A Therapeutic Bill of Rights: Creating a Safe, Respecting, and Collaborative Online Therapy Space

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Embarking on Your Therapeutic Journey: Understanding Your Rights

Psychotherapy is a profound journey of self-discovery and healing. It’s a shared venture between the therapist and client, who are both present and committed to a common goal – emotional well-being and growth. As a psychotherapist, my experience has led me to believe that clients deserve to know their rights and entitlements within the therapeutic relationship. Therefore, it’s essential to shed light on the principles that uphold respect, dignity, and equality in therapy, ensuring every client feels safe, heard, and valued. This post introduces the concept of a “Therapeutic Bill of Rights,” a testament to my commitment to these principles.

1. Right to Respect and Dignity

Every client embarking on the journey of psychotherapy is entitled to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity. Understanding that each individual is distinct and should be recognized for their uniqueness, with their own experiences, feelings, and personal narratives, is paramount.

Respect and dignity in a therapeutic setting involve creating a non-judgmental atmosphere – a safe space where clients feel comfortable expressing their feelings, thoughts, and experiences. The goal is to foster an environment where all self-expression is acknowledged, listened to, and treated with empathy. This respect for self-expression forms the bedrock of effective therapy, allowing each session to serve as a valuable contribution to understanding oneself better and fostering personal growth.

A poignant example of this principle in action is from my practice. I once had a client who was initially very nervous about sharing specific experiences. These experiences had profoundly shaped their perspective, but they feared judgment or misunderstanding. I consistently reassured them of their right to express themselves freely to alleviate these fears. I highlighted that their experiences, feelings, and thoughts were integral to their unique narrative.

Over time, as their thoughts and feelings were listened to, acknowledged, and valued, they began to feel more at ease. They began to open up more, sharing those experiences they had initially held back. The transformation was empowering for them. They felt seen, heard, and, most importantly, respected. This moment of personal growth and the newfound confidence accompanying it stood as a testament to the power of respect and dignity in the therapeutic process.

In summary, the right to respect and dignity is not just about observing basic ethical norms in therapy. It goes beyond to ensure that each individual is seen, heard, and appreciated for their uniqueness, creating a secure platform where personal narratives can be shared without fear of judgment. Every thought, every emotion, and every experience shared in the therapeutic journey is a valuable piece of the puzzle that leads to a more profound self-understanding and personal growth. The respect and dignity a client receives in the therapy room serve as stepping stones toward their journey to healing and empowerment.

2. Right to Non-Discrimination

In its most genuine essence, therapy is a sanctuary that fosters acceptance, inclusivity, and equality. One of the fundamental rights of every client in therapy is the right to non-discrimination. This principle underscores that all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, or socio-economic status, are entitled to receive therapeutic services without bias or prejudice.

Non-discrimination in therapy ensures that all clients are treated equitably and that their diversity is respected and recognized as an integral part of their identity. This recognition is essential in understanding and exploring each client’s unique experiences and perspectives.

Moreover, non-discrimination extends to individual belief systems, mental health diagnoses, and personal histories. These facets of identity are critically important as they contribute significantly to an individual’s experiences and worldview. For example, an individual’s belief system can shape their understanding of their challenges and the strategies they use to cope with them. Similarly, a person’s mental health diagnosis or personal history may influence their behaviour, emotional responses, and perception of their environment.

In my practice, I’ve observed the transformative power of a non-discriminatory approach. For example, a client faced discrimination due to their socio-economic status and mental health diagnosis in various life domains. They were initially apprehensive about seeking therapy, fearing encountering similar bias. However, as we progressed in our sessions, they realized that therapy was a space free from judgment, where they were valued, heard, and respected, irrespective of their background. This acceptance was pivotal for their healing process.

Embracing non-discrimination in therapy also means adopting a culturally competent approach, recognizing and respecting cultural differences, and understanding how these differences influence the client’s experiences, feelings, and actions. Cultural competence enables therapists to provide more personalized, effective therapeutic services that consider the client’s cultural context.

In conclusion, the right to non-discrimination in therapy is a crucial element that ensures treatment remains a safe, inclusive space where all clients are treated with respect, dignity, and equality. As therapists, we are responsible for upholding this right, fostering an environment that encourages all individuals to seek and receive the help they need without fear of discrimination or judgment. The aim is to create a therapeutic space where diversity is tolerated and appreciated as a strength, contributing to a richer and more nuanced understanding of each individual’s unique experience.

