Supervision Question – I have been asked to write a report to my clients employer saying they are psychologically fit for work.  Is it ok to do it ?

This is a really common dilemma for psychologists.  Whether it is insurance companies, schools, centrelink, or a host of other agencies, psychologists are increasingly being asked to provide information about their clients.

These requests obviously have privacy implications.  It is clearly not ok to divulge information about our clients without their consent.  But what about the situation where a client gives permission for us to write one of these reports ?

Thankfully the APS Code of Ethics is actually quite helpful here.

The code defines a client in the following way …

“Client means a party or parties to a psychological service involving teaching, supervision, research, or professional practice in psychology. Clients may be individuals, couples, dyads, families, groups of people, organisations, communities, facilitators, sponsors, or those commissioning or paying for the professional activity.”

Effectively this means that in a request such as this the body requesting the report becomes a client.

The code of ethics is also quite helpful in telling us that we should avoid having multiple clients whenever possible.  This means that these requests should be avoided.

But Why ?

Another key principle of our code of ethics is that we always act in the best interests of our clients.  When we have two inter-related clients this can be impossible.

It may be in the best interests of the employer to know that the employee has a drug problem.  However, the consequences of this disclosure may not be in the best interests of the employee.  As a psychologist who knows this information it is impossible to act in the best interests of both parties.

It is possible for a psychologist to conduct assessment and give opinion.  but it is generally not possible to do that whilst also providing treatment (this also applies to former clients). If a third party genuinely wants information regarding the psychological state of a particular individual they should engage the services of an independent psychologist.  By doing so, the psychologist now has a client relationship with that organisation and is obliged to conduct the assessment accordingly.

When we receive these requests, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out how to say no.  But remember that assessments and reports are continually the biggest single area of ethical complaint against psychologists.  Becoming aware of how the code of ethics applies to this situation makes it far easier to navigate.

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