Therapist and Counselor Abuse and Malpractice


Abuse by a counselor is never ok.

Mental health therapists, counselors, and psychologists see people at their most vulnerable.  People disclose their deepest, darkest secrets to them.  They go to psychotherapists for help when they have nowhere left to go.  Patients seek help for the most important issues in their lives.  Unfortunately, counselors in these positions of trust will sometimes take advantage of their patients to sexually assault or harass them, or emotionally manipulate them.  This type of conduct is never ok.  It is never the patient’s fault.  It is wrong; it is unethical; and in Oregon, it is malpractice.  Because we seek help from these counselors when we are at most fragile, this type of abuse and exploitation can often cause lasting and significant harm.  We at Dumas & Vaughn can help you understand your legal options and seek recovery for counselor abuse and malpractice.

What are some signs of therapist abuse?

Not all abusive relationships follow the same pattern and there will always be conduct that is unique to your situation.  But there are some common grooming techniques and boundary-crossing behaviors that you should look out for with your therapist:

  • Violating your or other patients’ confidentiality;
  • Discussing personal details of other patients with you;
  • Sharing excessive personal information about the therapist’s own personal or romantic life with you;
  • Asking you to meet outside of designated appointments or in a location that is not the office;
  • Asking for your support and help to deal with their own romantic or personal problems;
  • Failing to respond to you in a timely manner when you express thoughts of hurting yourself;
  • Texting or calling you for reasons other than to schedule appointments, discuss billing issues, or other strictly professional reasons;
  • Wanting to connect with you on social media while you are still their patient;
  • Commenting on your physical appearance;
  • Offering you gifts;
  • Extending invitations to personal or social events;
  • Asking for financial help;
  • Saying things or doing things that make you feel uncomfortable;
  • Exhibiting signs of possessiveness or jealousness; and
  • Telling you not to talk about certain aspects of your relationship or “advice” they’ve given you to others.

Often, sexual abuse or harassment will start with these types of non-sexual actions.  If your counselor has exhibited any of these behaviors, it may be time to find a different counselor and talk to someone about whether these behaviors are ok.

Pastors are counselors too.

You may also be able to seek compensation if a pastor or clergy member has initiated a sexual relationship with you during counseling.  Clergy members are counselors too and bound by ethical rules and laws. They are also not allowed to abuse that their positions of trust and power for sexual gain.

It’s ok to speak up.

If you have been abused or exploited by a mental health counselor, it is ok to speak up.  Often, people are afraid to come forward because they worry they will not be believed because the abuse happened behind closed doors or is a “he said-she said” situation.  They worry about retaliation from their abuser.  Especially with psychotherapists, victims worry about the amount of power these abusers hold in the community.  Victims may also be scared to reveal they were seeking mental health counseling in the first place because they are embarrassed.

Speaking out is the first step toward holding these abusers accountable.  It is scary, but you have options.  We will listen and guide you through the process.  There are protections under the law for privacy and against retaliation.  It is not your fault.  Telling someone will help to ensure your abuser will not continue to do this to others.  We can help you seek recovery from counselor abuse and malpractice.

If you or your child have been victimized by counselor abuse and malpractice, and would like to discuss your legal options, please contact us for a free consultation.  All communications are completely confidential.  We will handle your inquiry with compassion and sensitivity.  As a boutique law firm in the Pacific NW, we maintain a manageable caseload so that we can provide personalized, detailed attention to each case and client.

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