Q: I’ve recently decided that I need to see a therapist in order to deal with some of my personal issues, but i am concerned about the confidentiality between myself, therapists and my parents. I’m wondering if therapists are required to tell your parents about destructive behaviors such as cutting or making yourself throw up, even if you no longer do these things and have no plans to continue. I’m scared for my parents to know about these things, and I don’t think it’s necessary that they do since I no longer do these things. I hope you can answer my question because I’m really worried about this.
A: Unfortunately there isn’t a simple black and white answer to your question. Every therapist is legally bound to uphold the client’s confidentiality but every therapist is an individual and may interpret the law in slightly different ways. You are still legally a minor and in most states parents would have access to your medical records if they asked (I’ve never been asked in 10 years to hand a record over to a parent though). But you are also 17 and say that you are not currently doing these harmful behaviors. My personal approach when I work with teenagers is to say upfront to all involved that you are my client and I will uphold your confidentiality (even from parents) UNLESS you are currently doing things or threatening to do things to harm yourself or someone else. So in your case, I would not have to tell your parents unless you started hurting yourself again. I would suggest just going ahead and finding a therapist you feel comfortable with and asking them their policy on these issues. On the other hand, many times parents are much more supportive than kids think they will be because first and foremost they love you and are concerned about you. You may want to try telling them anyway. I wish you luck.