Marriage and Family Therapist - Counselor Client Privilege

Counselor Client Privilege Frequently Asked Questions

Legislation passed a new privilege law. This law hasn't been tested in the court system. If you have any questions about the law, please contact your attorney for legal advice (Substitute Senate Bill 5931, codified at RCW 5.60.060(9)).

What does the new law do?

It creates testimonial privilege for licensed mental health counselors, licensed independent clinical social workers and licensed marriage and family therapists.

Providers may not disclose, or testify about, any information they learned about their client regardless of how they got the information. All information needed to provide the counseling service is considered privileged.

When does it take effect?

The rule took effect on July 26, 2009.

The law specifically refers to "independent" licensed social workers. Is it limited to the clients of licensed independent social workers, as distinct from a licensed advanced social worker?

Yes, the rule specifically applies to only licensed mental health counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists and licensed independent clinical social workers. It doesn't apply to licensed advanced social workers.

Does this cover the full record of care for a client I began to see before the privilege came into effect?

After July 26, you cannot be compelled to testify about your client's personal information.

Is the privilege weakened if the work with a client occurs in the course of a group with other clients and/or non-privileged professionals?

This privilege doesn't apply to other clients and non-privileged professionals. Clients and non-privileged professionals can be compelled to testify.

When am I still required to release information?
  • When you have written authorization from the person or, in the case of death or disability, the person's representative.
  • If the person waives the privilege by bringing charges against you.
  • In the response to a subpoena from the secretary of health. The secretary may subpoena only records related to a complaint or report (RCW 18.130.050).
  • As required under state law (Chapter 26.44 or 74.34 RCW or RCW 71.05.360 (8) and (9)).
  • When you believe disclosure will avoid or minimize an imminent danger to the health or safety an individual. However, there is not obligation on the part of the provider to disclose.