3. Right to Be in the Present

In psychotherapy, it is often believed that a deep dive into the past, a thorough examination of previous traumas or difficult memories, is necessary for healing. However, it is essential to understand and respect that each individual’s therapeutic journey is unique, and the pace and focus of therapy should be tailored to their comfort level and preferences. This brings us to an important right – the right to be in the present.

Clients can choose how much they wish to delve into past experiences. If they decide to concentrate on their current emotions, thoughts, and situations, this decision deserves respect and support from the therapist. Instead of focusing on past traumas or experiences, the therapy sessions can be directed toward understanding current feelings, managing present-day stressors, and developing coping strategies for immediate challenges.

One of the therapy modalities that beautifully encapsulates this concept is mindfulness-based therapy, which emphasizes being fully present in the ‘here and now,’ observing and accepting one’s feelings and thoughts without judgment. This present-focused approach can benefit many clients, particularly those dealing with anxiety or stress-related disorders.

In my practice, I have witnessed the profound impact of the present-focused approach. One of my clients had a history of trauma but was hesitant to delve into those painful memories. Instead, they preferred to focus on managing their anxiety and stress. Respecting their decision, we worked on mindfulness exercises, stress management techniques, and cognitive restructuring methods that helped them better manage their emotions and improve their well-being.

This approach centred around their current needs and comfort level, proved effective. They reported a significant reduction in their anxiety levels and an enhanced capacity to handle daily stressors. In addition, they felt empowered, knowing that they could assert their preferences in therapy and that these choices would be respected.

In conclusion, the right to be in the present emphasizes the importance of client autonomy in choosing the direction of therapy. It validates that healing does not necessarily require a journey into the past but can happen right here, in the present moment, based on the client’s comfort and readiness. As therapists, we are facilitators in this process, ensuring that our approach aligns with the client’s preferences, offering support, guidance, and a non-judgmental space where they can freely explore their current emotions, thoughts, and experiences.

4. Right to Self-Determination

At its core, the therapeutic journey is a collaborative endeavour between the client and therapist. Central to this collaborative relationship is the client’s right to self-determination – the principle that clients should be active participants in their therapy, having significant input in the therapy’s direction, and approaches employed.

In psychotherapy, self-determination refers to the empowerment of clients to make informed choices about their treatment. This includes decisions about the focus of therapy (whether on current problems, past traumas, or future aspirations), the pace of treatment (fast or slow), and the therapeutic techniques or modalities to be used (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Therapy, etc.). It is about recognizing that clients, as the ultimate authorities on their experiences, feelings, and perceptions, should have a significant role in shaping the course of their therapeutic journey.

Let’s consider a real-life example to understand this concept better. In my practice, I once had a client dealing with social anxiety. After discussing various treatment options, they strongly preferred Exposure Therapy, which involves gradual and systematic exposure to feared social situations. Although this therapy modality is often challenging, the client felt ready and motivated to face their fears head-on. Respecting their decision, we tailored a treatment plan based on their chosen approach, focusing on strategies to help them manage their anxiety in social situations. Their active involvement in determining the course of their therapy proved beneficial, leading to significant improvements in their social anxiety symptoms.

The principle of self-determination acknowledges the importance of client autonomy, respecting their capacities and aspirations. It fosters a sense of ownership and control over the therapy process, often leading to increased motivation, engagement, and satisfaction with therapy. This right underscores that treatment isn’t done to the client but rather a process they are actively engaged in, helping to shape and direct according to their unique needs, goals, and comfort.

However, it is essential to note that self-determination does not mean clients are left to navigate their therapeutic journey alone. As therapists, we provide the necessary guidance, share our expertise, present options, explain potential risks and benefits, and support clients as they make decisions about their treatment. This balance between therapist guidance and client autonomy is vital in fostering a collaborative, effective therapeutic relationship.

In conclusion, the right to self-determination empowers clients to actively participate in their therapy process, helping to shape it in a way that best aligns with their unique needs, goals, and comfort levels. As therapists, we are here to respect and uphold this right, offering our professional expertise and support as clients navigate their therapeutic journey.

5. Right to Confidentiality

Confidentiality is a cornerstone of the therapeutic relationship and a fundamental ethical obligation of therapists. It fosters trust, encourages open communication, and protects clients privacy. As a client, you have the right to expect your personal information, the content of your sessions, and your records to be kept confidential.

In psychotherapy, confidentiality implies that what you share during therapy sessions remains between you and your therapist. Therefore, your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and personal history that you reveal in the therapy room will not be disclosed to others without your explicit consent. This includes notes taken during the session, assessments, treatment plans, and progress reports – all these documents are stored securely, and access is limited strictly to those directly involved in your care.

