Ethical Considerations Regarding Retirement

Alann D. Dingle, Ph.D.



Thinking about retiring?  Creating a professional will or a contingency plan addresses the clinical, ethical, legal, and risk management issues regarding retirement. Some psychologists elect to manage patient care and maintain records themselves rather than delegating to another professional. Others elect to provide the necessary passwords, keys, and documentation of protected information to an appointed professional executor.


During the transition to retirement, psychologists complete patient treatment, provide appropriate referrals, terminate contracts, and resolve outstanding financial matters. According to the APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2010), which has been codified by the California Board of Psychology, psychologists must “make reasonable efforts to plan for facilitating services in the event that psychological services are interrupted by factors such as the psychologist’s…relocation, or retirement…”(3.12). Regarding maintenance, dissemination, and disposal of confidential records, psychologists should “make plans in advance to facilitate the appropriate transfer and to protect the confidentiality of records and data in the event of psychologists’ withdrawal from positions or practice” (6.02(c)).  


Consider the following vignette that highlights issues and possible solutions.


Dr. M., an 83-year-old psychologist, closed her practice two years ago, but she maintained her license and continued to be active in her professional community. When she closed her practice, Dr. M. moved her confidential records to a locked storage unit at her home and purchased a tail policy through her risk management carrier.  Because Dr. M. did not have a Website and wanted to disconnect her office phone line, she provided her email and mobile phone number to her patients and sent notification letters to many of her prior patients.


This year, Dr. M. decided not to renew her license and wants to resolve any ethical dilemmas that arise from transitioning to full retirement, while maintaining responsibility for her practice and records.  Specifically, Dr. M. may receive a subpoena for records or former patients may request access to their records for seven years after termination.  Records of minors must be preserved until the individual is 25-years-old.  Fortunately, Dr. M. worked in a group practice and her colleagues agreed to post contact information in the office waiting room and allowed Dr. M. to use their office address for the BOP’s address of record.  Dr. M. also placed a retirement notice in her local newspaper. 


Dr. M.’s situation highlights the value of consultations with senior clinicians, mental health attorneys, members of the Ethics Committee, or risk management consultants. For retiring psychologists, those consultations assist in the decision-making process and transition into a much-deserved retirement.