by Barbara Black
When Tony Soprano told Dr.
Jennifer Melfi about the family business, she got more than she bargained
for. She had to take a sudden vacation when it wasnt even August.
The motif underlying the popular TV series The Sopranos, which
has a mobster confiding to a psychotherapist, is timely. Thanks to mandatory
reporting laws, therapists have become players in the affairs of the wider
community, whether they like it or not, and they are beginning to examine
what this means for their profession.
This is one of a number of issues to be examined at an international interdisciplinary
conference called Confidentiality and Society: Psychotherapy, Ethics and
the Law this weekend, and a number of Concordians are playing an active
Mary Kay ONeil is a member of the conference steering committee,
and, with Professor William Bukowski, helped secure a $10,000 SSHRC grant
for the conference and will be moderating two workshops. She is a psychoanalyst
and an assistant professor in psychiatry at the University of Toronto,
where she does research on emotional problems in young adults. Shes
also a visiting scholar in Concordias Psychology Department, and
is actively involved in ethical issues.
Concordia Rector Frederick Lowy, Dr. ONeils husband, is also
a psychoanalyst, psychiatrist and ethicist, and will chair a plenary session.
Anna Beth Doyle, from the Centre for Research in Human Development, housed
in Concordias Psychology Department, will lead a post-panel workshop.
Allannah Furlong, who has been a lecturer in psychology at Concordia and
a coordinator of the former Loyola Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies,
is now in private practice as a psychologist and psychoanalyst.
She has seen, over the past decade, a rapid evolution in legislation
affecting her profession. She can list at least four cases during that
period, most of them involving sexual assault, which went all the way
to the Supreme Court of Canada over whether an accused should be allowed
access to the therapists files of the alleged victim.
Since the majority of these cases involve patients who are women,
children, or members of minorities, [Supreme Court Justice] Claire LHeureux-Dubé
has pointed out the risk of discrimination and stereotyping in allowing
routine disclosure of confidential material to judges and defendants,
Furlong said. LHeureux-Dubé will give the plenary address
at the conference on Saturday morning, on Privacy: A Human Right.
In her written opinions, LHeureux-Dubé has often shown sensitivity
about another point of key importance to psychotherapists. Clients need
the freedom that strict confidentiality provides; it is essential to whatever
healing can take place.
Disclosure laws have proliferated in the United States and Canada since
sexual abuse began to be discussed openly in the 1970s, because using
their confessions to therapists was felt to be a powerful tool against
However, psychotherapy files began to be used by some defense lawyers
to portray victims as neurotic, manipulative or unsure whether they were
actually raped. In other cases, the growing awareness of the risk of false
memory syndrome has thrown the files themselves into doubt.
One invited speaker at the conference is Christopher Bollas, co-author
of The New Informants: The Betrayal of Confidentiality in Psychoanalysis
and Psychotherapy, a book that sounded the alarm within the profession
in 1995. Another is Jonathan Lear, a member of the Committee on Social
Thought at the University of Chicago, author of Open Minded: Working
Out the Logic of the Soul.
The conference takes place at the Omni Hotel in downtown Montreal. For
more information, please consult http://home.ican.net/~analyst/confidentiality.html