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Counseling Session Notes and the Clergy-Penitent Privilege

Personal notes made by ministers during counseling sessions may be privileged.

Key point. Personal notes ministers make during counseling sessions may be privileged.

A federal court in Virginia ruled that the clergy-penitent privilege applied to a pastoral counselor, and that as a result the counselor did not have to disclose notes she took during counseling sessions.

A woman was injured when she was struck by a can falling from the top shelf in a grocery store. She later sued the grocery store for personal injuries and emotional distress. At the time of the accident and thereafter the woman sought counseling from a pastoral counselor at a local nonprofit, multidenominational counseling center operated by 8 churches. All of the counselors at the center are ordained ministers.

During the woman's counseling sessions, her counselor followed her usual practice of taking notes. The grocery store learned of the counseling relationship and issued a subpoena seeking disclosure ...

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  • September 1, 1994

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