Even a good and ethical psychologist can get into professional or legal trouble. Often, it happens when they find themselves in a game where they do not know the rules well.
The court’s procedures can sometimes clash with the ethics of psychologist-client relationships. When they meet, it is easy for even an experienced psychologist to lose track, as discussed in a Continuing Education article from the American Psychological Association.
Getting it in writing and in detail
The APA advises getting a truly clear grasp of what is going on in a legal case. Losing the plot, as the expression goes, is hazardous.
For example, know whether the judge has recommended or ordered a couple to continue therapy and whether the court has specified the therapy’s goal, the article suggests.
Not obeying a court order can mean trouble. But a therapist is generally within their rights to ask for a detailed court order before moving forward.
Staying in your therapeutic lane
Parties to a lawsuit might ask a psychologist almost anything the judge allows. It may be up to the psychologist to stay aware of the limitations of what the psychologist should or can say.
Courts may permit a psychologist to testify about a person’s personality or qualities as a parent.
If the psychologist has seen them only in couples’ therapy, for example, the psychologist may need to be assertive enough to refuse. In couples’ therapy, out-of-character emotions can be the norm and there is rarely much chance to watch a patient interact with their children.
Working and testifying within APA standards
The APA article directs readers back to specific APA Ethics Code standards, and not just as warnings to live up to them.
Invoking professional standards can strengthen a practitioner’s hand in court. Standard 3.05(c), Multiple Relationships, for example, says a psychologist can only testify within the scope of their role in a client’s treatment.
Observing the standards now can also help prevent legal troubles later, as when several standards call for psychologists to inform patients at the outset of the limits of confidentiality.