In California evidence laws, psychotherapist and patient relationships are given a level of confidentiality, as there are two forms of evidentiary privilege to protect communications in said relationships. Many individuals seek the help of psychotherapists and during their sessions, they may disclose very confidential information. While other duties may apply for psychotherapists because of their licenses, the law allows for a psychotherapist to not provide any communication between them and the person in the trial. Furthermore, the patient in the jury trial can also not disclose any information from the relationship, as well as preventing the psychotherapist from disclosing as well.
Important to note is that the psychotherapist can choose to claim the privilege even if the patient did not tell them to do so. For example, if a patient tells their psychiatrist about problems in their marriage, and if the patient’s marriage is relevant in the jury trial, the psychiatrist can still choose to not disclose confidential information. However, there are limitations to this privilege. If the psychotherapist believes that the patient can prove to be dangerous to themselves or others, because of their mental health, the psychotherapist can disclose the information. Furthermore, in some cases, the defendant can plead not guilty by reason of insanity, which then requires the disclosure of communication from the psychotherapist.
Moreover, this privilege only applies to psychotherapists, as recognized by the law. This definition includes licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, licensed clinical counselors, and more. A psychotherapist cannot just be any person the defendant has spoken to about their mental health – the psychotherapist must meet the legal definition. While earlier this article mentioned some of the legal limitations of the privilege, the patient can also choose to waive the privilege by disclosing the communication.