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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

6 Common Factors that Make Mandatory Reporting Stressful

The moment I realize I probably need to make a mandatory report, stress begins to creep in. I think this is a natural and normal response to a challenging, complex situation.

First, there are the emotional responses that accompany whatever the individual told me.

If it merits mandatory reporting, it means it definitely was something on the darker side of our humanity. I’m human and I’m not impervious to the impact of hearing sad, gut-wrenching tales of people doing terrible things to humanity. I think where it often hits me the most is in the empathy I feel for the person in front of me.

Second, I want to provide the best support I can as an individual shares such impactful events with me.

There is a bit of self-monitoring and self-regulation that comes up as I am extra conscious to respond appropriately. I certainly don’t want to say anything insensitive or unintentionally harmful. There is no “best way” or clear roadmap in these situations.

An abstract depiction of stress by Art Therapist Jackie Schuld that involves squiggles of red and bright yellow.
"Stress" Paint Sticks on Paper by Jackie Schuld

Third, when I am aware I will likely need to make a report, I know I need to gather as much concrete, relevant information as possible.

I am also conscious of the delicate line between asking questions, but not too many that my client decompensates or feels she is being interrogated.

Forth, when it comes to anything legal or involving the police, I feel extra pressure to “do it right.”

Real people’s lives are at stake and I want to ensure I do my part as well as possible.

Fifth, sometimes my clients are not prepared for something to be reported.

Although my clients are informed of when I need to break confidentiality, it is still difficult for them to process me reporting information. It is understandable that a host of fears come up for them at the prospect of someone being reported. There are many unknowns - will the police contact the perpetrator, will the police contact them, will the perpetrator know they were the one who said something, and much more. There are many questions that I often don’t have answers until the report is made and the reporting agency chooses how they want to respond.

Sometimes, a client does not want the event reported (this used to happen far more when I worked with adolescents). This is incredibly difficult to navigate. I feel deep empathy and understanding for why the individual feels that way, but a report must be made nonetheless. I have also had therapeutic ruptures (the client did not want to continue therapy) because they felt my reporting was a betrayal. While this is rare, it is still a real concern.

Sixth, many times, the situation that needs to be reported is highly complex. It is not always clear if I need to report or not.

Thus, I sometimes don’t realize I need to make a mandatory report until after I seek consultation and supervision. It is normal for this to happen, but I highly dislike it. I much prefer to discuss with my client in-session the need to report, provide them with support, and allow space for their questions and emotional response.

If I haven't discussed reporting the situation and I need to make a report before I see them again, I feel a lot of discomfort. There are still options, such as requesting an extra meeting, but I’d much rather it happen in the natural course of therapy.

Every time a new mandatory reporting situation arises, I go through the same emotions again. The more experience I have with it, the less intense emotions I have. I’ve found the following things help:

Trusting Myself

I own a private practice, which means all of the decisions are fully my own. It is imperative I trust myself to act in alignment with my intuition. This means knowing that even if I make a mistake in the reporting process, I trust that I can handle it and appropriately resolve the problem.

Consultation and Supervision

I speak with my supervisor and other trusted therapists to receive consultation and ensure I am taking the most appropriate action and considering all of the factors.

Clear Paperwork and Intake Process

I ensure that my intake paperwork is clear on the topic of mandatory reporting and that I review that material during an initial intake session with a client.

Provide Choices

When I am in a session with a client and realize that I must report, I inform the client immediately. I try to provide them with as many choices as people, in an effort to give them a sense of control and agency. For example, they have the option to be present as I make the mandated report, speak with the appropriate authorities as I am present, or for me to do it on my own time.

Follow Up

I check in with the client in the following session about the experience. Reporting often brings up a lot of emotions, memories, and related thoughts in clients that are wonderful fodder for therapeutic growth.

Shake the Energy Off

I make sure to do something to physically remove the energy that stirred up with mandatory reporting. This involves response art, physical movement, and other forms of self-regulation that I find helpful.


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