the notes and files that are relevant to the client in question if they are ordered by the court to do so.
Additionally, if a parent has been asked to provide this information. Then it is imperative that they ensure their legal team is told everything and all the “issues” that will be revealed. So their legal team can prepare themselves, their questions and any way to possibly get the information thrown out.
Mental Health: What is Admissible In Court? Conclusion
However, I want to finish up by saying something that reminds us about the true emotion of this time. Whatever step of the process we are involved in, whether we are the psychologists involved or the actual people in the court proceedings. This is a very stressful time for everyone, so please, look after your mental health during this extremely stressful time.
I really hope you have enjoyed today’s forensic and clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Forensic Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Have a great day!
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