38 thoughts on “5 Major Ethical Violations In Therapy

  • November 7, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Your conclusion regarding sexual misconduct of therapists was completely lacking in empathy for the effect of such behavior on the client. You noted only that it could ruin a practice and rack up a bunch of legal fees.

    I have a friend who was courted by her therapist and led into a relationship by way of emails and personal contact. She eventually tried to commit suicide. Even now, eight years after, she is still affected by the conduct of the therapist. The effect of such behavior is way more than legal fees and career threatening.

    Please don’t forget this.

    • November 7, 2013 at 9:52 am

      HI Lijpwrites:
      Thanks for that. The purpose for my final statement was to highlight the trouble a therapist could get into. The article is about the unethical behaviors of the therapist and the consequences. It is not about the psychological harm clients encounter. But that could possibly be a future article. The statement on sexual misconduct is educating you to what can happen to a therapist if he disrespects clients in this way.

  • November 12, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    When I clicked the link for the word document, it led to a google search results page instead of a word document. I would love to read the article–can you update the link or email me a copy? Thanks!

  • November 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    I’m not sure if my past therapist crossed a line. She was there for me gave me her cell number and called to check on me since I couldn’t come in. Then she stopped just left me hanging.

    • November 16, 2013 at 10:34 pm

      Hi Friar:
      Thank you for your comment. This is a difficult call because every situation is different. I think it is okay for a therapist to give their cell phone in certain cases, especially if that cell phone is used for work purposes. A lot of therapists use their cell phone for work. As a supervisor of a clinical department, I did the same thing at times. Most therapists also call to check on their clients or patients if they haven’t heard from them. It’s kind of protocol in some agencies.

      It is tough to tell when a professional is crossing the line. I encourage you to use your judgment.
      Take care

  • October 2, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    I’m a licensed psychotherapist in the state of NY. A client of mine recently initiated termination, but then continued to send me unwanted emails that were hostile. I did not respond to them. I had my attorney send a cease and desist contact letter. He led me to believe it was legal to disclose the name, emails and other information about my client for the purpose of sending the cease and desist letter. However, I have now been reported by the former client to my professional ethics committee who is evaluating the situation, and the client is threatening to file a misconduct complaint with the NYS Office of Professions.

    I assumed that my attorney would be someone to which I could disclose this information about my client. He did not tell me otherwise. Upon scrutinizing the laws for myself, disclosure to my attorney does not appear to be within the noted exceptions, as I have not been sued by the client (YET) nor subpoenaed by a court, and it was not for the purposes of reporting a threat to self or others, or to prevent abuse.

    Can you tell me if my attorney has wrongly advised me?

  • December 28, 2014 at 4:51 am

    I personally know a LMFT in Hawaii who actively violated Confidentiality, HIPPA, Social, and Text & Email confidentiality for 4 years (and still is as far as I know). I did submit a complaint to OCR, and they did nothing. I also submitted the same information, as well as an AAMFT Ethics Violations statement to her State’s licensing board, and they seem to be taking it seriously because they are investigating.

    For a system that is supposed to protect clients, all these licensing boards sure seem to make it easy for really bad people to become therapists.

    • January 3, 2015 at 12:11 am

      As sad as it is, I agree. There are political issues and agency issues that can really get in the way of client’s seeking ethical therapists or even reporting unethical therapists. It is a long journey for many clients to find the right person to work with, but once you find the right person, you will be glad you did.

      Take care

  • August 3, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    My “therapy” was sexualized. I would like to share what happened, but don’t know if I should list it here. I would be grateful if you would e-mail me. I am trying to find the courage to confont him. I wrote about my life of overcoming and won a scholarship, sophomore at 68!

    Kind Regards, Kate

  • September 12, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    My husband goes to trauma resolution therapy. His trauma is, among other things, sexual. His therapist is a very attractive woman who spends three hours with him once a week, and then they go to dinner. They also exchange texts and emails throughout the week. This is making me super uncomfortable.

    • September 12, 2016 at 9:47 pm

      Hi Lecabel
      I don’t blame you for being uncomfortable, it is inappropriate depending on a few things:
      1. The kind of professional she is or is not. For example, is she a licensed mental health therapist? Is she certified in a mental health specialty? Does she have a professional license # you can take to your local Board of Psychology and inquire about? If not, you should question her credentials.

      2. What her role is. Is she a coach, peer “professional,” or advocate? What is her training? Is there someone (I.e., supervisor, etc) that you can reach to?

