The Elephant in the Room: Dealing with an Unprosecuted Criminal Disclosure in a Therapeutic Setting

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Aims: The present study sought to explore the ethical and legal challenges faced by therapists following a client's disclosure of an unprosecuted criminal offence during therapy.
Methods: A questionnaire was developed to collect demographic information, to investigate therapists' levels of legal knowledge; and to identify reporting behavior following a client's disclosure of a past crime through eight
hypothetical scenarios. Four semi-structured interviews were carried out using the hypothetical scenarios to explore the decision making process in further depth.
Results: The findings highlighted that just over half the respondents felt they were not adequately informed about their legal obligations to report disclosures. Non-reporting emerged as a significant issue in the hypothetical
scenarios. Further analysis highlighted that reporters tended to have greater legal knowledge and increased training levels but had higher levels of discomfort in making the decision to report.
Discussion: The findings suggested that respondents are aware of their legal duty to report but in practice do not follow through on this duty. A significant number of social, therapeutic and personal factors impacted on the decision
making process such as the crime; the impact on therapy; the client's disclosure; legal obligation; and personal characteristics of the therapist.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
JournalJournal of Forensic Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Nov 2016


  • Ethical dilemma
  • Unprosecuted criminal offence
  • Mandatory reporting
  • Disclosures


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