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Are Therapists Required to Report Domestic Violence?

Are Therapists Required to Report Domestic Violence?

Are Therapists Required to Report Domestic Violence?

Are Therapists Required to Report Domestic Violence?

The relationship between a therapist and client remains confidential most of the time; however, there are some situations where therapists are required to report instances of suspected abuse or harm. Laws in all 50 states require therapists to contact the appropriate authorities when they suspect their client could be a danger to themselves and others or believe a child is being abused. However, domestic violence (DV) reporting laws vary from state to state, making it difficult for licensed health professionals to know their reporting requirements. Read below on the specifics of reporting domestic violence (DV) and the requirements assigned to mental health professionals.

California DV Reporting Laws for Therapists

California Penal Code §11160(a) specifies that healthcare professionals that provide “medical services for a physical condition” must file a report immediately if they suspect or see abuse. This list generally includes mental health professionals like psychologists, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), and licensed professional clinical counselors (LPCCs).

Since licensed marriage & family therapists (LMFTs) don’t provide any medical services for physical conditions, LMFTs aren’t included in the group of health practitioners required to report DV.

How to Stay Informed

There are slight variations to the law from state to state regarding the types of abuse mental health professionals are required to report. In your state, you may need to report domestic violence, elder abuse, and child abuse.

To find more information about your reporting requirements, use the mandated reporting tool at and select your state from the drop-down.

When Children Are Present

Children witnessing DV can lead to adverse emotional and mental health during and after incidents as well as potential legal issues depending on state law. Laws require mandatory reporters to always report cases of physical abuse or reasonable cause to believe there is a potential for substantial harm, though there may also be repercussions if a child is present.

If children see domestic violence, California law requires mandated reporters to report if they suspect the child is in danger as a result of the DV. Reports may be required based on the following cases:

  • A domestic violence incident that caused physical injury to the child or created serious risk of physical injury to the child
  • A domestic violence incident that caused serious emotional damage to the child or created a substantial risk of serious emotional damage to the child

For most other states, DV convictions that were committed in the presence of a child may result in harsher penalties than a conviction without a child present. Nine states consider DV in the presence of a child an “aggravating circumstance” in their sentencing guidelines. This typically results in longer sentences, increased fines, or both. Another seven states don’t specify “aggravating circumstances”, but include more severe penalties for DV that occurs in the presence of a child.

Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah state laws all charge domestic violence in the presence of a child as a separate crime from the violence itself. Additionally, in some states, laws may require persons involved in DV to pay for counseling that may be required, with Ohio even requiring offenders to also attend counseling.

Providing therapy continues to serve as a vital and confidential space for individuals to work through their issues with trained mental health professionals. However, this confidentiality is not absolute, and therapists can be mandated by law to report in certain situations where there is suspected abuse or harm. The reporting requirements for DV can vary significantly from state to state, creating a convoluted landscape for mental health professionals to navigate. Additionally, the involvement of children, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally also introduces new complexities to reporting. Continue to stay informed on your state’s specific statutes, as they are often evolving and changing. Being a resource for vulnerable populations is one of the first steps in combating social issues.

If you or someone you love is experiencing domestic violence, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Recognize the signs of abuse.