      3. Is there concrete proof she is being inappropriate or unethical? If not, your concerns will likely be ignored.

      It’s best to talk to the patient/client yourself and mention your concerns. Then proceed from there.
      Take care

      • September 13, 2016 at 8:30 pm

        Thank you for the feedback. I will follow up. I have told my husband that I think this is unprofessional conduct, but he tells me, “It’s not like that…” But my instinct tells me it is.

  • September 14, 2016 at 11:12 am

    I send emails to my therapist when things are really bad. I am grateful that he does and it helps him to understand what is going on, plus it can save time during session. He never replies to the emails. I don’t expect him to either. He also allows texts. Mostly it’s about session times, changing appointments or whatever. But sometimes I am just having a really difficult moment and I just need to know that someone is there. Sometimes he replies, but quite often he doesn’t. I try to not get upset when he doesn’t reply, and I don’t pester him about it because I know that he has to keep within professional boundaries and I understand that. But I really appreciate his commitment to his clients and his willingness to be available to them when they are in crisis.

    • September 16, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      Hi Sheila,
      Thanks for your comment.
      Most therapists shy away from doing certain things such as complimenting clients on their appearance, allowing clients to text or email them for matters other than scheduling, calling them after hours, etc. because of the problems it can cause when/if things change. For example, if your therapist, who always compliments you on how you look, does not comment the next time you see him or her may result in you feeling that perhaps you don’t look nice that day. A therapist who allows you to text them and then doesn’t respond 1 time, may cause you to feel the way you did Sheila or even worse.

      In other words, some therapists shy away from email, text, compliments, etc. because it can foster a kind of dependency that will not help you grow or cope without assistance. I must admit, I do use email and compliment clients but this is done genuinely but methodically.

      It’s tricky but all therapists should be ethical and careful in everything they do.

      • September 16, 2016 at 1:57 pm

        He never compliments me unless I am looking not as glum as I usually do, and that is just recognition that something has changed in me for the better. He only replies to texts in a supportive, usually one to three words response. When he feels that I am in a very dark place. If he feels that I am able to sit with the situation on my own he doesn’t reply and we discuss my text when I see him in the office. I respect that he is setting and keeping professional boundaries. He knows when I am having a crisis moment and commits himself to respond appropriately. My emails are strictly business and are only written when I am unable to cope, or I have to get the thoughts out of my head. They are my safe place and gives him some valuable insight. He waits until my appointment to discuss the content of the email. I always try to avoid sending him anything outside of business hrs and I certainly don’t call him, especially on a weekend. I would have to be at great risk of losing my life and even at that, I don’t know if I would bother him.
        I am very aware of the boundaries of the relationship and as difficult as it may be at times, I respect when he doesn’t reply and I leave it at that until my scheduled appointment.

  • September 30, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Thank you for writing this article. It helped me understand what went wrong with my previous therapy.
    I am female and went to a male therapist who was slightly older. His wife of 37 years had died 1.5 years previously and he had remarried within 6 months. He claimed to be desperately unhappy and lonely in his new marriage. He talked about his deceased wife alot and eventually told me that I reminded him of her. He openly cried about this multiple times. I felt responsible. Shortly after this he admitted to his counter transference. I was experiencing transference too. Things got very confusing for me. I felt compelled to please him. We emailed back and forth alot. He commented that he had to be careful what he emailed as to not appear to be encouraging me… but he encouraged me alot during our meetings by flirting, compliments, sexualized talk, and embracing me in a sexualized way. I also shared my paintings with him (I am an artist) and gave him several for his office. He encouraged me to love him but later decided it was a bad idea and became very formal… he would not talk about what happened and left me feeling ashamed and embarrassed and rejected. Fortunately for me he moved away. At first he had told me he still wanted to email but I guess he changed his mind… so I was left feeling completely shamed and humiliated. How could I have ever trusted him!??!! I felt very exploited.
    I am now in therapy to try to get over my previous therapy. This is worse than what I went to therapy for in the first place. The new therapist suggested I should file a complaint but I am too afraid right now. I just want to get over the emotional toll from this man and move on.

    So boundary violations can be devastating to the patient.

    Thank you!

    • October 2, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      Hi Sophie,
      What a “tragedy” of therapy for you. This should never happen to a client and a therapist, a good therapist, should ensure that their statements and behaviors are clearly understood by the client. Clients can, in some cases, misunderstand the intentions of a therapist because a therapist is permitted to experience the intimate details of a client’s life. When someone, like a therapist, is given access to a client’s life, thoughts, and emotions, a client can misinterpret kindness, comments, behaviors, etc. It is truly the job of a therapist to remain professional and appropriate at all times, no matter the “channel” of communication (i.e., email, in-person, phone, online, etc).

