Counseling Professionals to Warn When Patients Threaten Violence

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The Arkansas House of Representatives has passed a bill, HB1746, that will require counseling professionals to call law enforcement if a patient is "likely" to do harm to themselves or others. This Release has been produced by William D. Oldham, LPC, owner of Northwest Counseling, Inc., Bentonville, Ar.

The Arkansas Law would require Counseling Professionals ... to contact law enforcement if a patient is 'likely' to harm others.

Lawmakers are considering duty to warn bill, HB1746, The Arkansas law would require counseling professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians and other mental health providers to contact law enforcement if a patient is "likely" to harm to others.

In the wake of recent violence in Aurora, Colorado and Sandy Hook, New Jersey, dozens of innocent people were killed by apparently mentally ill perpetrators, HB1746 is designed to strengthen the legal ability of Arkansas counseling professionals and other mental health providers to intervene to prevent such crimes.

Current mental health ethical guidelines and laws in many states mandate a duty to warn when a mental health professional has learned of direct threats toward specific persons. These ethical guidelines and laws have risen as a result of the opinion of the California Supreme Court Tarasoff v. Board of Regents of the University of California 17 Cal. 3d 425, 551 P.2d 334, 131 Cal. Rptr. 14 (Cal. 1976).

The Tarasoff Court found that a counselor has a duty to breach counselor / patient confidentiality in order to warn potential victims when a direct threat of harm to the patient or others has been revealed to the counselor.

Client confidentiality is one of the strongest patient protections granted by law. Patients have powerful rights of privilege to protect their medical and mental health records from being viewed by others.

After the 1976 Tarasoff ruling, mental health providers have, under their respective codes of ethics, practiced an exception to the ethical responsibility to protect privacy of patients.

Counseling professionals are required to breach confidentiality in order to protect persons who are under a known threat of harm from a patient in a medical or mental health facility or is an out-patient under the care of a medical or mental health provider.

Counselors who are aware of a known threat by a patient or, according to the current version of HB1746, if the counselor believes the patient is "likely" to perform acts of violence, the counselor must act.

Action taken includes warning specific individuals, if possible, and law enforcement agencies in the county in which the violence may occur.

Paragraph B.2.a. of the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (2005) states: "The general requirement that counselors keep information confidential does not apply when disclosure is required to protect clients or identified others from serious and foreseeable harm."

Many states already have laws that require mental health providers to breach confidentiality in order to warn those who are in harms way.

Arkansas is considering its first such law, HB1746 which has passed the House on March 13, 2013 and is soon to be considered by the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.

Author of HB1746, Representative Ann V. Clemmer (R), said the bill should go before the Senate body as early as next week. Rep. Clemmer is preparing an amendment to the bill for passage in the House during the first week in April. Passage by the Senate is expected before the General Assembly adjourns in April.

William D. Oldham is a 20 year veteran of the counseling profession. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of Northwest Counseling, Inc.

William D. Oldham, LPC
Northwest Counseling, Inc.
2705 SE G Street,
Bentonville, AR 72712.

Northwest Counseling, Inc. was established in 2001 and employs five counseling professionals. NCI receives clients from Bentonville, Rogers, Bella Vista, Centerton and other communities in Northwest Arkansas. NCI serves children from three and up, marriage, individual and families.

Office phone number is 479.855.5704

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Willam D. Oldham, LPC
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