My Roommates Have Been Listening to My Therapy Sessions. Is That OK?

My Roommates Have Been Listening to My Therapy Sessions. Is That OK?

My therapist is no longer seeing patients in person, so I’ve been attending therapy sessions at home in my room. Recently, one of my roommates told me that she had been listening to my sessions for weeks and heard me mention her name and the name of our other roommate. Now both roommates have told me I will not be allowed to have my sessions in the apartment anymore. They asked me to do them in a coffee shop or the public library (which is still closed in my city because of Covid). I could get a white-noise machine, but at this point I’m scared that they may hear a part of my session and gang up on me again.

Is this an invasion of privacy? Was it wrong for them to not disclose to me weeks earlier that they had been listening in? My sessions always begin with my therapist asking if I had any thoughts of self-harm or suicidal urges in the past week. How could a person not tell me she heard my private thoughts and then held them against me? Name Withheld

People can wrong us in ways that arise from our vulnerability to them. When they benefit from it, we generally have a handle on the situation: We call it “exploitation.” When our relationship to them is like that of a child to a parent, or a patient to a doctor, and they allow harm to come to us, we’ve got another handle: We can say that they have breached a “duty of care.” Your case involved neither offense. This may be one reason your roommates could tell themselves that they weren’t wronging you. But they very much were.

Those with whom you share your home are especially well placed to do all kinds of bad things to you. Some are violations of your person or property: They can replace your medications, mess with your food, steal money from your wallet. Some are violations of privacy: They can rifle through your closets and drawers. Decent roommates refrain from such things because they are respectful of your shared vulnerabilities. And listening in on private conversations, especially a therapy session governed by expectations of confidentiality, is definitely among the things they will try to avoid.

Those with whom you share your home are well placed to do all kinds of bad things to you.

Overhearing you, to be sure, isn’t like rummaging through your desk; it happens passively. This is probably another reason your roommates supposed they could evade blame. That they have held your private thoughts against you, as you report, is dismaying in part because it shows a refusal to acknowledge the simple moral truth: You should have been told at once that your sessions were audible elsewhere in the apartment. You could then have decided what measures you wanted to take.

At this point, no accommodation with your roommates that relies on mutual trust will be possible. As for that white-noise machine, invite over someone you can trust to see if it protects your privacy. And if you’re able to, find other roommates, ones who grasp the ethical demands of sharing a home.

I run a small, private health care practice and, out of concern for the safety of our patients and staff alike, I plan to mandate Covid vaccination once full F.D.A. approval comes. One staff member has told me that she plans to get a medical exemption from her doctor for what I know is not an evidence-based reason — her concerns with future fertility. What are the ethics of medical practitioners giving bogus medical exemptions? Is this something that warrants a formal complaint? Name Withheld

“There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including Covid-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems in women or men,” the C.D.C. tells us, seeking to address certain baseless rumors. We have zero reason to think that the Covid vaccines make it harder to become pregnant, that they induce miscarriages, attack the placenta — anything like that. On the other hand, as the C.D.C. reports, people who are pregnant are more likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19.

To go by the best available advice, then, you are increasing your risk of serious illness by avoiding vaccination and increasing it even more if you are also planning to become pregnant. A doctor who encouraged a patient to skip vaccination out of concerns about fertility or who, in the name of such unfounded claims, assisted her in evading an employer’s mandate would be violating the first-do-no-harm principle.

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There are valid medical reasons for some people to avoid vaccination — but these are extremely rare. Having a compromised immune system is not such a reason; having a serious allergy to vaccine components is. We trust doctors to certify when there are valid reasons to avoid vaccination. A doctor who certified that a patient has a valid medical reason to avoid vaccination because it posed risks to her fertility would be betraying that trust.

Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.

    • Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
    • Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
    • College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
    • Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.  
    • Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
    • New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
    • At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.

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