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New York Psychologist Privilege (CPLR section 4507)

In this post, I’m going to continue my tour of the various evidence privileges recognized under New York law. Broadly speaking, an “evidence privilege” is something that forbids the disclosure or use of information that would otherwise be evidence in a legal dispute. The rationale behind evidence privileges is that there is a broader and more beneficial goal that would be served by allowing a person to not have to worry about whether what they say could be used against them later in a legal dispute. Many people have heard of the attorney-client privilege before, for example. The rationale is that the client — and society as a whole, hopefully — will be better off if a client can speak freely with their attorney without worrying that what they say might be used against them later.

The topic of this post will be New York’s Psychologist-Patient privilege under section 4507 of New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR). The rationale is that in order to get the best possible medical treatment as quickly as possible, a patient needs to be able to speak freely and candidly with their psychologist without worrying that what they say could be used against them later. Like any privilege, however, there are exceptions which I will discuss later on.

Anyway, CPLR Section 4507 provides as follows:

“The confidential relations and communications between a psychologist registered under the provisions of article one hundred fifty-three of the education law and his client are placed on the same basis as those provided by law between attorney and client, and nothing in such article shall be construed to require any such privileged communications to be disclosed. A client who, for the purpose of obtaining insurance benefits, authorizes the disclosure of any such privileged communication to any person shall not be deemed to have waived the privilege created by this section. For purposes of this section: (1) “person” shall mean any individual, insurer or agent thereof, peer review committee, public or private corporation, political subdivision, government agency, department or bureau of the state, municipality, industry, co-partnership, association, firm, trust, estate or any other legal entity whatsoever; and (2) “insurance benefits” shall include payments under a self-insured plan.”

I’ve bolded and highlighted a couple of things of note:

  • First, the definition of a “psychologist” is described in Article 153 of New York’s Education Law (i.e. sections 7600 to 7607). I’m not going to go over the criteria for qualifying a psychologist in this post, but it suffices to say that this privilege only applies when those criteria are met.
  • Second, if the psychologist criteria are met, then the privilege that applies to the communications and relations between the psychologist and the patient/client is equivalent to the privilege between an attorney and a client. In other words, the psychologist-patient privilege is serious.
  • Third, if a client has to disclose anything they’ve discussed with their psychologist in order to get insurance benefits, that disclosure doesn’t waive the psychologist-patient privilege.

There are various exceptions to New York’s Psychologist-Patient privilege, such as:

The Psychologist-Patient privilege may also not apply in cases where another concern is more important, such as a criminal defendant’s right to confront witnesses against him under the 6th Amendment to the US Constitution. See, for example, the 2005 New York case of People v. Bridgeland 19 AD3d 1122.

At present (i.e. as I am writing this post), I do not have a post on California’s psychologist-patient privilege. California has one, but it’s a little more convoluted as it’s encapsulated within a broader “Psychotherapist-Patient” privilege under sections 1010 to 1027 of the California Evidence Code. As defined under section 1010 of the California Evidence Code, “psychotherapist” includes psychologists (see section 1010(b)), but also other therapists like registered nurses, social workers, and marriage and family therapists.

As always, I hope this post was helpful. It is not meant as a comprehensive discussion of New York’s Psychologist-Patient privilege. Please do your own research as the authorities I cite to above could very well have changed in the time that I wrote this post and the time you’re reading it. If you have a situation involving New York’s Psychologist-Patient privilege, you should find a lawyer in your are with whom you can discuss your situation face-to-face. That said, however, I need to conclude by saying that, as of the date of this post, I do not maintain a physical office in New York state. As a result, under section 470 of New York’s Judiciary Law, I do not take cases in New York. If I am able to refer you to a lawyer in New York, however, I am happy to do so.

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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

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