San Antonio Therapist Sexual Abuse Lawyer
Therapist Sexual Abuse in San Antonio, TX
Mental health professionals can help their clients heal from mental illness and traumatic experiences. In order to help clients heal, they must feel supported, safe, and comfortable with the therapist. This allows the client to fully open up and work through their deepest traumas, secrets, desires, and emotions. The client is naturally in a very vulnerable position in therapy. There is a clear power imbalance between the therapist and the client, and it should be this way in order to promote healing. However, some people in the mental health profession take advantage of this power imbalance and vulnerability. They may breach the therapeutic relationship through psychological abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and even sexual abuse. These abusive behaviors are never okay, and can lead to life-threatening psychological issues within the patient. If you have suffered from an unethical therapist, a therapist sexual abuse lawyer at Janicek Law can help you recover fair compensation through a civil lawsuit.
Below, our legal team breaks down the ethical code of conduct for therapists and how therapist sexual abuse can happen. We are the best team to have on your side during this impossible time. Call a San Antonio sexual abuse lawyer today at 210-366-4949 to schedule a free consultation.
What is Therapist Abuse?
Therapist abuse occurs when a mental health professional takes advantage of the therapeutic relationship with the patient in order to cause physical or psychological harm. Abusive behavior can include emotional abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, and sexual contact of any kind.
How Common is Therapist Sexual Abuse?
According to a small study of 1,320 psychologists, about half claimed to be treating a patient who had engaged in sexual activity with a previous therapist. In total, there were 958 cases of sexual contact reported between therapists and clients. The vast majority of the sexual abuse victims were women.
Similarly to many other sexual abuse cases in general, there is truly no way to know for sure how often sexual abuse occurs between therapists and clients. Many clients may feel bound to secrecy for years because of the therapist-client confidentiality.
Additionally, many victims of therapist sexual abuse may feel incredible shame, guilt, and confusion about the situation. The therapist may have even convinced them that the sexual intimacy was their fault or maybe even a necessary part of their therapy. Therefore, some victims of therapist sexual abuse may never come forward.
Is Sexual Contact Between Therapist and Client Always Abusive?
Yes, any kind of sexual intimacy between therapists and clients is (and should be) considered abusive, even if both parties consented. That’s because there is a natural power imbalance between the therapist and the client. The client is naturally in a very vulnerable position because they’re telling the therapist their deepest fears, secrets, and traumas. Licensed therapists are trained to not only help the client work through their mental issues and early childhood experiences, but they’re also trained to notice if the client longs for a sexual or personal relationship with the therapist through a phenomenon called “transference.” (More on transference later).
It is the therapist’s responsibility to help the patient work through these sexual desires and explain the psychological origins of them. Abusive therapists do not do this. Instead, the therapist may engage in sexual intimacy with the patient despite knowing how unethical it is.
What is the Therapeutic Container?
Understanding the “therapeutic container” is crucial for fully understanding the gravity of therapist abuse.
The therapeutic container provides structure for both the therapist and the client. Additionally, the therapeutic container can be referred to as a “safe space” for the client, because both life and therapy can be scary, unpredictable, and ever changing.
The client must feel safe and comfortable with the therapist so that they can open up and work through their problems. The therapy room must feel open, calm, and comfortable. A good therapist should always make the client’s well-being a priority, and should never engage in physical contact with the client, unless the touch has clear therapeutic benefits. Sexual touch is strictly prohibited. Lastly, mental health professionals should never open up about their personal life to the patient.
Ethical Code of Conduct for Therapists and Psychologists
All therapists must follow an ethical code of conduct laid out by the American Counseling Association (ACA). Therapists that cross boundaries with their clients can lose their licenses and even face criminal charges.
Firstly, the ACA ethical code of conduct states that all therapists must avoid harming their clients in any way: physically, sexually, emotionally, and psychologically. Ethical therapists should always maintain a strictly professional relationship with their clients. Unfortunately, not all therapists do this.
According to section A.5 of the ACA ethical code of conduct, mental health practitioners should never engage in sexual or romantic relationships with their clients. They should also never counsel someone who was a previous sexual or romantic partner.
Additionally, therapists cannot engage in a sexual or romantic relationship with former clients, former clients’ partners, and former clients’ family members for at least 5 years after the last professional contact. Even still, therapists should think about whether engaging in a romantic/sexual relationship with a former client is exploitative in any way. If there’s still potential to cause harm or exploitation to the former client, then they should not begin a romantic or sexual relationship with them.
According to section C.6.B of the ACA ethical code of conduct, therapists should never engage in or condone sexual harassment.
What is Transference?
Transference is a phenomenon in which someone unconsciously transfers their feelings about one person onto someone else. This is a common occurrence in therapy, because the client is opening up about their deepest feelings about themselves and other people. Therefore, they may transfer their desires of another person in their lives – such as a parent or a partner – onto the therapist.
This phenomenon was discovered by Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst born in 1856. Freud heavily believed that childhood experiences make up an adult’s personality and overall emotional development. Similarly, he believed that a child’s earliest relationships set the foundation for their adult relationships. For example, if a child had a dysfunctional relationship with one or both parents, they have a higher chance of having multiple dysfunctional friendships and romantic relationships as an adult. So transference often stems from early childhood relationships.
