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Does a therapist have to report me if I committed a sex crime?

  • anonymous Asks ...

    If I want to talk to a therapist and one of the things I want to talk about is a sexual crime I did last year that I am very ashamed of. Will the therapist have to report me to the police? Also is it likely that a therapist will be willing to work with me after I confess to what I have done. It is the worst thing a person can do.

  • Art Matthews Says ...
    Art Matthews

    If the crime involves sexual abuse of/contact with a minor, or sexual assault/abuse of an elder or dependent adult; then the counselor would likely have to make a report to a child protective or social services agency for your state. The agency would likely investigate or hand over the investigation to the police.

    Counselors and therapists are considered "mandated reporters" in matters involving the welfare of these populations. We are required by state laws, as well as counseling ethics, to make reports in these situations. Other people who are mandated reporters include teachers, doctors and other healthcare and social services professionals. The exact stipulations and definitions will vary somewhat from state to state, but they are fairly consistent. You may want to consult with a lawyer first to understand more about the legal requirements of mandated reporters in your state or province. You can do so without disclosing the particulars, speaking in hypothetical situations. Check on this site to see if a lawyer in your state would also be considered a mandated reporter:

    If the victim was not a minor, elder or dependent adult, then I am not aware of any requirement of therapists to report past crimes, and actually we could be held liable for breach of confidentiality if we did so. Of course, that would not prevent an overzealous counselor from making a report, but it would give you cause for legal action if the counselor disregarded legal and ethical restraints and made a report in the latter case. The counselor might face loss of license/certification and face fines and judgments if their acts were considered negligent or malpractice.

    In order to reduce the likelihood of rejection and increase the possibility of creating a therapeutic relationship, I would suggest that you seek out someone with a specialization in treating sex offenders or in sex therapy. Facing what you did is going to be hard work and requires that you work with a specialist, in part, for the very reason you mentioned: you need to be able to trust your therapist in order to benefit from therapy. You don't have to like them or they you, but there must be trust, consistency and honesty in the collaboration.

    Your therapist should let you know in your first meeting what the legal limits of confidentiality are and what their responsibilities are for reporting. This is usually referred to as "informed consent". Other areas that therapists are required to report involve cases of potential (present or future) harm to the client (suicidal statements or threats) and others. If a therapist believes a client is an imminent threat to the client himself or another person, the therapist must take steps to protect the client or others from coming to harm. Again, the counselor should be covering this information in their informed consent with a new client. So if you were to state that you planned to commit a sex crime against someone in the future, that and other information could be reported. In another example, a therapist in your state may have to report when a person with certain STDs states they have or intend to have unprotected sex with someone without telling them about their health status.

    I commend you for considering counseling for what I hope is the goal of making a positive change in your life, and I challenge you not to retreat from taking this step because you fear what you might face. If you committed a crime, you know you deserve the consequences. Your therapist's job is not to make you feel better after what you did or avoid prosecution, but to help you navigate the consequences you might face, gain control over yourself and accept responsibility for your actions so it doesn't happen again.

    From a personal perspective, let me say that while the legal and personal consequences of your actions may be very frightening or distasteful, I do not believe you will rest easy avoiding responsibility and denying what you did. The specter of discovery and of eventually getting caught will not allow your anxiety, guilt and shame to ebb. I believe the path to inner peace and self-acceptance is through facing what you have done and taking responsibility.

    I trust you know what to do, and I hope for the sake of all that you listen to that voice of reason. A good, trained specialist will be able to support you through your process.

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