Therapists, like all mental health professionals, can be tremendously helpful when a patient requires assistance dealing with a difficult situation, depression, anxiety or any other emotional issue that negatively affects the quality of life. Conversely, those who betray the trust and the authority given to them can do a great deal of harm to the patient and the mental health profession in general.
The last few decades have exposed the abuses perpetrated by those involved in institutions such as the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts. More recently, therapist abuse has become a growing concern as more patients vocalize their experiences of being manipulated and abused by a trusted counselor or therapist.
Therapist abuse is using the imbalance of power in the therapeutic relationship to control, manipulate and exploit clients. Therapist abuse comes in many forms. The abuse may take the form of not so subtle encouragement to do certain things or act in a certain way that are not in the best interests of the patient. In these settings, the therapist encourages client dependency upon the therapist rather than seeking the client’s independence and growth. In its extreme forms, therapists engage in personal relationships with their patients, often including sexual relationships. Such sexual relationships between a therapist and a patient have always and in all circumstances been considered unethical and in some instances illegal due to the inherent imbalance of power between the two parties.
Statistics about therapy patient abuse only tell part of the story.
- Approximately 4.4% of therapists report having engaged in sex with at least one client,
- The offenders are about four times more likely to be male than female,
- The vast majority of sexually exploited clients are women (88-92%), and
- One out of 20 victims is a minor.
- The aftermath is incalculable. 11% of victims of therapist patient abuse end up in the hospital, 14% attempt suicide, and 1% actually commit suicide
There are clear ethical, moral and legal boundaries that govern a therapist-patient relationship. In a future post, I will write about those boundaries. In the meantime, if your therapist discusses other patients, makes suggestive or personal comments about your appearance, these are warning signs that the therapist is crossing a line and is not acting in your best interests.