By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
I represent many mental health counselors, social workers, psychologists, and professional counselors, defending them on complaints being investigated against their professional licenses. Many complaints and investigations arise because the therapist has strayed over the line and crossed the therapist-client boundary. In reviewing these cases, I have drawn up a list of a few simple “bright line” rules that can help save you many hours of stress and mental anguish as well as thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees and costs defending yourself
These “rules” may seem to be common sense, but there they are, anyway:
1. DO NOT ever meet the client at an outside social activity or attend a social event with the client. This includes “just dinner” or “just-drinks.”
2. DO NOT text the client. Texting is not secure and leads to casual and unprofessional thinking and conversation with the client. Many health care institutions prohibit their physicians and employees from texting with clients because of the HIPAA Security and Privacy Rules. You can use that as an excuse if you need one.
3. DO take a screenshot and print out the text when you violate the above rule. Place it in the client’s health record because you will probably be seeing it again, attached to a complaint.
4. DO send an e-mail or, better yet, a professional letter to the client, instead of texting the client. Print out a copy and place it in the client’s health record, because you will probably see it again.
5. DO NOT EVER make any suggestive or sexual remarks to the client in any communications, oral or written or text, or e-mail. In fact, DON’T even think about it. This includes off-color jokes and comments.
6. DO immediately terminate the relationship with the client, transferring care to a different therapist, if the client suggests anything of a sexual nature involving you.
7. DO NOT talk about other clients with the client.
8. DO NOT talk about your own personal life with the client. Especially DO NOT let the client have your personal home address or personal e-mail address.
9. DO NOT ever have sex with a client or former client. DO NOT even think of it. If you start to think of it, see Rule 6, above. Consider clients and former clients “off-limits” no matter how much you are tempted. If you are religious, just consider this as an attempt by Satan to seduce you. If it works, you are going to be in Hell, even before you die.
10. DO know what professional boundaries are and DO NOT cross them. This includes allowing a personal relationship to grow between you and the client, and includes selling anything to the client (e.g., Girl Scout cookies, tickets to a charitable event, Amway products, candy bars for your kids’ school band, etc.), agreeing to meet the client at any outside event, accepting gifts from the client, hiring the client to work for you, accepting “voluntary” services from the client (including volunteering to work in your office). If you need a friend that bad, terminate the therapist-client relationship and see Rule 6, above.
11. DO know that if you have even a suspicion that your therapist-client relationship is getting out of bounds, then it already is out of bounds. See Rule 6, above.
12. DO call a professional therapist colleague who is more senior to you and consult her or him about the “situation” if you think there may be a “situation.”
These may sound like “no-brainers” to you, but you would be surprised at how many complaints against licensed counselors and psychologists there are as a result of violating one or more of these “rules.”
(Note: These “rules” are just guidelines meant to help you keep out of trouble; these are not meant to be enforced against anyone, nor do they create or represent any “standard of care.”)
For additional information on how our firm can assist you in matters like this, click here to read one of our prior blogs.
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About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620
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