WINGING IT...WITH THE TRUTH
Today is October 25th, 2012. I am walking on bright yellow leaves covering the sidewalk that leads to the family court room, confidence carried in my well-prepared notes. When I am asked if I'll tell the whole truth, I reply to the judge, "For sure!" He smiles as do I. (It is the first time in my experience that a bible did not appear.) I am a psychotherapist testifying on behalf of a father of two who has had sole custody since 2008. His lawyer had emailed me questions he would ask and I mostly read my answers in order to cite the time frames and dates correctly while I hear my heart noticeably speed up. It is not often that I testify in court. When I add that I wish the mother had continued in therapy with me, her lawyer objected to me adding anything to the immediate question. I am stunned. I am trying to portray a positive frame to the courtroom's adversarial picture. After reading my answer to the next question, the mother's lawyer objects again, saying that I should not be reading my answers, but answering spontaneously, maybe refer to my notes. And adds that he should have a copy of my prepared answers. And, copies of my psychotherapy notes of the father. (I had already given up the notes of the children because the mother had been my client briefly.) Confidentiality by a psychotherapist is ethically and legally a must in order for any client to trust you. There are clear limits as to when psychotherapy notes can be released - such as when a client gives written permission. Even then, I must evaluate the risk of breaching confidentiality. I had been very cooperative in sending reports and therapy updates. Why were incomplete sentences and easily misinterpreted fragments needed? (I write detailed notes during sessions when most therapists write summaries.) I turned to the judge and said, "I can't ethically give up the psychotherapy notes; it is my professional responsibility." The judge's voice became noticeably irritated and replies that it is a court order, to which I add that my profession 'orders' me not to accept. ( I had been arrested in the summer in a nearby county for the same reason, and won a compromise where only the judge saw the notes and not the law guardian.) The judge angrily cuts me off and says he will not argue with me. We go to recess. Not a playful one. I confer with my client and his lawyer about my conviction to not give up the psychotherapy notes, when I had provided therapy updates to both the mother and the father and their lawyers for the past few months. And, cited Jaffee vs. Redmond in my defense. The lawyer of my client slowly changed his mind and suggested that my testimony be stricken from the record so that my psychotherapy notes would not be required. After he conferred with the judge and the mother's lawyer; we agreed. My heart felt pure as the sunshine that followed me out of the courthouse in Ithaca, New York. I regained my confidence in my confidentiality ethic; glad my words were heard in the courtroom, knowing that was all that mattered. I felt as if I had wings.