What is Therapy Abuse?

Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Joel H. Siegal with Siegal & Richardson.

What is Therapy Abuse?
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Therapy abuse occurs when a therapist or mental health professional attempts to take advantage, manipulate, or otherwise harm a client. Therapists have considerable power over their clients, since people seeking therapists are typically looking for a guiding and authoritative force to work through whatever they’ve been struggling with. Unfortunately, whenever there is a power imbalance, there is potential for abuse. 

While most mental health professionals are highly-trained individuals committed to the health, recovery, and happiness of their clients, one bad therapist can do a lot of harm. If you suspect you or a loved one have suffered from therapy abuse, reach out to a therapy abuse and malpractice attorney to discuss your options.

Therapy abuse can take a variety of forms, including:

  • Sexual exploitation (i.e. pressuring clients to engage in talk or behavior of a sexual nature)
  • Sexual harassment or assault (i.e. direct assault and/or requesting sexual acts or favors from clients)
  • Financial exploitation (i.e. requesting or pressuring clients to provide contributions, business support, donations, gifts, etc.)
  • Emotional abuse (i.e. yelling, shouting, demeaning, or shaming a patient)

Sexual exploitation is a big problem in the realm of therapy abuse; it’s important to note that in most cases, therapists are prohibited from having sex with someone who is currently a patient or who has been a patient in the last two years. Mental health professionals are well aware of this rule, so it’s important to beware of any therapist that seems inclined to violate this rule and consider filing a complaint with the therapist’s licensing board in addition to discussing the issue with a therapy abuse lawyer.

Trust your gut.

When it comes to detecting therapy abuse or malpractice, it can be difficult to know for certain what does or doesn’t qualify. However, if there is any doubt, it may be wise to trust your gut. While some cases of “therapy abuse” may arise from transference if a patient’s trauma had to do with a parent or authority figure in their life, this should never be taken as a blanket rule, and every case should be investigated individually. While it is certainly possible for a patient to associate a therapist with the same negative feelings associated with an authority figure who caused them trauma, there are certain behaviors that a good therapist will never engage with, including any form of exploitation or abuse of their client. 

Therapy abuse is always malpractice, but therapy malpractice is not always abuse.

A therapist may still be guilty of malpractice even if they are not directly abusive; this is where the idea of malpractice comes in. Malpractice is a term used to refer to any actions by a professional that do not meet an acceptable standard of care. For example, failing to take action when a therapist suspect’s a patient might be homicidal or suicidal does not necessarily constitute abuse, but it could constitute malpractice. Therapy malpractice can be just as harmful as therapy abuse and both situations can result in life-long suffering for the therapy patient and their loved ones.

If you or a loved one suffered from therapy abuse or malpractice, you may be eligible to file a claim for recovery.

Damages that may be compensated or recovered in a therapy abuse claim can include medical bills, lost wages, future cost of therapy, loss of enjoyment of life, and more. Therapists have immense power to make a situation better or worse for their patients. When a therapist either through negligence or intentional actions makes a patient’s struggle worse, or even inflicts new psychological or physical injuries, it’s important to at once hold that therapist accountable while simultaneously seeking means of support for the patient who will as a result be forced onto a new avenue of recovery.

To learn more about therapy abuse and malpractice, or for help investigating a potential claim, reach out to a therapy abuse and malpractice lawyer in your state.

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