Professional Practice Note from Thomas A. Pearson, Esq.

Timing may not be everything, but it is critical if consultation about practice issues is going to be most effective.

The practice of psychology is becoming more complex and challenging every day. As legal and ethical standards expand and evolve, psychologists and other health professionals increasingly face issues that require consultation with peers and others. Participating in a regularly-scheduled peer consultation group and seeking timely ethical and legal advice when necessary are key factors in avoiding or at least minimizing practice errors.

Even the best-trained practitioners will encounter ethical and legal issues that they have not previously encountered in their training or practice. As helpful as education, supervision and regular peer consultation are, they are often not enough to enable the practitioner to make appropriate decisions about unfamiliar practice issues. When those issues arise, the best time to seek ethical and legal advice is before making decisions that cannot be “undone” without considerable effort and expense, assuming they can be undone at all. Even if there is no clear answer to the issue, the fact that the practitioner sought consultation ahead of time can signify that she or he attempted to meet the professional standard of care in the circumstances.

The timing of consultation is especially important in situations involving disclosure of confidential client information, requests and subpoenas for client records, boundaries and multiple relationships, and mandated reporting. Obviously, too, a psychologist should seek legal advice immediately if she or he receives notice of legal action (such as a lawsuit) or of an investigation by a licensing board or other governmental entity. Especially if consultation occurs early, a consultant can offer important information about clinical and ethical aspects of the situation. An attorney can provide detailed information about what the law requires and can make recommendations about available legal options. Also, the attorney-client privilege offers broad protection for communications between the attorney and the practitioner.

For those who are concerned about the time and expense of consultation, keep in mind that many issues can be addressed in a relatively short period of time, and timely consultation can prevent much more expensive and time-consuming efforts to correct practice errors after they have been made. Also, as a membership benefit, MPA members can obtain a free legal consultation of up to one hour each year from MPA’s Legal Consultation Service and two additional consultations for an optional, nominal surcharge on their membership fee.

Tom Pearson is an attorney in private practice in the Twin Cities. He serves as the attorney for MPA’s Legal Consultation Services. His contact information is: Thomas A. Pearson, Pearson Quinlivan, PLC, 7900 International Center, Suite 300, Bloomington, Minnesota  55425; Telephone: (651) 245-8074; Email: [email protected]; Facsimile: (651) 846-5836.

Copyright 2015 by Thomas A. Pearson. All rights reserved. Reprinting, reproduction or dissemination by permission only.

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