Before you go into psychotherapy, you should be informed of your rights as a patient ahead of time by the therapist. The therapist should, in addition, give you a printed copy of something that reads similar to the below, so that you can take it home with you. We’ve long had a version of these rights here on our website, but I thought it might be helpful to further describe or explain each right in a little more detail.

Therapists nowadays may also often offer you their guidelines for electronic and/or outside contact, (such as through Facebook, email, telephone, etc). This sets the ground rules for how you may contact the therapist outside of session, in event of an emergency, or in the event that you just want to share something with your therapist (or change your appointment or such).

You should know that these rights are not absolutes, and there may be exceptions based upon what kind of treatment you’re undertaking, under what conditions, and in what country or province you live in (even state laws vary that may alter some of these rights). If you have a specific concern with one of these rights, you should discuss it with your therapist during your next session.

Your Patient Rights in Psychotherapy

Every patient engaging in psychotherapy with a professional has the following rights:

  • You have a right to participate in developing an individual plan of treatment.

    Every client in psychotherapy should have a treatment plan that describes general goals of therapy, and specific objectives the client will work on in order to achieve their goals. Without such a plan, how would you know you’ve made progress?

  • You have a right to receive an explanation of services in accordance with the treatment plan.

    The therapist should describe the process of how they work with clients, in as much detail as you prefer and time allows.

  • You have a right to participate voluntarily in and to consent to treatment.

    You are there voluntarily and should understand and consent to all treatment provided you (unless you have been court-ordered or have other state-imposed restrictions).

  • You have a right to object to, or terminate, treatment.

    Don’t like therapy or a specific type of treatment? You can leave at any time without any kind of repercussions (unless you have been court-ordered to attend therapy).

  • You have a right to have access to one’s records.

    Yes, although many professionals don’t like it, you have a right to review the records they keep on you.

  • You have a right to receive clinically appropriate care and treatment that is suited to their needs and skillfully, safely, and humanely administered with full respect for their dignity and personal integrity.

    Your therapist should be skilled and trained to administer the treatment he or she said they would, and do so in a dignified and humane manner. You should never feel unsafe in your therapist’s presence.

  • You have a right to be treated in a manner which is ethical and free from abuse, discrimination, mistreatment, and/or exploitation.

    Therapists shouldn’t use your story to write a book, a screenplay, a movie, or have you appear on a television show. They shouldn’t attempt to leverage the therapeutic relationship in an inappropriate manner (e.g., sexually or romantically), and they shouldn’t pass judgment upon you based upon your background, race, handicaps, etc.

  • You have a right to be treated by staff who are sensitive to one’s cultural background.

    No matter what your background or culture, you should expect to be treated with respect and dignity, by all staff (including billing staff, receptionists, etc.).

  • You have a right to be afforded privacy.

    Your sessions are confidential and private and will not be overheard or shared with others.

  • You have a right to be free to report grievances regarding services or staff to a supervisor.

    More of an issue if you’re being seen in a clinic or hospital.

  • You have a right to be informed of expected results of all therapies prescribed, including their possible adverse effects (e.g., medications).

    Psychiatrists should go through the list of common adverse and side effects of any medication they prescribe. If a type of psychotherapy treatment also has adverse events, those should be described to you at the onset of treatment.

  • You have a right to request a change in therapist.

    Sometimes it just doesn’t work out with the therapist chosen. That’s nobody’s fault and the therapist should help you find his or her replacement (through a referral, at minimum).

  • You have a right to request that another clinician review the individual treatment plan for a second opinion.

    You are entitled to a second opinion by a professional of your choosing at any time.

  • You have a right to have records protected by confidentiality and not be revealed to anyone without my written authorization.

    You are entitled to confidential treatment by your therapist, meaning that your therapist cannot talk to others (except another professional colleague or supervisor) about your case without your written consent.

    There are a few specific conditions where confidentiality may be broken (different country and state laws will vary):

    • If the therapist has knowledge of child or elder abuse.
    • If the therapist has knowledge of the client’s intent to harm oneself or others.
    • If the therapist receives a court order to the contrary.
    • If the client enters into litigation against the therapist.
    • If the client is a minor, the therapist may discuss aspects of the client’s care with the client’s parents or legal guardians (varies from therapist to therapist).