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littlethree June 2nd, 2007 11:33 AM

Not sure if I should file a formal complaint about my therapist
Hello. I was in therapy with the same therapist for 3 years and we have had, up until a couple days ago, a very strong and caring relationship. I was seeing her for sexual abuse issues, ptsd, depression and a self-esteem that is close to zero. About 3 months ago, I decided I needed to take a break from therapy from her because there were some health insurance issues, work issues, the stress of the issues I was dealing with in therapy and then my attachment to my relationship in general. And in the last month, I was discussing with her about returning again and she seemed fine with it and was ready to accept me back. Then, just before I was going to make an appoint to come back, I submitted some questions to her about some concerns about our relationship and my attachment and how we might address them in therapy....and then some questions about my general goals in therapy. They were bascially "yes or no" questions and "on a scale of 0 to 10..." questions. And it would give us a starting place to pick up when I returned.

However she never answered the questions and two days ago, on the 31st of May, I received a certified letter stating that she was ending out therapeutic relationship. There was no explanation at all in the letter, it just said: She felt it was the best decision she could make on my behalf. And she listed some referrals. And that she could be reached via phone for the next 30 days, for emergencies only. That was it.

It felt "out of the blue" and shocking and traumatizing. I tried to get a hold of her right away to get some explanation. She answered her phone and was in the middle of a session with someone else (if she was in a session, I don't know why she answered the phone). She basically told me she was in session and couldn't talk and just leave her a message on her voicemail. So I did and asked her to call me back in that message. This was about 3 pm in the afternoon. We have been in therapy for 3 years and have had a good relationship and she she knew this would be upsetting to me. She didn't call me back at all that day. And she knows I have no relationships besides her (which is partly why I am in therapy in the first place) and so I had no one to help me out.

I ended up calling a suicide hotline and this resulted in two police officers coming to my home at 230 am in the morning and putting me in "protective custody" and handcuffing me and taking me to the hospital. The hospital released me at 5 am and said I needed to call a therapist. I had no therapist, except the one who just left me, so I left her another message telling her what I had just gone through with the suicide hotline and being taken to the hospital by the police.

Later that day, my therapist called me back. I thanked her for returning my call. She said I told you I was available for emergency calls and that is the reason I have decided to return your call. And she was calling me from the parking lot outside of her office getting ready to go she wasn't really taking time to listen to me...and she said she couldn't talk long because she was standing in the parking lot. This was her attitude after I was coming down from a suicidal state? I tried to get some information out of her why she was using such a cold and clinical and uncaring way to end our therpeutic relationship? She basically said she thought that after 3 years her method/style of therapy hasn't been helping me and I wasn't making any changes and thought it best I was with someone else. I tried to tell her I was seeing changes and that I was willing to try medications and basically begged her to not end our therapeutic relationship like this, with a form letter. One of the most traumatic events in my life was when I was 16: I was bonded with another individual and I was separated from her with a "form letter" too and that previously caused me to be suicidal. Being that it was such a trauma in my life, it was discussed in therapy many times. So my therapist was aware of this incident and its horrendous impact on me. But my therapist chose to end out therapeutic relationship with a certified letter, with no explanation. When I talked to her on the phone, she was very cold and uncaring. And basically she didn't want to talk to me. She would not even hear of seeing me for one more session to have better closure. (Is this her form of "tough love"? If it is: that isn't the kind of care i need, because it hasn't worked in the past and only served to make me loath myself more)

This is especially confusing to me and there is an extreme contrast with her previous affections. In the course of three years she has given me physical care, including: regularly holding me, in her arms and lap and wrapping us up together in a blanket, regular long hugs and allowing me to explore her face and lips with my hands, and she has allowed me to give her long foot massages. She has taken me to an outside therapy session for a therapy ceremony and, when I brought up my concerns about being abandoned, she consistently claimed: "I am not going anywhere." And when I reminded her of this statement on the phone, she claimed again she wasn't going anywhere. To which I said, "But you are leaving me. You are going away." And she didn't really have much of an answer for that.

