Psychology Expert Witness On Therapist-Patient Sex Part 2

Dr. Martin Williams has twenty years experience as an expert witness on the standard of care in therapist-patient sex and other ethics matters involving psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, and psychiatrists. In Therapist-Patient Sex Twenty Years Later: A View From the Courtroom, the psychology expert witness writes:

In the current era, the patient, like the therapist, is probably aware that sexual behavior in the context of psychotherapy is considered unacceptable. Patients are more sophisticated today. They have likely read newspaper or magazine articles about therapist-patient sex or heard discussions on television talk shows, and are aware of the low regard with which the psychotherapy professions greet this behavior. Because no scientific methods of survey research can possibly determine how many unreported cases of therapist-patient sex exist, the following is my own unsubstantiated speculation. Therapist-patient sex, when it occurs, is more likely to be reported today than in the earlier era because patients are more likely to know that it is a licensing violation. Nowadays, I suspect there are far fewer victims of this practice who, believing themselves to have been harmed by the sexual relationship, elect to go off and suffer in silence without filing a licensing complaint. For one thing, in California, any subsequent therapist who treats a victim and learns of a prior instance of therapist-patient sex is required by law to provide a pamphlet that describes courses of legal and professional action that are open to the victim.

In an unusual case about which I testified at a California Board of Psychology hearing, the female patient intended, for whatever psychological reason, to have a sexual relationship with her male psychologist. She was knowledgeable about the laws and actually went to an attorney and attempted to draw up papers that would make it impossible for her later to sue or file a licensing complaint. Her purpose in creating this document was to reassure her intended sex partner, her therapist, that he could proceed without fear of subsequent repercussions. She was unable to find an attorney who would draw up such papers and was apparently legally unable to waive those rights. Ultimately, the two did become sexually involved, and she did later file a licensing board complaint.

One potential consequence of a more knowledgeable population of consumers is the possibility of false complaints being filed. Unfortunately, with more patients being aware of the massive harm that can be done by a compliant-even an unsubstantiated complaint must be reported to professional staff associations and malpractice insurers-the likelihood would seem to increase for false complaints. Why would someone file a false complaint? A variety of factors could serve as motivation: hope of financial gain, acting-out of the patient’s pathological anger or of other aspects of a personality disorder, or freeing the patient from unwanted, or court mandated, treatment. I cannot say for certain how many cases of false complaints I have consulted on. After all, the jury’s verdict for the defense does not necessarily resolve such questions, as juries are fallible.

Excerpted from National Psychologist, March 2008, with the author’s permission.