Letter to the Editor | UI Counseling Center did its duty to Zhang, Christensen

By Megan Turner

What happened to Yingying Zhang is a tragedy of epic proportions. I feel for her family and lament the loss her loved ones have experienced.

As a former lawyer, a future member of the Social Work profession and someone who has received services at the University Counseling Center, I also feel for the professionals who treated Brendt Christensen there. Social workers and other mental health professionals serve an integral and increasingly difficult role in our society, and they bear great responsibility.

The editorial of Feb. 6 “Lawsuit against UI Counseling Center isn’t enough” advocates a change in the law to require therapists to disclose when clients share “violent thoughts and ideas.” Had the social workers treating Mr. Christensen reported him to law enforcement, what would have happened next? Should he have been jailed? If so, on what charge? Do we want to live in a society where we are punished for our thoughts?

Moreover, therapists are already required to report foreseeable, imminent harm. The Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers states “The general expectation that social workers will keep information confidential does not apply when disclosure is necessary to prevent serious, foreseeable, and imminent harm to a client or others.” This would be rather simple if we lived in a world of black and white, but there is nothing simple or straightforward in the gray area surrounding when a client actually poses a “serious, foreseeable, and imminent” threat.

Social Workers and other professionals who work in the field of mental health frequently find themselves treating people experiencing varying degrees of suicidality and homicidal ideation. The intricacies involved in such treatment are abundant. The heartbreaking tragedy of what followed makes us want to cast blame, but I argue the Counseling Center did its duty.

Megan is pursuing a masters in Social Work.

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