This confidentiality extends to all forms of communication – face-to-face sessions, online therapy, phone calls, or email correspondence. So, for example, if you’re participating in online therapy, you can expect that your therapist will conduct sessions from a private location, use secure platforms, and take measures to ensure the confidentiality of your discussions.

There are, however, certain limits to confidentiality, generally related to situations where there may be a risk of harm to yourself or others. These exceptions are often mandated by law and include circumstances like a client expressing intent to harm themselves or someone else, abuse or neglect of a child, elderly, or dependent adult, or when a court orders disclosure. In such cases, therapists may be required to break confidentiality to ensure safety. Clients need to be made aware of these limitations to confidentiality at the outset of therapy.

Let’s consider a scenario that highlights the importance of confidentiality. A client who had previously been in therapy shared with me that they had struggled to open up in their earlier therapy sessions due to fears that their information might be disclosed. We spent time discussing confidentiality, its importance, and its limits. This helped alleviate their concerns, and they could engage more openly and honestly in therapy, significantly benefiting their therapeutic journey.

The right to confidentiality is essential for creating a safe, trusting environment where you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings, knowing they will be safeguarded. It is a critical component of effective therapy, and, as your therapist, maintaining your confidentiality is a duty I hold in the highest regard.

To sum up, the right to confidentiality underscores that therapy is a safe space to freely express your feelings, thoughts, and experiences, with the assurance that your privacy will be respected and protected. As therapists, we are responsible for upholding this right, ensuring that you feel secure and comfortable in therapy.

6. Right to Disagree and Refuse

In the process of psychotherapy, one crucial principle is the right of clients to express disagreement or discomfort regarding any aspect of therapy. This could be as simple as choosing not to answer a specific question, disagreeing with an approach, or making more significant decisions like declining a treatment approach. This right is inherent to the principle of respect for autonomy and the collaborative nature of therapy.

In therapy, as a client, you should feel comfortable expressing your feelings about the process or techniques used and have the freedom to set boundaries. If, for instance, a particular discussion is causing you significant distress or if a specific technique doesn’t resonate with you, you have the right to voice your discomfort or refusal. A respectful therapist will honour these sentiments and work with you to adapt the therapy to respect your preferences and comfort.

I recall a situation with a client who was uncomfortable with a specific therapeutic technique I suggested to manage anxiety. Once they communicated their discomfort, we explored alternatives they found more comfortable and practical. This openness improved their comfort in therapy and helped strengthen the therapeutic alliance and the client’s engagement in the therapeutic process.

Remember, therapy is a shared journey. As therapists, we must respect your autonomy, support your decisions, and encourage open dialogue about any aspects of therapy you feel uncomfortable with. Your therapy should be a space where you feel safe to express your disagreements and refusals without fear of judgment or retribution.

7. Right to Understand and Be Informed

Clients have the right to understand their therapy process fully. This means clarifying therapeutic techniques, potential outcomes, foreseeable risks, and any changes in the treatment plan. This right is crucial to informed consent, active participation, and fostering a sense of ownership of the therapy process.

It would help if you comprehensively understood what to expect in your therapy journey as a client. This includes a clear explanation of the therapy approach, what it involves, how it might help you, any potential risks or side effects, and the expected timeline for progress. If your therapist suggests changing your treatment plan, they should explain the reasons, its potential benefits, and any alternative options available.

Moreover, you have the right to understand the various therapeutic options available, their benefits and risks, and why a particular approach may be recommended for your situation. This information helps you make informed decisions about your therapy and fosters a sense of control and ownership over your therapeutic journey.

To illustrate this, let’s consider a situation in my practice. I once worked with a client diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Before initiating treatment, we discussed various therapeutic approaches suitable for PTSD, their expected outcomes, potential risks, and how each would align with the client’s comfort and preferences. Providing clear, comprehensive information allowed the client to make an informed choice about their treatment approach, fostering their engagement and satisfaction with therapy.

In sum, the right to understand and be informed emphasizes that therapy is not just about receiving treatment; it’s about understanding the why and how of that treatment, fostering an environment of collaboration, empowerment, and respect for client autonomy. As your therapist, I am committed to providing clear, comprehensive information about your therapy, respecting your right to understand, and making informed decisions about your treatment.

8. Right to Quality Services

Every client has the right to receive high-quality, ethical, and professional therapeutic services. Quality in this context doesn’t just refer to the therapist’s qualifications, although those are undoubtedly important. It also extends to the therapeutic interventions’ relevance, effectiveness, and adaptability. Clients have the right to services that address their unique needs, respect their personal goals, and facilitate their growth and healing.

