As Americans, while we were forced to grit our teeth and bear through a government shutdown we we're reminded yet again how much our government and elected officials have failed us. We, the people, have put them into the positions they possess in order to serve the best interests an represent the voice of all of us. Would any of us have really chosen furlough? Likewise, in the mental health industry, would we choose a therapist who is a violent convicted felon or has a history of sexually exploiting his or her patients?
It's a question local Maryland politicians wish to avoid, so they procrastinate and drawer needed legislation that would clean up the mental health profession or try to pass if off into a prolonged study (see: "Maryland legislators deny abuse victims"). There's no more that needs to be studied. Legislation was proposed back in the 1990s which resulted in the creation of a task force that revealed the need for more stringent regulations regarding the mental health profession in Maryland, but the recommendations from that task force were never used.
Since then, scores of people seeking professional help from a therapist have been manipulated, exploited, assaulted, and raped by their therapists, many of which may have been prevented. This column has featured many of those stories. However, the state boards granted licensure to therapists with a dark past, and when it came to admonishing their own, they didn't report crimes such as sexual assault, and therapists who exploited their clients were allowed to reapply for their license after a short admonishment period.
The proposition is scary, but it's real. A woman starts seeing a therapist seeking help for her marriage. A couple months down the road the marriage is in an even worse state because the empowered therapist has sympathized with her, crossed the boundary when she started feeling a natural closeness to him because he understood her perspective, and then began a sexual relationship with her. The same can happen to a male client as well. Marriages and families are destroyed because there are therapists who take advantage of the people that have placed blind trust in them.
It's a severe breach of ethics, ethics that are continuously drilled into these professionals. However, the repercussions brought down by the boards are weak and, given that these situations are non-consensual in nature, they allow the therapists to get away with sexual exploitation, assault, and rape. Only when the boards are circumvented are these types of charges filed criminally (see: "Green's failed grooming"). After a board decision, therapists, represented by lawyers (victims are not allowed legal counsel in front of the boards), these violators actually have options. Some jump to another state, obtain a license there, and begin practicing again with a fresh plate of potential victims at their disposal. Some hang around and reapply for licensure after their admonishment period, many of which are granted. And some, even though they no longer have an active license, open up their own counseling business and mask their services as coaching (see: "Convicted felon therapist still practicing").
Enough is enough. The research and statistics are all in place (see: "Effects of sexual abuse by a therapist" and "Sex between therapists and clients"). The case studies within the state are plentiful. And there is a strong voice pushing for this legislation to help keep mental health clients safe (see: Lynette's Law for Maryland). It's time to just finally do it.