In my last post I introduced the difficult and painful topic of therapist abuse. It is difficult and painful precisely because a therapist like a priest, doctor, or mentor is in a position of authority and trust. Betrayal is traumatic because the patient has shared some of their deepest, most intimate thoughts and feelings with the therapist and the counselor has used that information for his or her own benefit.
In order to avoid situations where abuse may occur, it’s important to know some of the warning signs of therapist abuse. These are certain behaviors or conversations a good therapist would never have with a client. The most obvious is sexual. There are no exceptions to this rule. A therapist or counselor can never have any type of romantic, personal or sexual relationship with a client. It’s contrary to the profession’s ethical code of conduct and may lead to criminal charges against the therapist. This includes discussion of such a relationship in the future. This may start out as the therapist talking about his own personal life, his frustrations, or his private relationships. These are warning signs that the professional therapeutic relationship has gone off track and a boundary has been crossed. Another related sign concerns the therapist crossing over the professional boundary by attempting to initiate a friendship with the client.
In instances of therapist abuse, the one in the position of authority attempts to exert undue control over the patient’s feelings, emotions, and behavior instead of offering suggestions or strategies to change. Emotional manipulation is often a significant factor in these stages.
Here are some of the other danger signs that may lead to abuse:
- begins scheduling your appointments for the end of the day
- reduces the rate or stops charging for sessions
- starts giving hugs when that has never been part of a session
- changes the way hugs are given (elongates them, hugs in a more private location, places hands in an awkward position, etc.)
- begins complimenting more than usual on appearance (Please note, this takes discernment. Sometimes a compliment is simply a compliment. Other times, it is a warning sign.)
- divulges personal information about him or herself, especially if it has no relevance to therapy
- requests or agrees to any type of dual relationship (a dual relationship is when there is a relationship of any kind outside the therapeutic context. Dual relationships can be a separate business relationship, meeting for coffee or lunch as if you are friends, your therapist asking you to do a favor for them, etc. In the U.S., the idea of dual relationships is a fairly firm Code of Ethics violation. In other countries, there may be more leeway because cultural mores are different. Also in small towns, there may be dual relationships due to population size. If there is one doctor and one therapist, and they need each other’s services, a dual relationship is going to exist. If managed with care and respect for boundaries and ethics, this can be fine. Please use discernment.)
- asks patient to do something for them that is outside the therapeutic context
- seeks professional advice (If patient is an accountant and the therapist asks for tax advice during session or calls separately, this is a boundary violation.)
- hires patient to do small tasks
- calls, texts, or emails patient outside the context of therapy
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list but provides a good starting point to be cautious and prudent.