I see a lot of confusion amongst counselors about our "duty to report". The problem is that our desire to get things right, (and that means to not file an erroneous report), gets in the way of our simple obligation to report. Instead, we put our sheriff's hat on and begin an investigation, opening up a new can of potential problems.
Crossing the Fuzzy Line
The discussions I have with counselors on this topic always make their way to, "where's the line?" between a safe environment to talk (simple discussion) and a legal duty to report (ideation)?
Example: A client voices (suicidal) thoughts during a session. Where's the line between "just talking" and "ideation requiring action"?
I hear this as well:
Example: What about a statute of limitations? How much time has to go by before I am not obligated to report?
Let me be very clear about this: there are no fuzzy lines. The lines are very clear and spelled out for us in the various codes we're required to know. More on that in a minute.
The Issue With Counselor Investigations
The various codes each spell out the specific timeline under which you are obligated to report. Performing your own investigation will disrupt that timeline. There's no way you can document yourself out of the hole you just dug without digging it deeper.
You Just Set Yourself Up
Here's where the problem arises. If the counselor's employer, or the client, or a relative of the client is upset enough about the delay in reporting to file a complaint against you then you now have a real problem. The BHEC investigators will uncover the fact that you did not report in a timely fashion ("timely" meaning according to the relevant code's timeline) and this will subject you to hard and fast repercussions according to your Board's Penalty Matrix.
So how to avoid all this?
Duty to Report-Know Your Codes
First thing to know is that this topic, Confidentiality and Required Reporting, is discussed and summarized in your (LPC) rulebook. Navigate to 681.45 and learn it! LMFT's see 801.48 in your rulebook.
You will also want to study Section 681.42 which relates to Sexual Misconduct and the reporting thereof. LMFT's, see 801.45.
The LPC/LMFT overviews just provided point to the various TX Codes that you are required to know. These codes include but are not limited to:
- Texas Family Code Chapter 261, SubChapter B.
- Texas Human Resources Code Chapter 48, SubChapter B.
- Texas Health and Safety Code Chapter 161, SubChapter L.
- Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, 81.006.
- Texas Occupations Code 109.051.
Each of those Codes address very specific and different scenarios, your reporting obligations, and the relevant reporting timelines to which you need to adhere.
Three things you need to remember, and one suggestion:
1. Investigating is the investigator's role. You're under no obligation to investigate before filing. In fact, please don't!
2. Performing an investigation for any reason may open you up to Board penalties which don't have to happen. Make an informed decision to report or not and document everything!
3. Know your codes. It's required of you in your Board's rulebook so get'r done. Follow the letter of the law and you'll be fine and remember, there are no blurry lines.
Just so you know, our all-day workshop, The Counseling Landscape Part 2 does a deep dive on the major Codes you're required to know. Read more about it and come see us.
Know your codes, know when to report, and sleep better at night. You got this!
Plan Smart. Be Safe. Serve Others.
Kathleen Mills, LPC-S, CEAP
Got An Opinion?
These posts are my beliefs based on my a) 32 years of practice as a mental health provider and b) my own research. Whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to leave your civil, constructive comments below. I try very hard to back up my liberty-based statements with my own experience and/or verifiable facts and I would ask you to do the same. You do not need to be logged in to leave a comment.
The Counseling Landscape Workshop Series Everything we teach is based around The Counseling Landscape. That’s the body of information you need to know in order to run a successful practice, a lot of which is required by BHEC. Completing this series of workshops will put you in the top 5% of all mental health counselors trying to run a practice today and it will put you on a firm, safe foundation. Oh, and each…