If you are going through a tough time, have a difficult problem to solve, have a mental illness, are grieving a loss, or having marital problems, you might seek the help of a mental health professional. While there are certainly many great mental health workers out there who can help you, there are also some mental health workers out there who are abusive to patients. If you find yourself in a situation with an abusive mental health worker, there are actions you can take to remedy the problem.
Know Your Rights: It is important for you to know your rights as a patient or consumer receiving mental health services. Every mental health professional must abide by a code of ethics. While each organization’s patient’s bill of rights may be worded differently, there are many basic rights you have as a patient or consumer receiving mental health services.
These rights include the right to have your family involved (or not involved) in your treatment if you choose, the right to know what medication/s you are taking, what the medication is for, and any potential side effects, the right to ask questions about services and receive answers, the right to refuse any treatment (if not mandated by Court), the right not to be subjected to emotional, verbal, physical, financial, or sexual abuse or to be treated unfairly or harshly by a mental health professional, and the right to make complaints, to have them heard, to have them be responded to in a prompt fashion, and to not get any mistreatment or threats as a result of the complaint/s. You also have the right to file a grievance if you are not satisfied with a response to your complaint and to have any advocate assist you, including a family member, friend, a member of a consumer advocacy organization or committee, case manager, etc. You can read a sample patient’s bill of rights by visiting the Mental Health and Aging website.
Test the Waters: If you feel you are being mistreated by a therapist or psychiatrist, bring it up to him or her. You might just bring up one or two examples of behavior you feel violate your patient rights and see how the mental health worker responds. Wait until you are calm enough to discuss the situation; if you come across as angry or too aggressive, it will only make the mental health worker defensive and the situation worse.
If counselor or psychiatrist responds positively, you will likely be able to work the situation out with him or her. However, if he or she reacts negatively, defensively, or blames you, there are other steps you can take to getting the situation resolved. I would recommend not arguing with your therapist, social worker, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional about the situation at hand as it will only escalate the abuse and make the situation more intolerable.
Patient Advocates: The next thing you may want to try after attempting to talk to your abusive mental health worker about the situation is to talk to a patient advocate. Many mental health centers have patient advocates consumers can go to if they are having problems with a therapist or psychiatrist in the center or facility. A patient advocate investigates complaints and tries to get them resolved to the best of the patient’s satisfaction.
Filing a Complaint with the Licensing Board: If you know your therapist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional has violated specific rights, such as breaching confidentiality or failed to report a case of child abuse, you can report him or her to the licensing board he or she is licensed under. Since psychiatrists are medical doctors, they may be reported to your state’s medical licensing board. Therapists, psychologists, social workers, case managers, and other mental health workers are licensed under different licensing boards. Find out what type of license your mental health professional has in order to know which board to report him or her to. It is a good idea to document any instances of abuse you face while working with your therapist or psychiatrist so that you can show the licensing board evidence for your complaint.
Find a New Mental Health Professional: If you were unable to resolve the situation with your counselor or psychiatrist or if your patient advocate was unable to find a satisfactory solution to your problem, it would be a good idea to find a different therapist or psychiatrist with whom you can work. There is no need to stay in an abusive situation or one in which your rights are not being respected.
Although you may be relying on a therapist, social worker, or psychiatrist to help you with your mental health, they need to treat you with respect. If you find yourself in a situation with an abusive mental health professional, you may decide to resolve the situation, talk to a patient advocate, file a formal complaint with the licensing board, and/or find a new mental health professional with whom you can work.
Mental Health and Aging: Patient’s Bill of Rights: