How my confidence was betrayed by the justice system
Patients' records aired in court
Public disclosure of psychiatric records can have devastating results.
As a person who has taken responsibility for a mental illness that I have had for the past 20 years, one of my most trusted relationships is the one with my psychiatrist. Actively seeking treatment, adhering to a medication regime and continuous psychotherapy has provided me with a quality of life and healthy relationships with my family and friends.
I can say this with confidence now, after coming out the other end of a six-year custody battle in both the family and federal magistrates court.
Just one sentence in the courtroom at the beginning of proceedings destroyed so much: Your Honour, the mother has a history of mental illness.
The very sanctity that had kept me well was now shattered. My life became an open book and was subject to scrutiny by the very people that my therapy protected and strengthened me from.
How ironic that if I had told my solicitor these things they would have remained in confidence and protected from disclosure. Absolutely nothing was protected from disclosure.
Every medical record, counselling record, hospital record was subpoenaed. It was photocopied at the court and given to my ex-husband's (my childrens father's) solicitor and to my solicitor as well. Whilst my solicitor exercised a duty of care and kept the information private, unfortunately the same discretion wasnt exercised by the other party. Duplicate copies of records floated to my ex-husband and extended family - nothing remained in confidence. The same happened with the childrens records. They felt betrayed and lost trust in a system that was set out to protect and help them. School counselling records, family counselling records - any place my children had confided - became public.
Both the children and I had no safe place while we were at our most vulnerable. How wonderful when the best interests of the children approach is employed.
At this point I withdrew from regular therapy with my psychiatrist. The court had called my psychiatrist at the time to testify and reveal confidential information obtained in psychotherapy sessions.
My theory became survive at all costs, if I didn't go to therapy there would be nothing to subpoena. I tried to become the societal version of normal, which is probably better known as denial. My children were all under the age of 10 at the beginning of this journey. Based on the information he was allowed to read about his mother, my son stopped seeing and speaking to me. It took six long years before we had contact again.
My children are now older and still trust no one.
They will visit the GP under duress and only if they are quite physically unwell. They refuse to seek counselling, even though by their own admission they could probably benefit from talking things through. They do not believe in the sanctity of patient confidentiality full stop.
With their limited life experience they have every right to believe this is the case.
When you are dealing with archaic systems such as the family and federal magistrates court it is so difficult to shift the boundaries that define how things should be done. I can assure you the norm is subpoena first and decide its relevance later, at which point the relationship between the patient and psychiatrist is totally undermined.
I think its an admirable cause to push for discretionary privilege, specifically in relation to confidentiality between a patient and psychiatrist, as we all know its the confidentiality that provides the glue in this relationship.
However forgive my cynicism as the legacy of the court's betrayal is still very raw and real.
Author's name withheld on request
Confidence betrayed by the justice system
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