A Malpractice Plaintiffs Litigation Strategy
Martin H. Williams, PhD
The claim that a psychotherapist and a patient had entered into a “multiple relationship” can, unfortunately, serve as an effective centerpiece for a malpractice action against that psychotherapist. Because of a long, evolving history of ethics enforcement against psychotherapists, certain “ethical problems” can appear to be gross deviations from the standard of care, or to represent gross negligence, when, in fact, they are not. The slur, “multiple relationship,” is a perfect example. Because of a confusion between that which is risk management and that which constitutes the standard of care—and because some believe that multiple relationships are reliable precursors of therapist-patient sex—some psychotherapists, plaintiffs attorneys, judges, and civil juries will find the mere presence of a multiple relationship to be unethical. That this is a conceptual error provides little comfort to the accused psychotherapist. Today, many psychotherapists blanche at the term “multiple relationship” without giving themselves a chance to carefully consider whether or not such a relationship is either unethical or a treatment problem. This chapter describes the misuse of “multiple relationships” as a slur against treating psychotherapists and explains why this slur has proven so effective in civil court, before licensing boards, and at administrative law hearings as a way to win plaintiff and prosecution cases against psychologists.