I have huge abandonment issues and she has reinforced them. And her quick change from "the caring and touch permitting therapist" to a "send me a certified form letter and clinical/robotic therapist" is very traumatic and confusing. I begged her to have just one session with me to have some better closure to this, rather than just having it end with her upset on the phone and saying "I'm not going to argue with you" and her claiming "I (me her client) just keep seeing things in black and white". That doesn't seem like a legitimate reason to push me away so harshly. In fact it seems, if that is how I am seeing things, she should have had more courtesy of taking that into account and giving me something less traumatic in the way she ended our relationship. And she has a double standard, because I previously sent her a letter asking for some copies of treatment plans that she submits to my insurance. Granted, I didn't tell her why I wanted them and she was concerned. So in an attached letter she stated she thought it would be good to have a session to discuss any of the issues in the treatment plans that I had questions about. She wouldn't allow me the same courtesy of having a session to talk about the questions I had about why she was ending our therapeutic relationship. So there seems to be a double-standard in her.

I don't want to sue her for money or anything...but I want to file a formal complaint about her to my state's department of health, under the official terms that decribe: "Incompetence, negligence, or malpractice which results in injury to a patient or which creates an unreasonable risk that a patient may be harmed."

I was handcuffed and taken to the hospital for being suicidal and I haven't slept more than 5 hours and the sleep I have had has been plagued with nightmares. And I have had to call in sick to work and I haven't been able to eat much.

Is this a reasonable case to make a formal complaint? I have had such a good relationship with her in the past and, in my heart, I don't want to go along such an avenue. (I have already made an appointment with a new therapist too.) But I feel like I need to take care of myself in some way and my exiting therapist needs to know what she did was very harmful. And since she won't talk to me for more than 15 minutes on the phone and only did so grudgingly and she won't agree to see me for one last closure only avenue is to file a formal complain. So I ask again: is this a reasonable case to make a formal complaint?

Another option, since I wish she would see me for one last session for better closure and I wish to avoid taking any formal action against her, should I call her (despite the fact she seems to adverse to talking to me on the phone) and tell her I'm contemplating formal action against her and give her another chance to end things better...or would that be imprudent of me?

Thank you.

William Reid June 2nd, 2007 06:39 PM

Re: Not sure if I should file a formal complaint about my therapist
I appreciate your posting, but I need to say that this forum isn't designed for questions about one's therapy, nor to give advice regarding personal matters. It's really a place for discussions among clinicians about ethical or legal questions.

No one who reads these posts can, or should, offer personal advice to you from the standpoint of being a professional (and I would ask that clinicians refrain from doing so), since we don't know anything about your situation (except what you choose to write); we have no information about the other side(s) of the issue; we have no way of verifying your situation; no one who responds has any way of properly evaluating you or following up, etc. (all of which can be important parts of offering professional advice to patients/clieints). Similarly, you have no assurance about the qualifications or intentions of anyone who answers your post; it could be anyone, and there are some real weirdos out there on the Web.

The process of filing a complaint is fair game, however (but not the question of whether or not you should do so), as is an interchange among therapist/readers about legal or ethical issues related to difficult clinical situations or termination of patients/clilents.

Thanks for understanding. I'll leave your post up for awhile, to see what other people may have to say about general legal or ethical issues that might be faced by a therapist in situations such as this.

William Reid, Moderator

littlethree June 2nd, 2007 07:07 PM

Re: Not sure if I should file a formal complaint about my therapist
Thanks you. I can understand your stated thoughts about not being able to really give a concrete answer.

I wonder, however, if there are some general guidelines or circumstances regarding what behaviors would be ground for making a formal complaint.

I mean, it seems reasonable that a client should expect that, if they feel they have been wronged and badly dealt with, they should have some avenue for protecting themselves and protecting other potential clients from this behavior.

If you still cannot answer, I understand. I will look for flounder around for advice elsewhere.

William Reid June 3rd, 2007 11:36 AM

Re: Not sure if I should file a formal complaint about my therapist
". . . I wonder, however, if there are some general guidelines or circumstances regarding what behaviors would be ground for making a formal complaint."

That's a fine way to phrase the query. Thanks. Hope some folks will respond.

