I know, I know, most therapists don’t want to talk about court.
But, guess what? Court, subpoenas, testimony, court-related letters and being pulled into the middle happens more often than not.
So what to do when you as a therapist are working so hard towards that goal of therapeutic alliance and connection and a request for a court- related letter arrives?
It does not have to be the end. It is all up to how prepared you are for that moment.
Lets start at the beginning. Do most clinicians have a court policy or court stipulation in their clinician packets? Answer: NO.
Most clinicians avoid the important task of having a court policy in place. Why does this matter?
It matters because if you absolutely do not want to get involved in any court-related matter, simply telling your clients this information or including a paragraph about your “No court policy” is not enough.
You have to be clear not only as to whether or not you are willing to write court-related letters, but you must clarify that you will not commit the cardinal sin of making a recommendation to the court.
I repeat, never, ever make a recommendation to the court. I don’t care how long you have worked with this client or how much better of a parent you think they are instead of Mr. or Mrs. Abuser.
You cannot make a recommendation to the court when you have a therapeutic alliance; it is called “bias.” Don’t get sucked in, be smart. If you make a recommendation in regards to child custody and you are not, in fact, the court appointed child custody evaluator, you are risking your license, your practice, your credibility and your livelihood.
What if a Subpoena Arrives?
Are we getting ahead of ourselves here? Okay, let’s take a step back. What if you make it clear that you absolutely will not be writing letters and a subpoena shows up? What then? Is that variable in your clinician packet? Why or why not? How would you respond to a subpoena? Would you show up to court? If not, my next question might feel harsh. Do you look good in orange? Do you like heavy steel bracelets?
Subpoenas and court orders are not optional. If you even consider not showing up after being subpoenaed to court, I highly recommend getting good legal counsel. Seriously. Think orange outfit.
Does the thought of court make you nauseous? Do you imagine sharks in suits and a bull’s eye on your forehead? That’s fair. Is your heart palpitating from just reading this article?Let’s deal with that.
Here is what I know: preparation and knowledge is everything. How? Imagine going to college having never learned how to read or write. Okay, that might be a bit dramatic.
How about running a marathon without training for it? Assuming because you go to the gym five days per week and are in good shape, that a marathon should be doable. Anyone who has run a marathon would look at you like you were a crazy person, right?
It is with training and preparation that we are able to accomplish seemingly impossible feats! It is with training, knowledge of what is in front of us and the process of preparation that enables us as individuals to overcome obstacles, which just might possibly be opportunities.
At this point, some of you reading this are thinking, who is this chick? I am someone whose first experience in court as a percipient witness was horrible, make that embarrassing and horrible.
Preparing for Court
The only preparation I got was, “Tell the truth.” Seriously? That’s it?
I learned the hard way, but over time, I came to love court. I started sitting in court and listened to case after case and watching the pre-hearing handshakes and deals.
I learned to adjust, to acclimate and to understand the agendas, the types of examination, questions, procedures and climate of the courtroom and its players.
I became a child custody evaluator, and an expert witness. I loved (still do) proving attorneys wrong. The ones who think therapists on the stand are fresh meat, easy targets. Not if I can help it.
I started coaching my friends and colleagues as they prepared for court. I love hearing clinicians when they come out of court and they talk about feeling empowered. They are often surprised that they leave feeling strong instead of beaten up.
This is my passion. Therapists + Court does not have to = FEAR; it should and can = SUCCESS.
I know that it would be easier to ignore dealing with the possibility of court and shoving it to the bottom of your to do list. But that would be like trying to get malpractice after you were being sued.
You cannot afford to not have a court policy. You cannot afford to have a bad day in court. It stays with you and undermines your value. Do not let this happen. So, how will you prepare for court? Prepare, educate yourself, and do not be afraid. Imagine how empowered you will feel.
If you are looking for in depth information about how to prepare and protect yourself as a therapist- check out therapistcourtprep.com ! Do not wait until you get a subpoena and don’t know what to do. Set your practice up for success!
Gavel photo available from Shutterstock