Inappropriate Relationships With Patients Can Sabotage Therapists’ Careers

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Aug 21, 2023 | 0 Comments

The story of a Michigan therapist whose professional license was suspended for having an affair with one of his patients illustrates the severe consequences licensed therapists around the country face when they engage in inappropriate relationships with their patients.

Social worker Derek Robertson admitted to having a sexual relationship for over a year with a patient who was seeing him for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Robertson admitted to having sex with the patient in his office during counseling sessions and at his home and then billing her for therapy for those appointments.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs suspended Robertson's license on the grounds that he posed a threat to the public.

State Licensing Boards Prohibit Therapists From Engaging in Inappropriate Relationships With Their Patients

Licensed mental health professionals hold positions of trust. Marriage and family therapists, psychologists, social workers, and clinical counselors typically see patients who are suffering from trauma and have emotional problems. As such, these patients are extremely vulnerable.

In order to protect patients from the imbalance of power that can exist in therapist-patient relationships, state licensing boards establish strict rules and ethical standards that therapists must abide by.

State boards typically prohibit therapists from having sexual relationships with their patients, but they also prohibit other inappropriate relationships that exceed acceptable professional boundaries.

For example, contacting patients outside of counseling sessions, showing up at patients' homes, commenting on patients' social media posts, and getting together with patients in social settings may exceed the boundaries of appropriate professional-patient relationships and subject therapists to discipline.

Although the specific rules and wording vary from state to state, licensing boards have broad power to investigate any conduct they deem to be unprofessional.

In Florida, for example, in addition to prohibiting sexual relationships with patients, the Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling requires therapists to meet “minimum standards of performance” in their activities and interactions with patients.

California's Board of Behavioral Sciences prohibits mental health counselors from engaging in sexual relationships with their patients and also prohibits “unprofessional conduct.”

In addition, the American Psychological Association says mental health professionals should take great care not to exploit their patients in any way.

Therapists Can Lose Their Professional Licenses for Engaging in Inappropriate Relationships With Their Patients

Therapists who engage in inappropriate relationships with their patients risk being disciplined by their state boards and face severe penalties.

In addition to having their licenses restricted, therapists who engage in inappropriate relationships with their patients risk having their licenses suspended or even permanently revoked.

The Lento Law Firm Can Help Therapists Accused of Having Inappropriate Relationships With Their Patients

Joseph D. Lento and his knowledgeable Professional License Defense Team have years of experience successfully defending licensed therapists, counselors, and mental health professionals around the country in disciplinary actions. They can help therapists who have been accused of having inappropriate relationships with their patients vigorously defend themselves and protect the careers they worked so hard to achieve. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686, or submit a confidential online consultation form.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience fighting for the futures of his professional clients nationwide. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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