Counselling and psychotherapy: What is abusive and negligent treatment?

In this blog, Litigation Executive Victoria Thackstone outlines the recent changes to domestic abuse legislation and how these may relate to the abusive behaviour experienced by professional abuse clients.

On 25 July 2018, the laws governing domestic abuse changed, expanding the law so that other forms of abuse are now considered to be illegal, not just physical abuse.

It is now illegal for your partner to:

  • Share sexually explicit images of you, either online or not
  • Restrict your access to money
  • Repeatedly put you down
  • Stop you from seeing friends or family
  • Scare you
  • Threaten to reveal private things about you
  • Put tracking devices on your phone
  • Be extremely jealous
  • Force you to obey their rules
  • Control what you wear
  • Make you do things you don’t want to

Our experience is that many people who have been abused by counsellors or therapists (in both private and NHS settings) have encountered some of the psychological abuse referred to above.

We have been approached by many people who inform us that they have become estranged from their family or friends as their therapist has strongly encouraged them to break ties.

Also, clients often describe to us how they are frightened by their therapist and do whatever their therapist asks of them (including sexual acts), even if they don’t want to, as they are worried that their therapist will:

  • Become angry with them;
  • Terminate treatment if they do not comply;
  • Share intimate photographs which the therapist asked the client to send to them, or tell others personal details that the client told them in therapy.

Clients also report the therapist speaking to them in a derogatory manner, insulting them and putting them down.

It is also not uncommon for an abusive therapist to suggest that the client wears certain colours or clothing (for example, a therapist could ask their female client to wear short skirts and become angry if they wear trousers).

The consequence of abusive and negligent counselling and therapy is often devastating and has long-term implications. We recognise that it can be daunting to talk to yet another “professional” about what has happened.

It is therefore important that if you are seeking advice about what has happened, you can trust the person giving you advice.

We have pursued many claims against a wide range of mental health and psychological therapy professionals, such as counsellors, psychotherapists, community psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists, and mental health social workers, and also against other healthcare professionals such as GPs, GUM health advisors, gynaecologists, breast surgeons, acupuncturists and osteopaths.

We have worked with people from all walks of life and have dealt with cases relating to every combination of genders.

Whilst the changes in the law refer to domestic abuse, you should contact the Police if you believe you have been the victim of a crime. There are other laws which may be relevant if you have been abused by a healthcare professional. You should also consider submitting a complaint to the professional’s membership organisation or governing body.

Switalskis Therapy and Professional Abuse team specialise in the legal issues relating to abuse and negligent treatment by healthcare professionals. If you have suffered abuse by a counsellor, psychotherapist or other healthcare professional, you can call us in confidence on 0800 012 9085 or send us a message using the contact form below.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice, and the law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice on their own particular circumstances.

Victoria Thackstone

Victoria is a Litigation Executive, working on Professional and Therapy Abuse Claims. She is based in our Doncaster office and has worked in the legal profession since 1999. Victoria's profile