      I would file a complaint and examine, perhaps with your new therapist, the pros and cons of this action. Perhaps a complaint would remedy nothing. On the other hand, you might be protecting future clients.
      Take care

  • November 18, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    Hi There,

    I am wondering if you may be able to shed some light on a situation please.
    A little of the background first:
    My friend has been in and out of rehab dealing with various addictions (due to breakdown of marriage 8 years ago) and has tried many diff counselling styles, but always hates going after a while – she’s quite lazy and also thinks her problems ‘are not that bad’…but her behaviour suggests otherwise and her two kids are having a lot of trouble coping, esp 14yr old boy.
    So now she has finally found a psychiatrist whom she says she really likes and that he does a great job and she comes out feeling very positive and has a new spark toward getting well. The only thing is, it worries me because one of the things he is ‘challenging’ her on is her lack of ‘boundaries’. [ I have always thought this too, and even wondered/suspected possible abuse when she was a child, although she has always denied this happened -but I now know that some people have repressed memories and may not even realise it’s happened]. Anyway, she told me that her therapist ‘tested’ her boundaries by saying “Why don’t you come and sit on my lap for the rest of the session?” …she said said No, and he asked her to explain why this was unacceptable. Then he said, “Well perhaps I could sit on your lap?” …She said No again… And explained to him why not.
    Now, she told me that this was supposed to be a TEST, to challenge her boundaries, but to me it felt very inappropriate/wrong, even as a test. She insists that she didn’t feel vulnerable, but she also has a way of lying and manipulating people and esp men. I don’t know what to think. She is a very attractive woman and people are usually bedazzled by her…
    Do you think this seems like an unethical “test” for a psychiatrist to do on a patient?
    Thank you in advance for any light or comments…

    • November 23, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      Hi Lanie,
      Challenging “test” to say the least. Every therapist has a different style or “school of thought.” The way I do something may not be the way my colleague may do something. I would feel very uncomfortable with this as a female client, primarily a female client of a male therapist who has authority and “power” over my healthcare. It is unprofessional, based entirely on what you have reported. I would encourage you to encourage your friend to ask about his “school of thought” and techniques. Research them and see what you come up with.
      Take care

  • February 27, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    My therapist was lonely, boundary challenged and an admirer of my writing (she later confessed a weakness for erotica which, at some points along the way my writing qualified.) What started out as too much email correspondence “blossomed” into a rip roaring transference and dependency. I spent two years getting worse–not better. And another two years in new therapy to clean up the damage from the first therapist. I found your blog while doing research for the complaint I’m finally able to write.

    I decided to share my experience and process up online: http://www.thesandbox.life

  • April 17, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    My 14 yo son was in therapy with a Psychologist. My wife and I are going through a divorce and much of the therapy involved my son’s difficult relationship with my wife. Most sessions involved my wife and son, some mu son only and very few included me.
    Occasionally the therapist would email me with questions or to get insight. My wife is undiagnosed borderline. On one occasion the therapist forwarded an email to my wife that I had written to him only. I told him this was a problem and that it caused big problems for me at home. He agreed not to do it again. A few months later he did it again.
    I am furious and want to report this violation. Is it reportable violation?

    • April 23, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      Hi e3,
      I would venture to say that the therapist should have never shared this information with your wife. It was information that was between you and the therapist.
      Now, you do want to make sure that you did not sign any consents that said the therapist could legally share anything you may say or do. If, for example, you signed a consent stating he could release information to your wife that you send to him or share, you cannot argue the point that he has disregarded your wishes. A consent, as you probably know, gives him the legal right to share what he pleases.

      On the other hand, even with a consent, as a therapist I would not forward an email sent from one spouse to another spouse during a divorce battle. He should be well aware, as a professional, of the challenges that can occur in these cases. Because I don’t know the therapist, I cannot comment on his ethics or approach. But I would say that you may benefit from addressing him again and expressing your concerns. Then you may want to consider ceasing all email communication.

      If he continues to do things that undermines your trust of him, I would speak to someone in his agency or report him. You have obviously already talked to him about your feelings about forwarding the email, so he should be well aware of the fact that you want privacy and are asking that he respect that. You may need to consider getting away from that therapist as well, especially if you feel therapy is going nowhere.

      All the best

  • April 29, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    Re: “I believe it is acceptable to develop a “friendship” within the proper bounds with clients.”
    Can you please explain what you mean by this? How could a friendship between client and therapist be acceptable? What constitutes proper bounds? My therapist befriended me during therapy and wound up causing me more harm than good so I understand full well why friendship is deemed unethical practice. I hope there is a logical explaination for your statement. Thanks.

