Licensed mental health counselors, psychologists, and other mental health care professionals are potential targets of licensure complaints from clients in any practice setting. Many legal situations and cases arise because the therapist has strayed over the line and crossed the therapist-client boundary. In reviewing the many disciplinary complaints and lawsuits I have handled, I have put together a list of simple “straightforward” rules. Following these rules can help save you many hours of stress and mental anguish and thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees and costs defending yourself.
These rules may appear to be so simple you would classify them as “common sense.” But you would be surprised at how often they are violated by even the best, most conscientious counselors.
These “Rules” May Seem Common Sense, But You Might Be Surprised:
1. DO NOT ever meet the client at an outside social activity or attend a social event with the client. These events include things like “just dinner” or “drinks.” Keep it professional.
2. DO NOT text the client. Texting is not secure and leads to casual and unprofessional thinking and conversations 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 it.
3. DO send an e-mail or a professional letter to the client instead of texting. Print out a copy and place it in the client’s health record because you will probably see it again.
4. DO NOT EVER make any suggestive or sexual remarks to the client in any communications, oral or written, text or e-mail. DON’T even think about it. This includes off-color jokes and comments.
5. 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.
6. DO NOT talk about other clients with the client.
7. DO NOT talk about your personal life with the client. Especially DO NOT let the client have your private home address or personal e-mail address. Note that you can have your personal address excluded from most public licensing sites and directories.
8. DO NOT ever have a sexual relationship with a client or former client. Consider clients and former clients “off-limits.” See Rule 5 above
9. DO know what professional boundaries are and NEVER cross them. This includes allowing a personal relationship to grow between you and the client, selling anything to the client (e.g., Girl Scout cookies, candy bars for your kids’ school band, tickets to charity events, washing powder, plastic sealable containers, etc.).
10. DO know if you have a suspicion that your therapist-client relationship is getting out of bounds; it probably already is. See Rule 5, above.
11. DO call a more senior professional colleague to you and consult them about the “situation” if you think there is one.
These may sound like “no-brainers” to you, but you would be surprised at how many complaints against licensed mental health counselors and psychologists there are because of violating one or more of these “simple rules.”
(Note: These “rules” are merely guidelines meant to help you keep out of trouble; these are not rules meant to be enforced on anyone, nor are they meant to 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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