Myths

Myth #1 - Departments/agencies have the right to obtain information about officers that seek help from licensed mental health professionals.

False! Licensed mental health professionals are legally and ethically bound to protect client privacy. If you reach out to a therapist on your own - in other words, if you were not ordered to see a therapist by a court or your department - then the employer doesn't even have the right to know that you are attending therapy. Nothing that is said in counseling can be released to anyone without the officer's written consent. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the confidential relationship between a psychotherapist and an officer is privileged. To learn more, click here

The only times confidentiality can be broken are for the reasons below, which apply to every client/patient.

•A suspected incident of child abuse or neglect must be reported.
•A threat of imminent physical harm by a patient must be reported to law enforcement and to the person(s) threatened.
•A mental health evaluation must be initiated for a patient who is imminently dangerous to self or to others, or who is gravely disabled, as a result of a mental disorder.
•A suspected threat to national security must be reported to federal officials.
•Suspected abuse of a senior adult (70 years of age or older), including institutional neglect, physical injury, financial exploitation or unreasonable restraint, must be reported.

Myth #2 - Rights to privacy change if you use your insurance or employee assistance program (EAP).

False! Treatment by a licensed mental health professional that is paid for by your insurance company or your EAP is protected by HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), and the same rules apply.

Patients may choose not to use insurance benefits so that their outpatient treatment remains separate from their medical record.

Myth #3 - There is no reason to see a licensed professional because the rules are exactly the same with a peer support team.

False! Limits to confidentiality vary by department and the standards may be different than those that licensed professionals have. The peer support member must disclose these limitations in the first meeting. In addition to the exceptions to confidentiality listed in Myth #1, most peer support teams are also expected to report crimes and sometimes policy violations. Outside of those limitations, conversations between a peer support member and an officer are confidential.

Myth #4 - The department or agency automatically has a right to know if an officer receives a mental health diagnosis or takes medication.

False! HIPAA protects both diagnosis and medication or other treatment methods because they are part of the clinical record and therefore confidential. If an officer would like the department to know this information, he or she must sign a release of information. Otherwise, the professional treatment provider cannot disclose anything related to the client/patient to the department or anyone else.

Myth #5 - If an officer seeks help from a hospital or a rehabilitation facility voluntarily, the department automatically has the right to this information.

False! The department can only access information that an officer has granted it permission to have, as is the case with any other medical condition.

Myth #6 - If an officer is placed on an M-1 hold, he or she automatically loses their right to carry and possess a firearm.

False! When there is a court-approved certification for an involuntary mental health hold, restrictions to weapons are limited while the certification is active. If the provider that requested the certification acknowledges that the client/patient is no longer a danger to themselves or anyone else, then the restriction can and should be released as well.

Myth #7 - If you seek the support of a licensed mental health professional, that automatically means that the officer is not fit for duty.

False! Seeking counseling voluntarily would NEVER automatically mean that an officer is unfit for duty.

Myth #8 - Counseling is the same as a fit-for-duty evaluation.

False! The most important question to ask is "Who is the client?" If you are seeking support on his or her own, all of the rights stated above belong to the officer. If the department is the client, as is the case in a pre-employment evaluation or a fitness-for-duty evaluation, then the information most often belongs to the department.