What to Do When Your Therapist Behaves Unethically

Oftentimes therapy clients are confused about what their therapists are doing and struggle to understand if they are behaving ethically, but if you are someone who has already realized that your therapist has committed ethical violations, you would have to decide how you want to deal with it.

You would have several options to choose from:

  1. Leave the situation and beyond that do nothing
  2. File a complaint with the therapist’s licensing board or their professional organization or both
  3. File a lawsuit
  4. Report the therapist to law enforcement in case if he committed sexual violations if it is criminalized in your state
  5. Write a negative online review of his practice

You can pursue a combination of 2-5 options or all of them depending on the case and depending on what you want.

How to deal with such a delicate personal matter is a personal choice and there is no one remedy that fits all. No one is in the position to advice you on how to proceed with this. What you need and what feels right to you might be completely different from what another person needs and what feels right to them.

When you talk to others about this you might feel pressured to report or to sue the therapist or just to let go and “move on” depending on who you are talking to. People who have never been in your situation, most likely, won’t even be able to grasp what you are going through, and those who have been there often judge by their own experience and give advice based on what has helped them.

If you decide to discuss your plight with another therapist, this may also not bring much relief or clarity. The reality of clients traumatized by their therapists is virtually unacknowledged by the profession and this subject is something that therapists generally don’t like to touch. In my experience, most of them would acknowledge your therapist’s unethical behavior but would quickly move away from it by advising you to leave the situation and to “move on”, which is basically the same advice an average lay person would give you. At this time, the mental health field is completely unfamiliar with the type of trauma that comes from being harmed by a therapist. Therapists have no idea what the victim of such harm is experiencing and how to deal with it. Moreover, they are not eager to delve into this because the thought of their colleague committing an ethical violation is just to uncomfortable to hold in their mind, let alone explore it.

All this leaves you alone to reflect on what has been happening and where to go from here. This can be a very dark and lonely place to stay in and it’s not good to stay there all the time. You need to reach out to others even if they might not completely understand you or some of them may not understand you at all.

Other survivors of such trauma will understand you fairly well so you would, most likely, get support and helpful information from them, which is essential in the beginning. It’s important to keep in mind though that none of them, despite their experience, has the ability to know what is best for you to do in this situation. Everyone’s circumstances and everyone’s inner process are unique and so the resolution for each person would be different and should only come from them.

So, my point is not to suggest that you should handle it on your own but rather not to make yourself dependent on the judgments of others. Gather all the support and information you can gather but don’t expect anyone to know what you need better than you.

Also, while the decision on how to deal with your therapist’s unethical behavior is uniquely yours, there are some pros and cons in each one of the options that are available to you, which I will discuss in my other posts.

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