William Reid

Da Friendly Puter Tech September 28th, 2007 03:44 PM

Re: Not sure if I should file a formal complaint about my therapist
Hello Littlethree,

First of all let me say I am really sorry that you had to live through this situation. I can only imagine how traumatizing it must have been. I wish you didnt have to live through something like that. I am also sorry that no-one had the kindness / compassion to give you a better answer.

Of course I cannot comment specifically on your situation as I dont know you or the therapist in question.

Generally speaking therapists are ethically obligated as caretakers to not leave a client without access to care, and to terminate a therapeutic relationship responsibly. This means that when a therapist terminates it is expected that there are a few sessions to finish up the relationship. It also means that the therapist is obligated to help the client find a different therapist if the client want or need it. There are however exceptions to this rule.

To the best of my knowledge (and I am neither a therapist or a lawyer), breaking those guidelines or rules above are not criminal acts - they certainly are ethically questionable though.

Each state has a board that oversees therapists in that state - they also write up the ethical rules, and disciplines those who break them. You should be able to find the board for your state online. They can assist you in getting access to the specific rules your therapist might or might not have broken. If you were to file a complaint against your therapist it would have to go through this board. From what i know about our local board though they are rarely very helpful. They are overburdened by cases, inhumanly focused on laws and rules and not very compassionate. But who knows - maybe the board in your state is better than what we have here.

There are exceptions to these rules. Those exceptions cover situations where a therapist feels threatened by a client, or fears that the relationship has become detrimental to the client. In the later case the therapist is still ethically responsible to try and get the client a different kind of help.

The ethical rules or guidelines usually also prohibit a therapist from touching a client, or enforce a "very little touch" rule / attitude. So from the start your therapist could be in hot water with all the touching that was included in the therapy. Please note I said "could be", because there is still to much I dont know about what happened.

I will try to keep my final answers general as well...

Generally speaking therapists sometimes experience that some of their own unresolved emotional bagage gets activated and they do things that are unethical and damaging to their clients. They are supposed to be trained in how to handle situations like that - but so often it doesnt go according to training.

Generally speaking it is also my experience that like with police officers or firemen therapists occassionally treat their own with kid gloves and dont want to speak ill of each other, or see their own disciplined for wrong doing. This is *ss backwards of course. They should be glad to get unethical professionals off the market - but unfortunately it is often not so.

I really hope that you have found some responsible help in the aftermath of all this, and that you are starting to feel a bit better.

Warm regards,
Da Friendly Puter Tech

William Reid October 4th, 2007 09:20 AM

Re: Not sure if I should file a formal complaint about my therapist
Thanks for a good answer, Da Friendly. Nice to know you're still out there.

William Reid November 23rd, 2007 11:50 AM

Re: Not sure if I should file a formal complaint about my therapist
Thanks for reading this thread! The Law, Ethics and Psychotherapy Forum gets a lot of readers, but few new posts. You are invited to contribute statements, comments or questions to keep the forum alive. Pick something you like, or something you don't like, but don't let the threads go stagnant! All I ask is that we avoid personal questions from patients (we can't do clinical work or second-guess therapists here, but we can have professional discussions among clinicians about ethics or forensic scenarios). We also avoid personal attacks.

The possibilities are endless. You can simply reply to a post in an existing thread, or start a new one. Do you have questions or experiences that involve the ethics or legal aspects of training? clinical work? termination? malpractice or malpractice lawsuits? forensic careers? criminal matters related to mental health? boundaries? work with courts or lawyers? work in correctional institutions? work with parolees or probationers? clinician impairment? laws affecting practice?

Choose something you're familiar with or something you want to know more about. If you want suggestions, you're welcome to check out my website at

Bill Reid, Forum Administrator

William Reid September 27th, 2010 08:12 AM

Re: Not sure if I should file a formal complaint about my therapist
How about starting a new topic yourself?

smartone November 11th, 2010 11:31 PM

Re: Not sure if I should file a formal complaint about my therapist
I know of a therapist that did the exact same thing in Maryland and she is in a lot of trouble right now. She's in the process of being sued for several violations.

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