Therapist dating former patient
By Cliff Korn, BS, LMT, NCTMB A friend recently made me aware of a news article which I found fascinating.The scenario is a massage therapist who befriends one of her clients, ends the therapeutic relationship, begins dating the former client, falls in love and marries him - and then has a complaint filed by the new husband's ex-wife for violating a state statute banning sex for two years between massage therapists and ex-clients.The therapist was questioned by the state on small gifts exchanged between her and her client.The state indicated the gifts represented further "boundary issues," and contends that taking tips is unethical because of "transference," a process in which trust in the practitioner leads to increased reliance and vulnerability. In my own practice, I don't encourage tipping (I suggest clients put the money toward coming in more often so we benefit), but I honestly can say I never felt unethical accepting a gratuity if the client felt like providing one.But, in the meantime, the issue is stirring up controversy within the ranks of psychologists. Even friendly chitchat outside office walls is shunned.The threat of lawsuits, the already strong language in the APA code, and the general litigiousness of society have prompted many therapists to erect barriers between themselves and their patients when it comes to any physical contact. "I used to not have any social contact with former patients for two years, but now I don't do it at all," says Lack. D., a private-practice therapist in Sonoma, CA, is leading a fight to support "dual relationships" -- patient-therapist bonds that never turn sexual but are nonetheless close and nurturing.D., the process called transference almost always occurs during intensive therapy.This happens when the patient transfers onto the therapist the feelings he or she had for an earlier authority figure, typically a parent.
It's no surprise that patients often become attracted to their therapists.Violating this code can bring expulsion from the APA, a revoked license, and a nasty lawsuit.Every year, about 17 therapists are expelled or asked to resign from the APA due to sexual misconduct, according to the organization, which began keeping track of the numbers in 1993.At first read of the story ( I got caught up in the slant of a love story soured by heavy-handed regulation.After the second and third readings, however, I got into the complexities of the issue and the potential repercussions of similar circumstances for the rest of us.