Proving legal evidence as a mental health practitioner

Understanding the process can help you as a mental health practitioner if you are called to provide legal evidence in support of a client in an abusive relationship
Proving legal evidence as a mental health practitioner

The legal system can be complicated and overwhelming, and while you may want to stay away, or not get involved, know that your evidence can go a long way in helping your client enforce her rights. Your records need to be up to date and need to cover all the issues that you will mention in your affidavit or oral testimony. An affidavit is a written statement confirmed by oath or affirmation, for use as evidence in court. Oral testimony is an oral statement confirmed by oath, for use as evidence in court.

What does documentation of abuse by a mental health practitioner mean?
Proving legal evidence as a mental health practitioner

Before you provide an affidavit or oral testimony, make sure you have documented all information regarding the abuse, decision-making capacity, emotional impact, and pre-existing mental illness in the client’s medical records, and have reviewed the diagnosis as it is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), if relevant.

If you’re asked to provide an affidavit, write down the chronology of events, and be as specific as you can. If possible, support all inferences with evidence, and provide the written statement to your client’s lawyer.

A contested domestic violence case or a divorce case can take years. Your testimony can help your client get the relief they need. On the day of the cross examination, make sure you’re present at the court on time, if you aren’t present, the case can be adjourned for several weeks, if not months. Try to set aside half a day for this case, lawyers will be unable to predict exactly when the case may be called, so while it may be frustrating, you may have to wait several hours before the case is called. When you are cross examined keep your answers very brief. All your responses should reflect the notes you’ve made in the client’s records.

Handling abuse-related trauma in therapy is a series by White Swan Foundation in collaboration with Shakti. This series is a guide for mental health practitioners to help survivors of abuse heal with therapy. This series refers to survivors as women, however, we acknowledge that survivors can belong to any identity. The usage of the word "women" has been used to reflect laws that are focused on women as survivors of domestic violence, and other guidelines that are framed keeping women in mind.

Written by Bhumika Sahani, journalist and social worker by training; consultant at Shakti; and Dr Parul Mathur, resident doctor, Department of Psychiatry, NIMHANS

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