Finding a counselor or mental health professional is like dating…you need to find the right fit. One area, that we would not be a good fit, are families who are involved with some sort of court or legal proceeding. We understand that at times, families might reach out to our office to obtain mental health services for the purpose of reporting back to the court or judge. Our therapists want our clients to know that if their family is involved in litigation due to separation or divorce, custody, an accident, workplace legal issues, or other matters then our office is not a good fit.
If this is you, we may not be a good fit for what you might need long term. Our office wants our clients to understand that if their family is involved in a divorce, litigation or other court involvement that the therapist’s role is not to make recommendations to the court concerning divorce, custody, parenting arrangements or other decisions.
We encourage our current clients to reach out to their judge so that the court can appoint other trained professionals who have no prior relationship with the family to conduct an evaluation, investigation, and then again in making recommendations to the court concerning dynamics in the best interest of the parties involved.
Our therapists want their families to know that the therapist’s role is not a forensic investigator nor can they be used to fill that role for courts. The role of a therapist is to support the client, counselors are helpers. When working with children, we explain to them that our role is to help them with problems, behaviors, and feelings, not take sides or make family decisions. The role of any therapist is not to be involved in legal disputes, evaluate parent fitness or determine who a child should live with or other custody decisions. These situations are best handled by other professionals who have a specialty of being trained in those areas of assessment, rather than by the child’s mental health counselor. This will allow confidentiality to remain intact. Furthermore, our therapists want their families to know that having a therapist involved in court proceedings or providing session notes on or off record can harm the professional therapeutic relationship and ability to achieve treatment goals.
A frequently asked question: What happens if court involvement cannot be avoided? While we request that our potential clients not seek out mental health services in order to request that the therapist be involved in the court process. We want our current clients to know that if that happens, we prefer that they request a treatment summary if they need documentation, as requesting a treatment summary does not affect the therapeutic relationship and the office is more than happy to assist in creating this for the client. We however prefer that current clients or their legal counsel not request that we testify or participate in depositions because we do not have that specific training.
When a therapist is involved in legal proceedings, it’s the role of “the other side” to discredit a therapist. Our office has found that courts have brought a therapist’s personal life or history into the courtroom which isn’t appropriate for the client, or the therapeutic relationship. Our therapists want to support their clients, but not feel like they are on trial as well. Providing case summary, allows the clinician to provide the court with a treatment plan and progress towards goals, without adding the emotional toll and therapeutic damage to the therapeutic relationship. Furthermore, we must remember that it’s the role of the lawyers on either side to discredit any witness, showing that they are biased or lack necessary credentials as well as not understanding the harm they do to people in the same way that therapists see. It’s a game, and they want to win. We want to be very clear, we do not want to participate in that game. Going to court isn’t “personal” for lawyers, however, it IS personal for our clients and for our therapists. We take the therapeutic relationship seriously.
If a current client does not respect our request and follows through with a subpoena and our therapists to attend court, clients are responsible for the fees. Our therapists want their clients and families to know that any time set aside in preparation for a subpoenaed court appearance, preparing of testimony or preparing reports for the attorneys/court, travel, time waiting, dispositions, paying therapist’s legal fees, etc will be billed at an hourly rate of $350/hour.
Step By Step Counseling requires a retainer of $3000 to be used as a deposit towards fees for professional time. If time is less than the retainer, the balance will be used as a credit in the office for additional sessions. If time is more than the retainer, the balance will be charged.
Furthermore, the attorney issuing the subpoena must contact the therapist’s office at least 2 weeks in advance of the court date, and request that the therapist block out either: 8:00 am-12 pm and/or 1:30-5 pm. As mentioned above, court appearance or deposition fees are billed at the rate of $350 per hour. If the therapist is subpoenaed without a two-week advanced notice, the attorney issuing the subpoena will also be billed for all appointments that need to be rescheduled as well as any additional attorney fees that the therapist might encounter. The attorney issuing the subpoena will be responsible for the payment of services in advance. If the court case is continued, the therapist’s office is to be contacted within 48 hours in advance or the attorney issuing the subpoena will be charged for the blocked out period they requested due to loss of income, and time spent in preparing for the appearance.
Our therapists prefer to provide a case summary (with appropriate consents being signed) when communication is needed because a case summary does not affect the therapeutic relationship. Case summaries are billed at the regular office rate of 115/hr.
Foster Care: Our therapists are honored to be a member of the foster care team. We are happy to speak with and consult with CASA workers, GALs, and Caseworkers as needed. Additionally, as previously mentioned we are more than willing to provide a treatment summary providing what types of therapy, treatment goals, and progress in treatment. We prefer to be left out of custody or reunification decisions, as well as attending or participating in court or legal proceedings.