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Professional counselors, spurred by the courts, have a dual ethical and legal responsibility to protect others from potentially dangerous clients, to protect clients from being harmed by others, and to protect clients from themselves. The delicate balance between confidentiality and the duty to warn and protect others must be handled on a case-by-case basis. The majority of individual state laws require counselors to breach confidentiality in order to warn and protect someone who is in danger. All states and U.S. jurisdictions now have mandatory reporting statutes for suspected physical, sexual, or emotional child abuse or neglect. There are also several states with mandatory reporting statutes for elder abuse or abuse of other persons presumed to have limited ability to care for themselves.


Reprinted from The American Counseling Association’s Encyclopedia of Counseling, February 2009, pp. 163-165. © 2009 The American Counseling Association. Reprinted with permission. No further reproduction authorized without written permission from the American Counseling Association.