Law Blog

Can You Sue Your Therapist?

Though it may be difficult, it’s not impossible to file a medical malpractice claim against your therapist

If you’ve ever been to therapy, you know that it’s not normally a pleasant experience. But, what exactly are your legal options when it’s a particularly unsettling experience? Can you file a personal injury claim against a therapist for medical malpractice? The short answer is yes. But before you go looking for a medical malpractice lawyer, it’s important to do your research in order to make sure you’ve got all the elements of a medical malpractice claim. Though therapy can be uncomfortable, a therapist’s actions rarely arise to the level of medical malpractice. When it comes to mental health professionals, a medical malpractice lawyer can only help if you have all the elements of a medical malpractice claim.

What Is Undue Influence and Grooming?

There’s a difference between undue influence and grooming. Grooming typically refers to an adult building a trusting relationship with an underage person with the specific intention to later exploit the underage person. If a therapist were to groom and then abuse or exploit an underage person, this would likely be grounds for filing a medical malpractice claim. Undue influence, in the context of therapists and medical malpractice, refers to a situation in which the therapist abuses the power dynamics of the therapeutic relationship to influence their client into taking an action that disproportionately benefits the therapist, and may even harm the client. Depending on the situation, this too may meet the criteria for medical malpractice.

When Is Incompetence Medical Malpractice?

Not all therapists were meant to work with all clients. In fact, depending on the therapist’s education and experience, they may not be able to diagnose even fairly common disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder. However, incompetency is not necessarily medical malpractice. In order to have a good medical malpractice claim, there needs to be duty, breach of duty, damages, and causation. Duty is already established by the therapeutic relationship. Breach of duty occurs when the therapist conducts themselves in a reckless manner, acts outside their scope of practice, or acts in a way another mental health professional with similar credentials would deem unreasonable. Failure to diagnose a mental disorder, or a misdiagnosis, does not typically constitute a breach of duty. Furthermore, even if it did, the client would still have to prove that they were damaged and the damages were directly caused by the therapist.

Can Clients and Therapists Be Friends?

Dual-relationships occur when a therapist has a relationship with their client, or former client, outside of therapy. This may mean the therapist and the client have become friends, business partners, co-workers, etc. Though these relationships may be ethically ambiguous, they are not necessarily illegal, nor do they constitute medical malpractice. However, if undue influence occurs, then these relationships may serve as evidence that the client has been unduly influenced by the therapist. For example, if a therapist needs an office manager, and they influence a client to take the position at a much lower rate, that may be considered to be undue influence. This is especially true if the client would not have otherwise accepted such an offer.

When Romantic Relationships Are Involved

Romantic relationships with therapists and clients, both former and current, are unanimously considered to be unethical. These types of relationships often have elements of undue influence or, if the client is underage, grooming. These types of relationships almost always rise to the level of medical malpractice because they often contain all the elements of medical malpractice. As previously mentioned, duty is already established by the therapeutic relationship. Assuming there is proof that a romantic relationship existed between the therapist and client, breach of duty would also be established since such a relationship would far exceed any widely known and accepted ethical boundaries. Most importantly, the plaintiff would likely have evidence of emotional distress that could be easily linked to the aforementioned romantic relationship. 

When You Need a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

The difficulty with filing a claim against a therapist stems from the fact that, for the most part, sessions are not recorded. Due to this fact, it can be extremely difficult for clients to prove that their therapist has breached their duty. Unless a client has proof that the therapist has breached their duty, it may be difficult to file a medical malpractice claim. Your best chance at successfully winning compensation may be to consult with a medical malpractice lawyer.


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