Psychiatry isn't an exact science. Variable outcomes can occur even with the best treatment. Therefore, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a psychologist that just fails to help a patient and one that's guilty of malpractice.
Because psychiatric patients are vulnerable and therapists hold immense power in their lives, it's important to understand that the responsibility for ethical behavior always falls squarely on the therapist.
Malpractice may occur whenever when a therapist:
- Continues to treat a patient with complex mental health issues despite the therapist's lack of appropriate training or experience.
- Doesn't take suicidal thoughts seriously -- leading to a suicide attempt or the death of the patient.
- Knows that his or her patient is harboring violent thoughts toward others and doesn't make a report to the proper authorities -- and the patient acts on those thoughts
- Plants "false memories" in the patient's mind of abuse, creating trauma where there was none.
- Engages in a sexual relationship with the patient.
- Takes advantage of a patient economically, by getting the patient to invest in a business idea or using the patient for some other financial benefit
- Shares a patient's information without his or her consent
- Pushes a patient to engage in controversial and questionable "therapy" practices that actually leave the patient traumatized or injured
It's important to understand that patients may not initially realize that a therapist is failing them or crossing ethical boundaries. Family members may be the first to notice -- especially when a patient takes a dramatic turn for the worse due to a suicide attempt or needs hospitalization.
There's a big difference between a bad outcome for a patient that could essentially happen to anyone and a bad outcome that was avoidable with appropriate care. If you believe that your psychologist -- or the psychologist that was treating a close family member -- committed malpractice, it's important to hold the therapist accountable.
The long-term effects of psychiatric malpractice can go on for years -- and it may cost thousands of dollars in treatment. Patients have a right to expect compensation for their losses.