Now that I’ve got your attention, I really do want to talk about sex. Probably not in the way you anticipated though. The sex I want to talk about can get someone in big trouble, even land them some jail time. No, I’m not travelling down the road of kink or fetishes (though this may be a part of some people’s sexual fantasies). I’m talking about therapists having sex with their clients.
Flip on the TV these days and pretty much every television show or movie featuring a therapist somehow results in some sort of sexual relationship between the patient and the therapist. For instance, we have the otherwise great movie 50/50, in which Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character had a whole bunch of inappropriate things happen between him and this therapist (resulting in a romantic relationship). The TV series the Grinder had a few episodes in which Rob Lowe’s character “hilariously” dates his therapist played Maya Rudolph. One of the main characters in the TV show the Affair, starts out the pilot episode with a long term affair with her client. Don’t even get me started on everything wrong with Charlie Sheen’s TV show “Anger Management” (have the writers ever even set foot in a therapy session?). The list goes on and on.
So what’s the big deal? Therapy is the perfect place for a super-hot affair to start, right? Actually, a therapist’s office is literally one of the worst places for you to start a healthy, romance and I want to take a little time to talk about why.
For one, it’s ILLEGAL in state of California for a therapist to have sexual contact with their clients. Not only is the therapist looking at various legal punishments and fines but they risk losing their license to practice COMPLETELY. According to California’s laws, sexual contact doesn’t just involve intercourse, but includes the “touching of an intimate part of another person…” As far as professional organizations go, CAMFT (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists) states that it is unethical to have sexual contact with a client, or close member of the client’s family for 2 years after therapy has terminated. AAMFT (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists) goes a step further and states “Sexual intimacy with current (or past) clients or with known members of the client’s family system is prohibited.” Period. Once a client, always a client.
So why the harsh rules? Really, it all comes down to trust and power. People visit therapists when they need to talk to someone they can trust. Many clients seek therapy to help work out intimacy issues, relationship problems and past trauma. When the therapist crosses that boundary, they go from a trusted helper to a predator. The department of consumer affairs states “When this mutual trust is violated by sexual exploitation, everyone loses. The patient loses an opportunity for improved health and becomes a victim. The therapist stops being a healer and becomes a victimizer.”
Sex in therapy is a BIG DEAL and I’m gonna lay down some harsh words. If you are a practicing therapist or mental health provider and you don’t think it’s a big ol’ NO-NO you don’t deserve to be in practice. Media- STOP trying to romanticize therapist client relationships! It is NOT cute, sexy, or fun. The fact is, our clients deserve our utmost respect and care that NEVER includes sex. Our clients come to us at their most vulnerable and it is our absolute duty to never knowingly harm them any further.
If you have ever been victimized by a therapist of any kind (MFT, psychologist, psychiatrist, LCSW) please know that what happened is NOT ok. You have rights and resources. Here is a great link to an online brochure called “Professional Therapy Never Includes Sex” http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/proftherapy.shtml that can answer any questions you may have on the topic. They’ve also put together a list of “warning signs” that may indicate an issue with a therapist (even if they haven’t crossed the sexual boundary yet)
Telling sexual jokes or stories.
“Making eyes at” or giving seductive looks to the patient.
Discussing the therapist’s sex life or relationships excessively.
Sitting too close, initiating hugging, holding the patient or lying next to the patient.
Another warning sign is “special” treatment by a therapist, such as:
Inviting a patient to lunch, dinner or other social activities.
Changing any of the office’s business practices (for example, scheduling late appointments so no one is around, having sessions away from the office, etc.).
Confiding in a patient (for example, about the therapist’s love life, work problems, etc.).
Telling a patient that he or she is special, or that the therapist loves him or her.
Relying on a patient for personal and emotional support.
Giving or receiving significant gifts.
Signs of inappropriate behavior and misuse of power include:
Hiring a patient to do work for the therapist, or bartering goods or services to pay for therapy.
Suggesting or supporting the patient’s isolation from social support systems, increasing dependency on the therapist.
Providing or using alcohol (or drugs) during sessions.
You deserve the right to therapy without fear from victimization. If you’re concerned about your current therapist please consider reaching out for help (it doesn’t matter who “initiated” the sexual contact). The link listed above lists all the recourse that you have available.