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A Psychologist’s Own Traumatic Ordeal

January 4, 2013

Psychologists work with very vulnerable people, which can create problems in today’s litigious culture. One way to protect your small business is with customized insurance for psychologists.

Here’s a situation many psychologists are familiar with. One of your regular patients blurts out in one of their regular therapy sessions that they have fallen deeply in love with you. “Transference” – feelings developed by patients for their therapists – is a common issue that psychologists must deal with. But it’s a delicate and potentially volatile situation.

Working through these feelings can unblock emotions that have been repressed within the patient for many years, putting them back on the road to recovery. But if the situation turns sour, it could threaten a psychologist’s reputation, and their livelihood.

You reassure them that it’s a familiar feature of intensive therapy and encourage them to open up about their feelings, in an effort to try to find the root cause of their problems. But the patient feels so confused and inhibited by their strong feelings for you that they become completely tongue-tied.

You recognize you’re getting nowhere in your treatment, so you tell the patient that they must find another therapist because your sessions together have come to a standstill. But, despite explaining the situation to them – that only by speaking to another psychologist will they be able to work through these emotions – your patient reacts badly.

Soon afterwards, you receive an attorney’s letter informing you that your patient is suing you for professional negligence, accusing you of causing them trauma by initiating an inappropriate relationship and then ceasing treatment when they spurned your advances.

Although you’ve done nothing wrong, simply hiring a lawyer to defend yourself against these allegations will cost you thousands of dollars. If the case reaches court and the verdict goes against you the damages could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Professional liability insurance protects you against claims of negligence even if you haven’t made a mistake.

Or you might face a much more mundane problem. A client spills their cup, creating a pool on the floor by your water cooler, which your 11 o’clock appointment slips on, causing them to twist their knee and ankle. General liability insurance protects you against third-party claims for bodily injury and related medical costs.

A psychologist’s role is to help people recover from a traumatic experience. But who is there to help you rebound from an ordeal of your own? The right insurance coverage can offer you the peace of mind you need to keep working to help your clients.