What Are Psychologists NOT Supposed to Do?
It is good to remember that - as happens in other professions- some practitioners bend or break the rules. Unfortunately, by doing so, psychologists can directly or indirectly cause harm to their patients. Here are some things that psychologists and psychological assistants SHOULD NEVER DO:
- Violate a patient's confidentiality;
- Provide services for which they have not been trained and educated;
- Abuse drugs;
- Commit fraud or other crimes;
- Pay or accept compensation for referral of patients;
- Make false or exaggerated claims about their services or skills;
- Act in an unprofessional, unethical, or negligent manner;
- Assist someone in the unlicensed practice of psychology;
- Focus therapy on their own problems, rather than on those of the patient;
- Serve in multiple roles: for example, by having social relationship with patients, lending them money, employing them, etc. This may confuse the patient and ofter interferes with treatment.
In addition, because of its particular potential for harm, professional therapy should never involve sex between a patient and a professional. It also should never includes verbal sexual advances or any other kind of sexual contact or behavior. Sexual contact of any kind between a psychologist and a patient (and in most cases even a former patient) is unethical and grounds for disciplinary sanctions. Additionally, in some jurisdictions, such activity is a criminal offense. Harm may arise from the psychologist’s exploitation of the patient to fulfill his or her own needs or desires, as well as from the psychologist’s loss of the objectivity necessary for effective therapy. All psychologists are trained and educated to know that this kind of behavior is inappropriate and can result in license revocation. It is also unethical for a psychologist to terminate the therapeutic relationship established with a client in order to pursue a social or sexual relationship with the client.
By the nature of their profession, psychologists are trusted and respected, and it is common for patients to admire them and feel attracted to them. However, a psychologist who accepts or encourages these normal feelings in a sexual way—or tells a patient that sexual involvement is part of therapy—is using the trusted therapy relationship to take advantage of the patient. And once sexual involvement begins, therapy for the patient ends, because the professional can no longer be helpful as an objective therapist. The original issues that brought the patient to therapy are postponed, neglected, and sometimes lost.
Many people who endure this kind of abusive behavior from psychologists suffer harmful long-lasting emotional and psychological effects. Family life and friendships are often disrupted, sometimes ruined.
In most sexual abuse or exploitation cases, other inappropriate behavior comes first. While it may be subtle or confusing, it usually feels uncomfortable to the patient. Some clues or warning signs are:
- Telling sexual jokes or stories.
- "Making eyes at" or giving seductive looks to the patient.
- Discussing the psychologist’s sex life or intimate relationships.
- Sitting too close, initiating hugging or holding of the patient, or lying next to the patient.
Another warning sign is when psychologists give patients "special treatment", such as:
- Inviting a patient to lunch, dinner, or other social activities.
- Changing any of the office’s normal business practices (for example, scheduling late appointments so no one is around, having sessions away from the office, etc.).
- Confiding in a patient (for example, about the psychologist’s love life, work problems, etc.).
- Telling a patient that he or she is special; that the psychologist loves him or her.
- Relying on a patient for personal and emotional support.
- Giving or receiving significant gifts.
- Providing or using alcohol (or drugs) during sessions.
Signs of inappropriate behavior and misuse of power include:
- Hiring a patient to do work for the psychologist, or bartering services to pay for therapy.
- Suggesting or supporting the patient’s increased isolation from social support systems, increasing dependency on the psychologist.
- Any violation of the patient’s rights as a consumer