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Must psychologists share client information when subpoenaed?

It is likely that at some point in your career as a psychologist you will receive a subpoena requesting that you share information about a client with a court of law. If this happens, you may question if the subpoena conflicts with your obligation to uphold patient confidentiality and if you are required to disclose the client’s information.

Although you are required to respond to the subpoena, you are not necessarily required to disclose the requested information. The American Psychological Association recommends that in general, you should maintain confidentiality by asserting the psychologist-patient privilege on behalf of the patient. However, there are several exceptions to this privilege.

There are also some cases when a client may want you to release his or her records, which is one reason why it is a good idea to reach out to the client once you have received a subpoena. If the client is willing to let you release his or her records, this consent should be documented to avoid potential future conflicts.

If the client does not give consent for you to release the records, you may be able to avoid sharing the subpoenaed information through negotiations with the person who requested it or through a motion to quash. Still, there are times when the subpoena will stand.

If this happens, you could file a protective order, which would ask the court to protect you from the potential consequences of disclosing the information. You could also try to limit the production of client records or test data.

If you have received a subpoena, it is understandable that you might be unsure how to navigate your legal and ethical obligations. Because each situation is different, a variety of laws can be at play, but you usually have options to avoid disclosure or minimize disclosure of client information.

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