Individuals who seek therapy are often in a vulnerable place in their lives. They choose to consult a professional because they recognize they are struggling to confront an issue on their own. During this process of healing, patients often disclose details about their lives that they have never discussed openly before. It should be automatic that the professionals entrusted with their care have their patients’ best interests in mind when providing treatment. In fact, the American Psychological Association has standards in place requiring that care providers interact with patients a certain way to protect against instances of sexual and emotional abuse. Going against these standards is a form of negligence and malpractice.
In order to demonstrate what malpractice might look like, we are sharing the traumatic experience of Andrea Russell,* who was subject to years of sexual abuse and malpractice from her therapist, Dr. Thomas Michaels.*
Healing from a Traumatic Past Circumvented by Malpractice
Andrea’s early adult life was rife with hardship. She suffered decades of abuse and drug addiction. Later in life, she was able to overcome those obstacles, attend college and obtain a postgraduate professional degree. With her degrees, Andrea became an accomplished professional figure in her community.
However, while embarking on her new career, Andrea sought professional help to explore and overcome struggles related to her past abuse and hardships. She was aware that her past experiences, combined with the stress inherent in her new career, could be damaging to her mental health. Thus, she placed herself in the care of Dr. Thomas Michaels to address the long-term damage her past experiences had caused, and to understand what underlying factors were contributing to her proclivity to place herself in situations where she could be taken advantage of and abused.
It was then that Dr. Michaels used the intimate details of Andrea’s past to groom her for a pattern of abuse that would include a highly inappropriate sexual relationship between mental health treatment provider and patient.
Harm Went Beyond an Improper Relationship
Through improper therapeutic techniques, Dr. Michaels intentionally withheld the treatment Andrea needed to heal from her past traumas and become more independent. Rather than help her on her path to recovery and stability, he kept her in a state of dependency, causing her years of suffering. Dr. Michaels abused his power differential, using the intimate details he’d learned about Andrea to inject himself into her life by sharing relatable experiences. He knowingly worked to foster a relationship in which Andrea felt complete dependence on him.
Andrea became emotionally paralyzed—trapped in fear that if she did not continue treatment with Dr. Michaels she would risk losing years of therapy gains and restart the traumatic healing process over again.
One resulting symptom of the malpractice committed by Dr. Michaels was the development of a sexual relationship between him and Andrea. Intimate relations should never exist between treatment provider and patient. When Andrea came to us for help, we saw that Dr. Michaels had committed clear and abhorrent malpractice.
We worked on Andrea’s behalf to hold Dr. Michaels responsible for the harm he’d caused her. Beyond medical bills and pain and suffering, Andrea missed opportunities to grow in her career.
Cooper Elliott Helps Victims of Therapy Malpractice
Patients who have been victims of abuse at the hands of a therapist might struggle to come to grips with what has happened to them. When that realization is finally reached, deciding to come forward and seek help can be a difficult decision. At Cooper Elliott, we help victims like Andrea Russell by providing a safe, comfortable place to discuss and determine whether they have been victimized, and what can be done to remedy the situation. One key is to ensure victims understand that they are not at fault and that it was the physician’s or counselor’s job to maintain a professional relationship.
Mental health providers usually have vast power over their patients, making confrontation difficult. Cooper Elliott attorneys go to great lengths to make the process of taking legal action against a bad actor as painless as possible, including giving clients the opportunity to tell their side of the story without the defendant in the room.
On the other hand, we have worked with victims who want to confront their abusers. It is our job to support victims and help them understand that the abuse that has taken place is not their fault, and that failing to acknowledge this fact will only postpone healing. Our goal is to work with victims to identify any means possible to recover as much of what they have lost in the form of economic and noneconomic damages.
Give us a call–we’re here to help.
*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.
The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.