Clients can redirect both positive and negative feelings onto the therapist. Good therapists use transference as a tool to help them understand the patient’s mental state better. Additionally, good therapists use transference to help patients to understand themselves better. Meanwhile, abusive therapists can use transference to their advantage, especially if the patient redirects sexual feelings onto the therapist.
What is Sexualized Transference?
Sexualized transference occurs when a patient redirects sexual desires or fantasies onto the therapist. This may be because the therapist shares similar characteristics with a client’s previous romantic or sexual partner. Sexualized transference can also occur if the client frequently discusses their sex life and/or sexuality in therapy.
It’s actually fairly common to develop romantic or sexual feelings toward a therapist because of the transference phenomenon, and clients should talk about it openly in therapy. Therapists are trained to recognize and handle this sexualized transference appropriately.
What is Abuse of Transference?
Abuse of transference occurs when a therapist uses a client’s transference to their advantage. In the case of sexual abuse, an abusive therapist will use the client’s sexual feelings towards the therapist to their advantage. So instead of using their training to talk through the client’s romantic/sexual feeling towards them, and explain where these feelings may come from, the abusive therapist will cross boundaries and engage in sexual activity with the client.
So even if a patient does admit to having sexual desires towards the therapist – and maybe even make sexual advances towards the therapist – they would still be the victim in the situation. This is because it’s the therapist’s job to maintain a professional, therapeutic relationship.
Mental Health Consequences From Abusive Therapy
Sexual abuse has been proven to change the brain on a neurobiological level. This means that sexually abused clients can suffer from a variety of mental health problems. Firstly, the therapist’s abusive behavior may deter the already mentally ill client from ever seeking professional help again for their mental illness and their sexual abuse. This can turn into a life-threatening situation, especially if the client suffers from the following issues due to the therapist abuse:
- Increased anxiety, depression, and panic attacks
- Debilitating shame, guilt, fear, and confusion
- Digestive distress related to anxiety
- Avoiding food or eating too much food in order to cope with intense emotions
- Suicidal thoughts, desires, and behaviors
- Substance abuse
- Dysfunction in pre-existing romantic relationships and friendships
- Sexual dysfunction
- Difficulty functioning and accomplishing day to day tasks
Warning Signs of an Abusive Therapist
Listed below are signs that you may have an abusive therapist.
- The therapist frequently makes sexual jokes and comments.
- The therapist frequently tries to talk about their sex life.
- You generally feel uncomfortable talking with the therapist.
- The therapist sits too close to you or touches you a lot (e.g. hugging, patting arms/legs, holding hands, touching hair, etc.)
- The therapist frequently comments on your physical appearance in sort of a sexual or seductive way.
- You generally feel threatened by the therapist.
- The therapist tries to talk to you or see you outside normal therapy hours.
- The therapist gives you seductive looks.
- You have gut feelings telling you that the therapist may be trying to engage in some kind of unprofessional relationship with you.
- The therapist kisses you, gropes you, or performs any sort of sexual acts on you.
- The therapist confides in you about their personal life.
- You receive frequent gifts from your therapist.
- You generally feel scared or confused when meeting with your therapist.
If you feel uncomfortable, threatened, or like your therapist is somehow breaching the therapeutic relationship, then they probably are. You deserve to feel safe and comfortable in therapy. Feeling any other type of way is a sign that something is wrong.
What Should I Do if I Have Suffered Therapist Abuse?
If you have suffered sexual abuse from your therapist, chances are the therapist has committed some kind of therapist abuse to other clients too. That’s why it’s crucial to take action to protect yourself and others. This is what you should do if you’re suffering from an abusive therapist:
- Terminate Therapy Immediately: If the therapist has already breached the therapeutic relationship with sexual contact, there’s no fixing it or going back. At this point you need to stop seeing this therapist immediately.
- Report the Therapist Abuse to Your Clinic or Licensure Board: As previously stated, chances are this is not just happening to you. Tell your clinic or licensure board what happened so that they can investigate and potentially revoke the therapist’s license.
- Contact a San Antonio Therapist Sexual Abuse Lawyer: Going to therapy puts you in a very vulnerable place – physically and emotionally. This means that therapist sexual abuse can cause great physical and psychological damage. You deserve compensation for your pain and suffering, and the legal team at Janicek Law can help you recover that compensation through a civil lawsuit.
Therapist Sexual Abuse Damages
A San Antonio therapist sexual abuse lawyer can help you recover the following types of damages in a civil suit:
- Medical bills if the sexual contact resulted in STI’s and other medical problems
- Psych ward hospitalization bills if the sexual contact drove you to self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Expenses associated with seeing a new therapist to help you cope with the sexual abuse
- Lost wages if the sexual abuse caused you to miss work
- Loss of earning capacity if the sexual trauma prevents you from accomplishing all of your job duties
- Loss of consortium if the sexual abuse prevents you from having a normal, healthy relationship with your spouse