Your Right To a Second Opinion

Many people don’t realize that just like they have the right to get a second opinion from a different medical doctor, they also have the right to get a second opinion from another therapist, if the one they are currently seeing doesn’t seem to be helpful. Some might ask: “Why not just change therapists?”

Finding a new therapist when you are dissatisfied with your therapy progress seems like the most logical solution, but it’s not the easiest one to implement. Very often it’s difficult to understand if your therapy is worth continuing because while you may be dissatisfied with some parts of it, other parts may still be working well for you. Particularly, if you have worked with the therapist for a while and felt that he or she understands your issues quite well and has already helped you make some progress, it is difficult to leave as soon as some problems arise. The prospect of shopping for a new therapist is not very appealing, as with each new therapist you’ll interview you will have to go back to square one and start telling your story all over again, and when you finally decide who you want to hire now, it’ll take some time for that new therapist to get up to speed with your issues, and there is no guarantee that this time things would work much better than with the previous therapist. All those concerns are understandable and valid, and, therefore, people have the right to get a second opinion from another therapist while they have not officially terminated the work with their current therapist just like they do with medical doctors.

Unfortunately, therapists usually don’t take the client’s decision to get a second opinion well and often they are not even aware of the fact that you have the right to a second opinion. It’s been my experience that whenever I asserted my right to a second opinion, the therapist would insist that they would have to terminate my therapy in case if I consult with another professional to get a second opinion. As a justification, they referred to the ethical standard, which states that the therapist can’t work with the client who is already working with the other therapist except by the mutual agreement between the two therapists.

Their understanding of professional ethics in that case was incorrect. Getting a second opinion is not the same as working with another therapist while you haven’t finished your work with the current one. Second opinion requires only one consultation with another professional, during which you will get his or her opinion on your situation, on the methods your current therapist is using and whether that practitioner would approach your problems differently and, if so, how. After that consultation you would be able to make an informed decision about whether you need to terminate your current therapy.

If you found yourself in a situation where you are considering changing therapists, inform your therapist about it and about your decision to seek a second opinion. If they threaten to terminate your therapy on the basis of the ethical standard I described above, the one that says that the therapist cannot work with the patient who is already working with the other therapist, explain the difference between working with the other practitioner and getting their opinion on your current therapy and also refer them to the Patient’s Bill of Rights which clearly states the following:

Patients have the right to receive a second opinion at any time about their therapy or therapist’s methods

You may also encounter the same problem with the practitioner, whose second opinion you would be seeking. They might be reluctant to see you if you tell them you are currently working with a therapist for the same reason I mentioned, they’d refer to the same ethical standard which prohibits therapists from seeing clients who are already working with other therapists. Then, again, you will have to refer them to the Patient’s Bill of Rights and explain the difference between working with a therapist and getting a second opinion from them.

This can get quite frustrating because a right to a second opinion is one of the main consumer’s rights and yet therapists seem to violate it regularly and habitually. This is one of the serious cultural problems of the profession that needs to be brought into the light and addressed through a broad public dialog between professionals and consumers.



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