This means that as a client, your therapy should be tailored to your individual needs, goals, and circumstances. Therapy is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it should be personalized, dynamic, and responsive to your evolving needs and progress. It’s about finding what works best for you and adapting the therapy as needed to support your journey toward emotional well-being and growth.

This also implies a commitment to ongoing professional development and staying abreast of the latest research and best practices in psychotherapy. As a therapist, I continually strive to enhance my skills and knowledge to ensure that I can provide the most effective and ethical therapeutic services.

For instance, I had a client dealing with a complex combination of anxiety and grief. I utilized mindfulness-based stress reduction and grief counselling techniques tailored to their needs and experiences to support their healing best. Regular check-ins ensured we adapted the therapy to reflect their progress, feedback, and evolving goals.

9. Right to a Safe Space

The therapy room, whether physical or virtual, is more than just a space for conversation; it’s a sanctuary where clients can express their deepest thoughts, fears, and aspirations without judgment or fear of harm. A safe therapeutic space allows clients to explore their feelings, confront their fears, and foster self-understanding and growth.

In the context of online therapy, this sense of safety extends beyond physical safety to emotional and psychological safety. It’s about creating an environment where clients feel safe to express their vulnerabilities and secure in knowing their experiences and emotions will be met with respect, understanding, and confidentiality.

This includes ensuring privacy during online sessions and cultivating trust, empathy, and non-judgment. Clients should feel comfortable expressing themselves freely, knowing their feelings will be validated, their experiences understood, and their fears addressed with compassion and professionalism.

I recall an online session with a client dealing with significant emotional trauma. To create a sense of safety, we spent the initial sessions establishing trust and understanding, discussing their concerns about online therapy, and ensuring privacy and confidentiality. As we progressed, the client felt safer and more comfortable expressing their emotions and exploring their trauma, fostering their healing and growth.

As therapists, our role is to ensure that every aspect of therapy – from the therapeutic techniques to the interaction dynamics – contributes to creating a safe, secure space for our clients. This commitment to safety is fundamental to our therapist role and central to our client’s therapeutic journey.

10. Right to a Therapeutic Alliance

The therapeutic alliance is a collaborative, trust-based relationship between the therapist and the client. As a cornerstone of therapy, it goes beyond mere professional interaction. It is a mutual bond wherein both parties are committed to the client’s well-being and growth. As a client, you have the right to a therapist who works with your culture or specific situation, validates your emotions, and shares your therapeutic goals.

This alliance is about connection and understanding—feeling understood, accepted, and validated. It’s about a therapist who does not just listen to your stories but genuinely understands your experiences and emotions. A strong therapeutic alliance can greatly enhance therapy’s effectiveness, helping you feel more comfortable, supported, and empowered in your therapeutic journey.

For example, I once worked with a client who initially hesitated to open up about their experiences. Over time, by demonstrating empathy, understanding, and a genuine interest in their well-being, we built a solid therapeutic alliance. This alliance was a foundation for our work together, enabling the client to trust, open up, and fully engage in the therapeutic process.

11. Right to Access and Review Records

Transparency is vital in a therapeutic relationship, including clients’ right to request and review their therapy records. These records might include session notes, treatment plans, and progress reports. Access to these records allows you to be an informed participant in your treatment, maintain an active role in your therapeutic journey, and ensure that the records accurately reflect your experiences and progress.

Reviewing your records can help you better understand your therapeutic journey, including the changes you have made, the challenges you have overcome, and the goals you are still working towards. It can serve as a valuable tool for reflection, self-awareness, and learning.

For instance, a client of mine struggled with feelings of stagnation in their therapy. By reviewing their records together, we could identify their progress, which provided a sense of achievement and helped to renew their motivation and engagement in therapy.

The transparency of this process also helps to ensure that your records are an accurate and meaningful reflection of your experiences and progress. As a therapist, I am committed to maintaining thorough, accurate, and respectful records, and I encourage clients to engage with their records as an integral part of their therapeutic journey.

12. Right to End Therapy

Deciding to start therapy is a significant step, and deciding to end it is equally important. As a client, you can discontinue therapy whenever you feel it’s right. This could be because you’ve met your therapeutic goals, want to try a different approach or therapeutic modality, or simply because it feels like the right time to take a break or end your therapy journey.

The decision to end therapy should never feel rushed or forced. It should be a thoughtful and collaborative process involving a discussion between you and your therapist. For instance, in my practice, when a client expresses a desire to end therapy, we discuss their reasons, reflect on the progress made, and plan to continue their growth beyond therapy.

