Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Psychiatrist's Professional License Permanently Revoked for Sexual Misconduct

Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Psychiatrist's Professional License Permanently Revoked for Sexual Misconduct

Article excerpt

Licensing boards and reviewing courts have become less tolerant of sexual conduct by a mental health professional during therapy, with a number of jurisdictions adopting a per se rule that sex with a client violates professional rules of conduct. However, less attention has been given to the sanctions to be attached to such misconduct, particularly when the misconduct can be construed as a single instance rather than a pattern of misconduct.

The Ohio Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by the Ohio Medical State Board (Board) that permanently revoked the license of a psychiatrist found to have engaged in improper sexual conduct with a patient, notwithstanding that there was a single instance of sexual intercourse. The patient was initially referred to the psychiatrist for medication management, was diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder, and had been sexually and psychologically abused by her father for fifteen years during her childhood.

During the course of therapy, the patient professed her attraction to the therapist and became increasingly flirtatious and provocative. Interpreting the therapeutic maxim that "a patient can say anything but not act" to mean that the patient "can do anything [they] want in therapy[,] I can only watch," the psychiatrist acknowledged that he had allowed the patient during clinical sessions on many occasions over a multi-year period to disrobe and/or engage in sexual self-stimulation in his presence and ultimately on one occasion engaged in sexual intercourse with her. …

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