Document Type

Psychiatry Issue Brief

Publication Date





The concept of confidentiality arises from legal recognition given to the expectations of parties in a relationship. The party conveying the information has an expectation of privacy and the party hearing the information has an obligation not to disclose. More importantly, the concept of privilege arises when legal recognition is given to those communications. Privilege prevents compelled disclosure in legal settings. There is currently no recognized privilege protection for communications made to researchers absent a Certificate of Confidentiality. With the few exceptions that we will discuss, there is also no recognized privilege for communications made to peer supporters.

Peer supporters are becoming increasingly more important in clinical and research settings. For the purposes of this brief, peer supporters are defined as individuals with a history of mental illness or substance abuse who are providing services and/or supports to others diagnosed with a similar illness. The increasing use of peer supporters is largely due to research findings and transformation efforts that suggest that peers are able to easily build effective relationships with clients and help promote recovery. Peers have been shown to have the ability to act as positive role models with personal experiences to share, and are often more empathetic than non-peers. Unfortunately peers may not be protected from the consequences of compelled disclosure of information they gain. In Massachusetts, peers can be subpoenaed by a court to repeat any information they obtain from clients/research subjects. The authors will discuss strategies which could protect peers under these circumstances.

Subject Area

Legal Issues, Peers, Rehabilitation/Recovery


confidentiality, peer supporters, mental illness, substance abuse

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Copyright © University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.



Email the Authors

Antonia Seligowski and Albert J. Grudzinskas Jr.