13. Right to a Culturally Sensitive Approach

Their cultural background influences every individual’s experience. This can include ethnicity, language, religion, familial traditions, and social customs. Therefore, clients have the right to sensitive and responsive therapy to their cultural context. This means a therapy approach that respects and acknowledges your cultural background and understands how it influences your perceptions, emotions, and experiences.

Culturally sensitive therapy recognizes that your cultural background is an integral part of your identity and that it can shape your experiences in significant ways. It seeks to understand, respect, and incorporate this into your therapy. For instance, I once worked with a client whose cultural background strongly emphasized familial roles and responsibilities. Understanding this was key to helping them navigate their guilt and obligation and develop strategies that respected their cultural values while also addressing their individual needs.

Culturally sensitive therapy acknowledges and embraces diversity and provides a space where all clients feel seen, heard, and understood. As a therapist, I am committed to continually educating myself about different cultures and experiences and to providing a therapy experience that is respectful, inclusive, and culturally sensitive.

14. Right to Informed Consent

Informed consent is a fundamental right of every client. It’s the principle that you should be fully informed about any proposed treatment or intervention, including its purpose, the process, potential risks and benefits, and any possible alternatives. For example, if your therapist suggests trying cognitive-behavioural therapy, they should explain what it is, how it works, what you might expect, and any other methodologies that could be an option.

Informed consent isn’t a one-time agreement. It’s an ongoing process throughout therapy. As the therapy process evolves, your therapist may introduce new therapeutic techniques or interventions, and you have the right to understand what these entail before deciding whether to proceed with them. You also have the right to revoke your consent if you’re uncomfortable with any aspect of your treatment.

15. Right to Seek Second Opinions

Just as in physical health, clients in therapy also have the right to seek second opinions. This could be regarding a diagnosis, treatment plan, or any other aspect of their therapy. This is particularly important when considering significant decisions like starting a new form of therapy, receiving a diagnosis, or trying a new medication.

Seeking a second opinion can provide additional perspectives, confirm a current approach, or offer new possibilities for treatment. Remember, seeking a second opinion doesn’t mean you’re questioning your therapist’s competency—it’s about ensuring you have all the information needed to make informed decisions about your mental health journey.

16. Right to Set and Pursue Personal Goals

Psychotherapy is a personal journey towards self-understanding and growth. As such, you, the client, can define your therapeutic goals and work towards them at your own pace. These goals can range from managing anxiety, learning new coping strategies, improving relationships, or fostering personal growth.

Each individual’s goals are unique to their experiences and circumstances. The therapist’s role is to help clients identify these goals, break them down into achievable steps, and provide support and guidance. For example, if your goal is to manage anxiety, your therapist may help you learn relaxation techniques, explore triggers for your anxiety, and develop healthier thinking patterns.

Setting and working towards these personal goals can provide direction in therapy and contribute to a sense of progress and achievement. Your therapist should support you in setting these goals and provide the necessary guidance and resources to help you achieve them.

Transforming Therapy: Placing Your Rights at the Forefront

Your rights as a client form the bedrock upon which the therapeutic relationship is constructed. They are the means to ensure that you can express yourself without inhibition, make decisions based on informed consent, and engage in therapy to align with your authentic self. Remember that therapy is about your journey toward healing and personal growth.

As a psychotherapist, my role is not to lead or direct you but to support, respect, and walk alongside you on this path. I am here to facilitate and bear witness to your transformation. I recognize the courage it takes to embark on this journey, and I hold the trust you place in me to accompany you in the highest regard.

Therapy can be a potent tool for self-discovery and growth. It offers a haven to explore your experiences, confront your fears, cultivate resilience, and nurture your innate capacity for healing. It is a process that can illuminate the shadows within and, in doing so, inspire change that radiates outward, positively impacting every facet of your life.

With these rights at the forefront, I strive to create an empowering, compassionate, and meaningful therapy experience for every client. My goal is not merely to provide a service but to foster an environment of trust, acceptance, and mutual respect where genuine healing can occur. By establishing these rights as the guiding principles, I hope to make therapy an endeavour that honours your unique journey and fuels your personal growth and transformation.

Ready to embark on your journey of healing and self-discovery? Schedule a session today, or share this post with anyone who might find it beneficial.

Disclaimer: This blog shares general information only, not professional advice or recommendations. Consult healthcare providers for personal guidance. Decisions based on content are the reader's responsibility. Thank you.

Clayre runs a group practice of three queer and trans therapists, including youth therapist Audrey Wolfe, RCC, LGBT therapist Camber Giberson, RCC, CCC, and gender-affirming therapist Clayre Sessoms, RP, RCT, RCC, CCC, ATR-P. Work with us: book a session.