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Psychology, Ethics, and the Law

March 8, 2016

The presentation on psychology, ethics, and the law will focus on the exploration of the numerous events in our clinical practice which can create ethical conundrums, moments requiring a pause to analyze the ethical standard that may apply, as well as the corresponding statue or administrative rule which may also be relevant to an informed outcome. Having practiced law as a trial attorney from 1979 through 2010, I have gained experience in analyzing the purely legal aspect of many of the issues which we confront as psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, and licensed counselors. I have also lived the experience of encountering attorneys, paralegals, judges, and others who populate our civil and criminal justice system.

When one receives a subpoena, a Court Order, a letter from an attorney, how should we react? What are our rights, obligations, duties, and the corresponding pitfalls which arise?

Psychology, ethics and the law all involve the human endeavor of ascertaining what is meaningful, what is right, and what is the best course of action available? They often intermingle in the world of human relations as we seek to find a solution to a problem that is the least harmful option when all factors are considered.  Often, the challenge is being familiar with all the factors, being aware of the complexities of each situation and the competing interests which may be present.

I recall a recent incident involving a request for the records of sessions with several children, in a court-ordered scenario, received from the father who had neither legal nor physical custody. The first reaction may have relied upon the lack of his legal status but a Michigan statute (MCL 722.30) provides that a parent’s rights to medical records are not extinguished premised upon this basis alone. The ultimate determination by that particular practitioner was premised upon her desire to protect the children and their therapeutic relationship pursuant to section 3.04 of the APA Code of Conduct.

The practitioner ultimately relied upon the California decision of In re Daniel C. H. –v- Daniel O. Ho., 220 Cal. App. 3d 814 (1990) which upheld the proposition that a parent was not entitled to compel disclosure of a child’s psychotherapist records or testimony where the disclosure would harm the therapist-patient relationship or have a detrimental effect on the child’s psychological well-being.

I intend to discuss cases such as this and numerous provisions from the APA Code of Professional Responsibility in light of various factual situations, along with the interplay which may arise with Court Rules, statutes, administrative rules in order to provide a broader view of the of how to approach, and resolve the issues which are presented.

Dr. Brennan’s workshop will be held Wednesday, March 16, 2016 from 6:00-9:15 PM at MiSPP.  This workshop has been approved by MCBAP for 3 contact hours related to substance abuse.  This workshop is recommended for health care professionals, particularly psychologists, counselors, social workers, and therapists who seek knowledge about ethics and the law in the practice of psychology.

John Brennan, JD, LP

Dr. John Brennan, JD, LP is a licensed trial attorney with over 35 years of experience, with extensive teaching experience.  He is currently an Associate Faculty member at the Michigan School of Professional Psychology, teaching in Professional Ethics and other clinical topics.  He is also an adjunct faculty member in the graduate counseling program for Sienna Heights University and has also served as an adjunct faculty member at Oakland Community College since 2007.  Dr. Brennan is a practicing clinician at The Relationship Institute in Royal Oak where he specializes in treating couples, as well as individuals struggling in the areas of substance abuse and anger.