I am a schoolteacher. A teenager told me about her thoughts of suicide. To offer her hope, I told her that I had contemplated suicide decades ago and survived with the support of friends and doctors. She told her therapist about this — fine with me — who told our school social worker, who criticized my conduct to our principal, perhaps endangering my job. I’m not the therapist’s patient, but was it ethical of her to discuss me?
There is plenty of blame to go around: Everyone acted imperfectly.
Although the therapist had no professional duty to you — as you note, you are not her patient — she erred by ordinary civilian standards when she chatted about you to the school social worker, passing along secondhand information that could be damaging.
(Of course, "therapist" is an elastic designation. Some are highly trained practitioners bound by a professional code of conduct. Others are my imaginary Uncle Milt, who has no training whatever but who does have a nice couch in the garage. He is bound only by my equally imaginary Aunt Selma.)
The therapist also ill-served her patient by talking about her out of school (albeit in school). Howard Owens, a forensic psychiatrist, explains: "It is a clinical error to report on the teacher because of the likely impact of doing so on the student and on the therapeutic relationship. How is the teenager likely to react when she finds out that she has gotten her teacher in trouble? Depressed people don't usually profit from being made to feel more guilty."
The social worker transgressed by running to the principal with this thirdhand story. The principal can be faulted if she allows this information to influence professional decisions about you. Even the student can be gently faulted for repeating your story without consent, although in her defense, she should have been able to rely on her therapist's discretion.
You, too, could be chided, at least for your naivete. You should have anticipated that a young person might repeat such an emotionally fraught story about a teacher. Also questionable was your attempt to engage in a quasi-therapeutic relationship with a student in so fragile an emotional state.
The mitigating factor here: Everyone seems to have had benign motives. The adults were concerned with the student's well-being, and the student herself meant no harm.
April 1st, 2007 1:17pm
as a school teacher you know you are bound by law to report such contact to authorities.
OR... maybe you are not who you say you are?
As if a school teacher reads CoT.
"as a school teacher you know you are bound by law to report such contact to authorities. "
really? what law?
Thanks, I'm glad to know that. I was hoping to talk to one of my teachers at school about these really dark thoughts I have been having, but now that I know that she is required to report my thoughts to the authorities, I'll just pass.