Case Study 3: Stephen Collins
CRJ 331: Forensic Psychology
Psychologists have a delicate job that they have to do, and they have rules that they have to follow. Each psychologist has to have specific characteristics in order to be a good, reliable psychologist. There is a code of ethics that psychologists have to follow, or they could get into a lot of trouble. Psychologists are used in many cases; one such case is the pedophilia case against Steven Collins. There are many questions surrounding Steven Collins’ case, one of these questions being directed towards the psychologists’ code of ethics and whether or not those ethics were compromised.
In the case of Steven Collins, his wife Faye Grant has alleged that Collins has admitted that he has sexually abused minor children which included sexually molesting three girls. Grant claims to have recorded one of the therapy sessions between Collins and his psychologist, and she released that tape to the police. Grant goes onto to say that Collins has been trying to straighten up by going on a twelve-step program, but that she does not think he is getting better. She feels that his celebrity status led to him being trusted by the families of the three girls he molested. Grant also claims that she had no prior knowledge of her husband’s actions until January of 2012. She also claims that she has tried to get Collins help for his narcissistic personality disorder with sociopathic tendencies. Grant claims that the reason she turned the tape over to the police was spurred on by the husband of one of Collins’ victims. She said that she was threatened and called a coward for not turning Collins into the police at an earlier date (ET Online, 2014).
One of the questions brought up by this case is the question of if the release of the secretly recorded session violates the American Psychological Association’s Code of Ethics. The code of ethics consists of nine principles that outline how a psychologist is supposed to act towards their patients. Those nine principles consist of doing no harm, respecting autonomy, benefitting others, being just, being faithful, according dignity, treating others with care and compassion, pursuit of excellence, and accepting accountability (Hart, Roesch, & Zapf, 2010, P. 329). The most common ethical issues that arise for psychologists are client welfare, informed consent, confidentiality, and competence (Cherry, 2019). The question of if the tapes release violated the American Psychological Association’s Code of Ethics hinges on critical factors that are unknown at this time.
One of the most significant issues with the release of the tape is whether or not Collins knew that his wife was recording the therapy session. Regardless, it does violate the code of ethics because the psychologist allowed Collins’ wife to enter the therapy session with a recording device. These therapy sessions are supposed to be between the patient and the psychologist. The only way Collins’ wife was supposed to be able to enter the therapy session was if Collins gave consent for her to accompany him; he wanted her there. The tape does violate the doctor-patient confidentiality rule which states that when a person seeks private, psychological treatment, only two individuals know everything that happens in each session; the psychologist and the patient (Richmond, 2019).
Grant did not have the legal right to make the tape public, nor did she have the right to have recorded a private conversation between Collins and his psychologist. Even though Collins may have admitted to the sexual assault of three minors, that was still a private conversation between Collins and his psychologist. I do not think it is right that Collins was going without being punished for committing such a deplorable crime, but he was within his right to tell his psychologist without fear that their conversation would leave that room. This is the dark side to psychology, not being able to go to the police with a crime because telling the police would violate the code of ethics and the patient’s confidentiality. On legal grounds, the news outlet, the psychologist, and even Collins’ wife could all face a lawsuit for violating Collins privacy.
When it comes to what kind of forensic psychologist should be assigned or participate in the case against Collins, I believe, an expert witness would be the best choice. An expert witness is someone who testifies in court about specialized knowledge that he or she possesses. Forensic psychologists are often called upon to testify regarding matters of mental health or general theory and research in psychology and law (Hart, Roesch, & Zapf, 2010, P. 324). The reason an expert witness should be utilized is that they study mental health and they can explain Collins’ mental disorder as well as tell what treatments are available for his mental disorder. The expert witness, in this case, would mainly be needed to give background on Collins’ mental disorder and explain how his mental disorder may or may not have affected what he did. The expert witness would benefit Collins’ defense team more than the prosecution, which is the unfortunate issue with using an expert witness in this fashion.
When it comes to the regulations of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the regulation I would change is known as HIPAA. HIPAA or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act provides consumers with privacy rights and protections for their health information, including mental health information. HIPAA’s privacy rule seeks to strike a balance between protecting patient’s privacy by safeguarding sensitive health information and allowing for the sharing of a patient’s health information to ensure the best treatment and the health and the safety of the patient or others (Bernstein, 2014). The reason I feel this should be changed is that when it comes to mental health and confessions to crimes to a psychologist, a psychologist cannot turn the recordings of those confessions over to the police without having to go through a lot of red tape. Privacy is something we all want, but I feel that if a person can be charged with harboring a fugitive because they are hiding a relative in their home, then the same laws should apply to psychologists. There should not be a rule that makes a psychologist keep their mouth shut when it comes to a patient confessing to doing horrible crimes like Collins is accused of. A psychologist is a witness in the aspect that their patient is confessing a crime, the difference being that a psychologist is bound by a confidentiality clause while a loved one is bound by nothing but their belief that they cannot rat out their relative.
In conclusion, Collins should have to go to trial and be punished for what he did to three innocent children. Will he be charged? He probably will not be charged based on how the public found out about his confessions and the fact that the recordings were done illegally. His wife, Faye Grant might be charged with leaking private information, but she is a saint for turning evidence over to the police. If only it had been obtained in their home instead of in the office of Collins’ psychologist. A crime like this should not be overlooked just because Collins’ confidentiality was violated; he violated three children who have to live with what he did to them.
Bernstein, J. (2014). Patient Privacy in Mental Health: Balancing Rights While Trying to Ensure Appropriate Treatment. Retrieved from: https://careforyourmind.org/patient-privacy-in-mental-health-balancing-rights-while-trying-to-ensure-appropriate-treatment/
Cherry, K. (2019). APA Ethics Code Principles and Standards. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/apa-ethical-code-guidelines-4687465
ET Online. (2014). Stephen Collins’ wife alleges he had “secret life” in court docs: “I believe there are other victims”. Retrieved from: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/stephen-collins-wife-alleges-he-had-secret-life-in-court-docs-i-believe-there-are-other-victims/
Hart, S. D., Roesch, R., and Zapf, P. A. (2010). Forensic Psychology and Law. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Richmond, R. L. (2019). A Guide to Psychology and its Practice: Confidentiality. Retrieved from: http://www.guidetopsychology.com/confid.htm
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