Legal Liability Related to Confidentiality and the Prevention of HIV Transmission

The Board of Directors and Council voted to approve the following resolution on legal liability related to confidentiality and the prevention of HIV transmission: 

Whereas the status of privileged communication between psychologists and client is legally protected;

Whereas information regarding an individual's HIV status may be particularly sensitive given the personal nature of such information and the potential for discrimination involved;

Whereas providers of psychological services are also concerned about the prevention of HIV transmission and promotion of the public health;

Whereas respect for personal dignity, protection of clients/patients from harm, and promotion of access to mental health services demand protection of confidentiality in all but the most extraordinary circumstances;

Whereas psychological services to HIV-infected individuals make an important contribution to the reduction of risk behaviors that spread such infection;

Whereas legislatures considering exceptions to privileged communications in cases involving HIV infection may benefit from the APA position on this issue;


Therefore be it resolved that APA's position on legislation regarding confidentiality and the prevention of HIV transmission is as follows:

  1. A legal duty to protect third parties from HIV infection should not be imposed.

  2. If, however, specific legislation is considered, then it should permit disclosure only when (a) the provider knows of an identifiable third party who the provider has compelling reason to believe is at significant risk for infection; (b) the provider has a reasonable belief that the third party has no reason to suspect that he or she is at risk; and (c) the client/patient has been urged to inform the third party and has either refused or is considered unreliable in his/her willingness to notify the third party.

  3. If such legislation is adopted, it should include immunity form civil and criminal liability for providers who, in good faith, make decisions to disclose or not to disclose information about HIV infection to third parties. 

August 1991