What are the limits on confidentiality in counseling?

A student’s privacy rights are protected by both federal and state laws. Prior to beginning counseling, the student is provided information about counseling services including the limits of confidentiality. S/he has the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the information and then gives signed consent to participate in counseling. What a student shares in psychotherapy is confidential unless the student is deemed to be a danger to himself or others or is gravely disabled (i.e., unable to provide food, clothing, or shelter). Therapists are also required to file a report if the abuse of a child, an elderly person, a developmentally disabled or a dependent adult is revealed. A student may also be required to waive his/her rights to privacy if s/he is engaged in a legal situation in which s/he is suing another party for emotional damages. In such a situation, there may be a court-issued subpoena for the student’s record. Otherwise no information is provided to anyone outside of the Counseling Center without a signed authorization to release information by the student.

Understandably, faculty are often interested in whether a student has followed through on his/her recommendation to seek mental health treatment. However, because of students’ privacy rights, mental health providers can neither confirm nor deny that the student has sought or is in treatment. In order to respond to the referring faculty member’s request, the student must sign a consent form that allows the mental health provider to release information about the student.

What do I do if a student seems to be out of control, violent or in danger of physically harming him/herself or others?

Ex: If a student tells me that one of the students in the residence halls has a gun and is talking to himself in scary, unintelligible ways, whom do I call?

If a student is putting him/herself or others at imminent risk, do not hesitate to call the UC Irvine Police at (949) 824-5222 or at 9-1-1 on a campus land line. The police are well trained to assess the situation and to handle all emergencies including the psychological ones. They are practiced at conducting welfare checks and initiating hospitalizations, if warranted. If the police think consultation with the mental health professionals on campus would be helpful, they will engage and enlist these professionals. If time permits in a crisis situation, they may recommend a meeting of the UC Irvine Consultation Team.

The Consultation Team's purpose is to bring the collective wisdom, specific expertise, professional perspectives, agency concerns and campus responsibility to the management of a crisis that because of its reach, complexity or potential for risk, demand the involvement of multiple campus agencies and stakeholders. The core members represented are the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Health & Counseling Services, UCI Police Department, Legal Counsel, Dean of Students, Counseling Center and Ombudsman. A critical incident or circumstance reaching such a high level of concern would be channeled to a core member who would initiate a meeting and may activate other member agencies related to the reason the Team was called into action. The Consultation team also meets on a semi annual basis proactively to discuss campus protocols for responding to psychiatric emergencies and other matters of urgency.

This student seems to be having serious emotional or behavioral problems and is disrupting my class. I have suggested counseling but he refuses to go. Can counseling be mandated for this student? What other resources can be brought to bear on this problem?

The advice we have received from UC Irvine Legal Counsel is that counseling cannot be mandated. It can be encouraged and strongly recommended. If a student is disrupting your class, their behavior may be in violation of the student conduct code. For issues concerning student conduct in the classroom, consult with CrystalRae Lugo-Shearer, the Director of Student Conduct. She can be reached at (949) 824-6325 or by e-mail clugo@uci.edu. Edgar may also consult with the mental health professionals on campus. He may initiate an investigation and may also meet with the student. Some administrative sanctions can be brought to bear on the student for violations of the student conduct code. Edgar may also suggest that the UC Irvine Consultation Team meet to discuss the situation with the student at this point or following his investigation.

Edgar Dormitorio has developed an excellent brochure entitled “What’s a Professor to Do: Tips for Addressing Rude & Disruptive Classroom Behavior.” The Office of Student Conduct website also provides information on UC Policies, UC Irvine Policies, and Principles of Community.

I think that the student I am concerned about is addicted to either drugs or alcohol. Sometimes, he reeks of alcohol, slurs his speech and seems a bit unsteady on his feet. Are there alcohol or drug detoxification programs on campus? Who could I talk with about detoxification programs in the community?
There are no inpatient, alcohol or drug detoxification programs on campus. Students with USHIP and GSHIP insurance plans can receive three days of detoxification in an inpatient detoxification program with 80% and 90% of costs covered for these respective plans when a preferred provider facility is used (after their deductible fees have been paid). Consultation about alcohol and drug detoxification programs in the area can be obtained from the Health Education office. Contact Doug Everhart in the Health Education Office at (949) 824-2296 or by e-mail everhart@uci.edu.