Professional Duty of Care
BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
Stories of well-meaning relationships gone wrong are nothing new. News articles constantly reveal stories of professionals who stepped over the line into a sexual relationship with someone they were, or are, helping.
The fallout can include disciplinary proceedings or even losing their license or credentials. Never mind the emotional harm to the patient or client.
Florida Psychologist Sex Scandal
A Tampa psychologist had his license suspended after allegedly having sex with a client. He also billed her insurance company for more than $1,400 for "specialty consults" that were actually sexual encounters. The Florida Surgeon General started the suspension immediately upon learning about the incident.
The psychologist began counseling the woman and her husband together and she continued to see the psychologist for therapy after they divorced. Then a sexual relationship developed.
The Florida Board of Psychologists is considering the findings of the Health Department's investigation. The findings also allege that he got the woman to give him prescription pain medicine. The Board will decide whether to bring disciplinary sanctions on him. Sanctions could range from a reprimand to a loss of his license.
Professional Codes of Conduct
The Florida Board of Psychologists prohibits sexual relationships with current or former clients. The Board believes such conduct undermines the public's trust. Also, it's a crime in Florida for a psychotherapist to have sex with a client or former client if the client-therapist relationship ended so they could have a sexual relationship.
Each state has its own agency which handles licenses, certifications and discipline for many categories of professionals. Many professions also have state and national organizations that create and enforce standards, rules and regulations.
Many professions emphasize the importance of avoiding any perception of misconduct, unfair advantage or conflict of interest. Even when the professional relationship ends, many professions discourage or prohibit intimate relationships until a sufficient amount of time has passed.
Being a patient or client makes you vulnerable. You probably trust the professional you've hired to have only your best interests at heart. Unfortunately, even a well-meaning friendship can turn problematic and can harm your personal well-being.
If you've been the victim of abuse or mistreatment by a professional, or if you've become involved in an intimate relationship with a professional leading to emotional or physical harm, report it. Make a call to the state agency or professional board which oversees the profession.
Seek the advice of an attorney if you need help with the reporting process, or if you want to find out whether a lawsuit is the best way to deal with the problem..
Questions for Your Attorney
- Where can I find information about our state's rules governing licensed professions?
- Can I consent to a sexual relationship with my psychologists? We're both adults after all.
- How are professional malpractice lawsuits related to disciplinary claims? Would a plaintiff in a malpractice case also file a claim with the licensing authority?