    • May 5, 2017 at 1:57 am

      Hi Charley, I’m sorry to hear that. This should never happen.
      That’s a tough question and I suppose I could have been more clear on that one! When I say “friendship” I mean an open relationship in which the client feels heard, understood, and cared for. Therapists, as you know, cannot be your friend because the power differential is a major barrier. The authority in the relationship is with the therapist and not the client. When someone is “above” the other as far as ranking in a professional relationship, any kind of friendship can be exploitative or harmful. Friendship is definitely one-sided and only for the client. “Friendship,” in my eyes, is having an open, comfortable, and engaging relationship with a client with clear ethical and legal boundaries. The relationship does not have to be “stiff” and “professional” at all times.

      I hope that was clear. You may find this article helpful too! http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/why-cant-my-therapist-and-i-be-friends-0705137 and this one too: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201312/can-your-therapist-be-your-friend (a therapeutic friendship).
      Take care

      • May 5, 2017 at 11:18 pm

        Thank you for the clarification. Your explaination makes perfect sense as harm, exploitation, abuse of power, are all part of what I experienced. Thanks again.

      • May 10, 2017 at 2:24 pm

        Absolutely. If you have further questions, feel free to leave them here.
        Take care

  • November 17, 2018 at 6:51 pm

    I had my son’s psychologist write a letter to the court saying my actions were alienating my ex and son and that I was exhibiting suicidal ideation and depression. I have never met the man and sent one text in reply. All reports of my behavior was through 3rd party reports and my mental health diagnosis was from pages my ex had stolen from my 13 year old mental health therapy journal and protected information. Are these ethical violations and legal for him to testify to in court? I lost 90% of my visitation with my child and zero overnight visits.

    • November 20, 2018 at 11:44 pm

      Hi Angela,
      This is tough for me to answer without having a lot more background information. For a mom to lose her rights and 90% of her rights, is unheard of in family court. We have what’s called “public policy” in family court which is that it isn’t good “policy” to separate kids from their parents. When this happens, there is usually good reason. Most moms are the first to get rights or share them with the father. I would consider an attorney who is experienced in family law. I would also pursue counseling to see if you can benefit from support in this form.
      I wish you well

  • January 23, 2019 at 11:28 am

    I have been seeing my therapist for two and a half years and a few weeks ago a fairly close friend started seeing her. It has really upset me. I am wondering if it is a breach of ethics? Really I just want your opinion. Thank you.

    • February 5, 2019 at 10:28 pm

      Hi Alyssa,
      Every therapist does things differently and they may make decisions that you and I would question, but that aren’t “breaches of ethics.” For me, I would not see your friend at all because that is a “conflict of interest” and could cause the therapist to lose objectivity when counseling you or your friend separately. But perhaps your therapist sees things a different way.

      I would ask for the reasoning and explain how you feel about it.
      Take care

  • February 19, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    So I just had a counselor contact my probation officer, and lye and say things, that I said during a group meeting. That were never said or spoken of. All because I chose to leave there program, because the councilor refused to stop being militive, and act in a professional manner… thoughts and comments are what I should do would be helpful. The company could careless! I already tried talking to they’re board.

    • March 16, 2019 at 10:10 am

      Hi Joseph,
      I would suggest searching for a new therapist if this is something that has indeed happened and it isn’t a misunderstanding. You can talk to your probation officer about getting a different therapist. That’s your first step in the situation.

      I wish you well

  • September 14, 2019 at 2:58 am

    Hi thanks for your article. I am in the u.k. and had therapy for four years with a therapist who allowed me unlimited email contact even at weekends and when she was on holiday. It seemed kind but it made me incredibly overdependent. My mental health significantly decreased and she didn’t address any of my concerns. Do you think I should report her?

    • September 15, 2019 at 7:36 pm

      Hi Theresa,
      I would think carefully about why you want to report her. Did she take advantage of you or does it just seem this way? Were her intentions to harm you or help you? Did you intentionally go along knowing that you were becoming dependent? Is this the only relationship where you have become dependent? And will reporting her benefit you in the future?

      The answers to these questions should make things a bit more clear.

      • September 23, 2019 at 12:08 pm

        Thanks for your response Tamara. I feel like she was meeting her own emotional needs. I’ve never been like this in any other relationship. I was completely unaware of what was transpiring. Its not the clients job to hold boundaries. I’ve been greatly harmed by it. Therapists are not supposed to create overdependence. In fact all in all its been one of the worst experiences of my life.

  • September 22, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    Do you think there are any conditions in which a therapist and client could develop a healthy relationship outside of the initial therapeutic setting? If so, what would those conditions be?


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