Few mental health professionals are ever prosecuted for their behavior. With an unfortunate 3% report rate and lack of follow-through or ‘slaps on the wrist’ from officials, that means there are a lot of mental health professionals continuing to cause harm and get away with crimes.
It needs to stop. Therapist abuse and misconduct destroys people’s lives and needs to start being treated accordingly.
People who have been victimized have several avenues for recourse after a mental health professional commits boundary violations, misconduct, or abuse. They can opt for one or more of a:
- Civil Case,
- Criminal Case, or
- License Board Complaint.
The biggest issue to be aware of is the Statute of Limitations for your state. There is a time limit on how long after abuse has happened that it can be reported.
I’m not qualified to tell anyone what the best answers are, nor can I give any legal advice. People who have been victimized need to find the best answer or answers for them.
Please visit the resources page. In addition to legal resources that have information about the pros and cons of each choice, some of the advocacy sites also have stories written by people who have gone through the various options, so you can read what their experience was like.
Misconceptions About Ambivalence
Ambivalence is a very common phenomena when a victim is deciding whether or not to pursue reporting the therapist. As stated on the Effects of Therapist Abuse page, incest has been used as a loose metaphor by experts in the field when trying to explain what therapist abuse is like. Just as a child has mixed feelings about reporting an abusive parent, a client often has mixed feelings about reporting an abusive therapist.
Reporting the person who was supportive, kind, and helpful (at least initially) is not an easy thing to do. Those feelings are compounded by feelings of vulnerability because the therapist knows all your secrets and fears; guilt because, for a period of time, the therapist created feelings of ‘specialness’ (an illusion difficult to give up); and because most victims already have a trauma background and may not understand healthy boundaries in the first place. As one woman said, “It’s hard to be sure the therapist did something wrong when my father did the same thing, and they both said they loved me.”
Ambivalence is a normal part of coming to grips with what happened to you. It doesn’t mean the therapist is innocent, or didn’t mean it, and that what happened to you isn’t serious. It only means you’re human and grappling with difficult decisions.
My Two Cents
Please do not let anyone tell you what you should do. I was heavily pressured to not report it by someone who significantly prolonged my healing and recovery and caused even more emotional damage with the invalidating, dismissive, and hurtful words he used. No one knows what is best for you and your healing except you.
I know that isn’t as easy to do as it is to write. After you’ve been victimized, traumatized, had your trust destroyed, and have lost the mental health professional you were supposed to be able to trust, it is nearly impossible to stand up for yourself. Often, victims are left with little support when a therapist abuses them.
Therapist Abuse Misconceptions
Few people understand the trauma and damage done in therapist abuse and misconduct cases. Many see it as an adult, consensual relationship gone bad. It is anything but that. There is nothing consensual in this situation.
I believe this lack of understanding and support is one reason there is such a low report rate. When people uneducated about the harm therapist abuse causes tell you to “let it go” and that the perpetrator “didn’t mean anything”, it’s easy to doubt yourself, belittle yourself, and take on even further blame and shame for a situation that wasn’t your fault.
Even though there is an abysmally low report rate, in every single case I’ve ever read where the victim sought accountability and justice, she was glad she had done so. The process can be horrible and retraumatizing, but there seems to be a great deal of healing and satisfaction in standing up to an unethical mental health professional and making your voice heard. Even in outcomes where a therapist was allowed to still practice (which to me is an abomination), women were glad they had gone through the reporting process.
Please get help and, even if you don’t know what to do right away, become knowledgeable about your options so you can make the best decision for you within the time-frame mandated by your area. If we begin to speak out against therapists-gone-wrong, we can make a difference and help prevent others from getting hurt as well.
One note: Women account for roughly 90% or more of all people victimized by mental health professionals. Men can be victimized too, and there are also cases of same-sex therapist abuse. The use of female pronouns is not meant to discount male victims of therapist misconduct; it’s simply because the overwhelming majority of victims are female.