The decision to start therapy is by no means an easy one. Sometimes people think about going to therapy for weeks, months, or even years before taking the plunge. Talking to a complete stranger about your life can be intimidating. What if the therapist is mean? What if at the end of the first session, they spring a $300 bill on you?
It may be comforting for you to know that as a therapy client, you have rights. You have rights, whether you’re paying out of pocket or your insurance completely covers therapy. You have rights if you’re young, old, black, brown, white, gay, straight, bisexual, queer, transgender, have an eighth grade or a college education.
Your rights may vary somewhat depending on the specifics of your treatment. For example, although you can get up and leave anytime during a therapy session, you would not be able to leave an inpatient psychiatric unit without a doctor’s permission.
Here are some client rights that apply in all types of mental health treatment:
- Right to know you have a qualified therapist – You have the right to ask a therapist about their credentials, specialties, and training.
- Right to self-determination – You have the right to stop going to therapy at any time. You also have the right to be a part of creating your goals for therapy. You decide how, when, where, and for how long you receive services.
- Right to privacy – All of your health information is confidential. Mental health professionals are not allowed to release information about your treatment to others without your consent. So for example, if a family member calls your therapist and starts asking questions, that therapist cannot even confirm that you are their client (unless, of course, they already have your permission to do so).
- Right to respect and dignity – You have the right to be safe and respected at all times during mental health treatment. No therapist can abuse you in any way; verbally, emotionally, mentally, physically or sexually. Therapists are not allowed to discriminate against you based on your age, race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, or any other part of your identity. If you are being abused or discriminated against by your therapist, you can make a report to the Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-368-1463. (If you live outside of Illinois, this number will be different for you).
- Right to fair payment – You have the right to reasonable fees that you are able to pay. Therapists must work with you to make sure this happens. Therapists must also be clear about how much you will pay, and the possible consequences of failing to pay for services.
- Right to access your records – You have the right to have a copy of your records, including your mental health assessment, care plan, progress notes, etc.
You can read more about your rights at psychcentral.com, or myshrink.com. For more detailed information about ethical guidelines, you can read the Code of Ethics for social workers (many of whom, like me, are also therapists) here.
The purpose of therapy is to help you. Therapists may have credentials and knowledge, but only you are the expert on yourself and what you need. So don’t hesitate to ask questions, and let the therapist know if anything they say or do makes you uncomfortable. Being assertive will help you get the best possible experience from therapy.
*If you are an immediate risk to yourself or someone else, therapists may have to break confidentiality or set your wishes aside for your safety and/or the safety of others. As much as possible, therapists should tell you clearly when, why, and how they are breaking typical protocol.