Free Practice Question: Danger to Self

By Robin Gluck on January 11, 2019

Happy New Year! We finished last year with a practice question that tested your knowledge of a therapist’s duty to protect when a client is a danger to others. We are starting the New Year also exploring a therapist’s duty to protect. However, this time we will explore a therapist’s obligations concerning danger to self.


Ambulance in front of emergency room

Danger to Self

If you are an associate MFT, social worker, or PCC studying for the California Law and Ethics exam you are pretty much guaranteed to see at least one question regarding danger to self appear on your exam. The BBS wants to know that you are able to navigate this subject and keep your client and the public safe. For the sake of the exam, you will need to:

  1.     Know when your duty to protect is triggered
  2.     Know when and how to conduct a risk assessment
  3.     Determine the appropriate type of intervention based on risk

Danger to Self Practice Question

A therapist has been meeting with a client for individual therapy for a year. The client has been in a long-term relationship with a partner who struggles with Major Depressive Disorder. The client’s partner has a history of attempted suicide and substance abuse. During a session, the client shares that she believes her partner has increased use of alcohol in recent days and is suicidal. She is scared and uncertain what she should do. What should the therapist do in this case?

A.  Inform the client that the therapist must break confidentiality to manage their partner’s safety risk.

B.  Inform the client that the therapist must break confidentiality because of their duty to protect.

C. Inform the client that the therapist will maintain confidentiality and offer resources for the client’s partner.

D. Maintain confidentiality since the therapist’s duty to protect is only triggered when it is their client who is at risk.

(Scroll down for correct answer and rationale)






















The correct answer is C.

When it comes to duty to protect, a therapist is only obligated to intervene when their client is the one who poses the danger to self or others. In fact, the therapist can only break confidentiality if it is their client who presents as a danger to self. Therefore, answers A and B can be eliminated.

We are left with answers C and D. It’s important to consider what the question is actually asking when deciding on the strongest answer. If the question asked about our legal obligation, the correct answer would be D. Legally, we would maintain confidentiality. However, the question is broader and therefore our answer should encompass more than just our legal obligation.

Answer C includes the therapist’s legal obligation, which is to maintain confidentiality. Answer C also addresses the clinical issue that is raised by the client’s expression of fear and uncertainty by providing her with resources.

Exam Preparation

How did you do on this question? Does the correct answer and rationale align with your understanding of a therapist’s duty to protect, or did you learn something new? If you have any additional questions, you are welcome to check in with a TDC coach. Our coaches are here to answer your questions and provide support and guidance as you prepare to PASS your law and ethics exam with confidence!

If you aren’t already signed up for one of our excellent exam preparation programs, check out our social work and MFT customer testimonials and sign up today! Our structured, straightforward approach will provide you with exactly what you need to successfully answer questions like these and many more-correctly and with confidence.


Commenter Name
March 4, 2019

I struggled between answer C & D; however I chose the correct answer "C". I gained insight from the rationale as it was identified that the the question was from a broader spectrum and if the term "Legal Obligation" would have been used it would have changed the entire question as a result the answer would have been different.

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