A major component of the therapist-patient relationship in psychotherapy sessions is the relating of intimate details of the patient’s life to his or her therapist. This information is often so secretive that the patient has never shared these facts with anyone else. Among the reasons that therapists encourage this level of intimate sharing is the purpose of gaining deep insight into what influences actions, feelings, and physical and emotional responses in patients’ lives.
Such methods break down barriers in therapist-patient relationships, and professional boundaries may become less clear. As the relationship grows, which the therapist is supposed to manage professionally, sexual attraction may develop, or the therapist may find it easy to manipulate the patient who has been encouraged to manufacture a dependence on the therapist for physical, mental or emotional needs.
In California, for every type of therapist, sexual relations with a current patient or a person who has been a patient within two years is strictly prohibited, whether consensual or not. Most expert witnesses will testify that a sexual relationship with a patient or former patient is never OK.
If you have suffered abuse by a therapist in California, call Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis LLP, for a free consultation.
Psychotherapist Sexual Misconduct | Defining Abuse
Therapist malpractice includes sexual relations largely because the law is very sensitive to the vulnerabilities of patients. Therapists must keep strict boundaries with their patients so as not to breach the duty of care; otherwise, they may be held liable under California law.
In the traditional sense of the word, abuse may be associated with molestation, sexual assault, sexual battery, rape and other gratuitous sex acts, but in the case of therapist sexual abuse, it may take on a different meaning. Abuse of patient trust, boundaries or the vulnerable position that patients enter under the presumption that their therapist will act in an ethical manner (referred to as “abuse of transference”), is abusive when sexual misconduct takes place or a sexual relationship develops within two years of the termination of a patient’s care under the therapist (and maybe forever according to many experts).
As a patient, you may not notice a violation of boundaries or the development of such an abusive relationship until well after the fact, but as long as you bring a legal claim against the therapist within the relevant statute of limitations, you may have a case to recover monetary compensation for injuries and damages.
It is best to consult an informed and knowledgeable therapist sexual abuse attorney about the statute of limitations that applies to your case and your legal options. Often late discovery of the abuse and damages that flow from the abuse can extend standard statute of limitations.
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