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Seeking Legal Advice For Professional Abuse

As a specialist in dealing with claims for adults who have suffered abuse and negligent treatment by mental health professionals, I was interested to read articles in the Mail Online and The Sun which reported on how an NHS practitioner psychologist had been suspended by the HCPC (Health and Care Professions Council) as she failed to maintain professional boundaries which caused distress to those clients. Details of the HCPC’s finding can be found here.

Sadly, the issues set out with this case are not uncommon and are ones which I encounter in my work on a daily basis.

Within my blog of April 2021 What is Professional and Therapy Abuse? I explored the various boundary violations and negligent treatment which our clients have experienced, to include the practitioner disclosing their own problems and difficulties and discussing these with their client, as in this case recently considered by the HCPC.

To help those who can relate to this case and for those who have experienced professional abuse, I have outlined below what clients should look for when taking the important and often daunting step of seeking legal advice on such issues.

It might have taken someone who has suffered negligent treatment at the hands of a mental health professional a long time to feel able to disclose what they have been through and, quite understandably, they may feel apprehensive at contacting us – another professional – to discuss what options are available to them. We hope that the following guidance and insights will help allay some of those concerns.

What To Look For When Seeking Legal Advice

Claims for “professional abuse” and “therapy abuse” (the terms we use for claims arising out of negligent treatment by someone in a position of trust in a medical or therapy setting) are complex and specialised claims which fall under the remit of clinical negligence law.

Not only does the client need a lawyer who has the necessary legal knowledge, but also they need the lawyer to be someone who has a psychological understanding of what has happened, as well as being someone the client can work with and who has empathy for what the client has been through. For example, an experienced personal injury or clinical negligence lawyer may not have either the legal or psychological knowledge to properly understand these claims and achieve the best outcome for the client.

Can You Trust Your Lawyer?

This is a vital question for someone who has already had their trust abused by a professional who they had expected to work in their best interests. The client is certainly entitled to trust their lawyer and we recognise that trust is very important.

We don’t expect our clients to trust us immediately and we aim to offer a safe and secure environment in which to pursue the claim. We pride ourselves in working with our clients in a way in which we respect boundaries and which can assist the client to rebuild their trust in professionals, over time.

What Clients Should Expect

Disclosure Of Sensitive Information

We realise from the outset that what occurred with the practitioner is likely to be very personal and sensitive, sometimes of a sexual nature, and that it may be embarrassing for the client to divulge such information.

We also recognise that some of our clients have concerns about issues or events in their past (for example their sexual history or drug usage) which they regret or are embarrassed about. 

We do not judge our clients; we pride ourselves in working in an open and down to earth manner and work with our clients to try to minimise any distress and embarrassment they may feel in disclosing such information.

Although within a claim there is documentation and information which we must disclose by law, we will discuss this with clients and explore any concerns they may have in this regard.

How We Communicate With Clients

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, we pursued the majority of our claims without face to face meetings with clients by being available for telephone contact and writing clear letters and e-mails without ‘legal jargon’. This is something we believe assists us in being able to continue to provide a high level of customer service since the first lockdown.

We do not expect our clients to instantly understand the legal process and we are more than happy to answer any questions our clients have. We always encourage our clients to contact us if they have any questions or queries – no matter how small the client may feel their query is – it is always better for them to ask than worry about something that can be easily answered.

We are happy to put our advice to the client in writing, so they have something to refer back to in due course. We set timescales for completing specific work and, if that work cannot be completed within timescales indicated, we will communicate a further date rather than there being an ‘open ended’ situation. 

If we are not available for immediate telephone contact, arranging a call at a set time can assist in allaying fears that the client is not going to be “let down” again. 

We also recognise this is a very stressful and emotional time for our clients. We have very extensive experience of working with people who have had abusive and negligent treatment and recognise that everyone is an individual and appreciate the wide range of emotions that our clients are likely to go through.

Our Expertise And Experience In Professional Abuse Claims

As a Litigation Executive in the Therapy and Adult Abuse Department at Switalskis Solicitors, I have over 18 years’ experience in pursuing claims of this nature. My supervisor, Mark Hollinghurst, has over 25 years’ experience in this area of law.

We are both are members of APIL, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, and I am also a member of CILEx, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. We are both governed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

I was invited by the BBC to speak about the regulation of therapists for a Radio 4 production, a production which is referenced and reproduced in learning materials of The Open University.

In order to develop my insight into the role of a counsellor I completed the Counselling Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body (CP/CAB) Level 2 Introduction to Counselling and Level 3 Certificate in Counselling Skills.

If you have experienced professional abuse and would like to find out more about moving forward with legal proceedings, please contact me by calling 01302 279745 or email me at victoria.thackstone@switalskis.com

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