Helping families mend and grow is a priority for us at Pike Creek Psychological Center. Sometimes families are going through difficulties and a divorce is in the works or details of child custody are being worked out. When this happens, the therapist is often asked to testify in court.
While this may sound helpful, it rarely is. Our therapists do not practice forensic (suitable for court) psychology or do evaluations for the courts. Sometimes someone who feels wronged by a former partner is astonished at the idea that her therapist is unable to help her in court. Here are some reasons why this may not be as supportive as you may think:
- A child who has experienced trauma or difficulties needs a relationship of trust with an objective person. One of the best tools a therapist has for building trust is to keep the client’s confidence. Having the information and feelings he has shared in private handed over to a lawyer or a judge, and quite possibly aired publicly in court, is a breach of trust. It may be quite some time before that trust can be built up again. That lack of trust may transfer to you, the parent, as well, if your child believes you contributed to the breach.
- By using a child’s confidential information or therapy notes in court, you are putting your child in the middle. Her words may be used against one parent or another, and that is hugely guilt producing for a child.
- If the therapist is asked to testify, she will be open to cross examination by an opposing attorney. The therapist is obligated to tell the truth. Sometimes that can be used against you. What if the therapist is forced to say something that may hurt your case? You may feel that you are in the right and need to be vindicated, but the court is merely looking for facts, and spoken objectively and publicly, they may not sound as much in your favor as you may think.
- A therapist’s involvement in a legal case disrupts the therapeutic process. You naturally expect your therapist to advocate for you. A therapist’s role is to allow you, or your child, a safe place to vent, to heal, to be supported. The court has no interest in those things. The court system is designed to be objective, to find facts and make a decision. Remember, justice is blind. A therapist’s dual role in both therapy and a court case will almost always create conflict and undermine the actual role of the therapist.
- A therapist cannot play the dual role of therapist and court witness. There are trained psychologists who do evaluations for court. If you need a psychologist to testify in court, you need an expert witness who is trained in forensics and who understands the process and the working of the courts. Let your therapist be your therapist, your confidante, and your advisor, but leave her out of the courtroom.