Therapist's Relationship with Patient Costs Him, Firm $475,000

By McCoppin, Robert | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 14, 1996 | Go to article overview

Therapist's Relationship with Patient Costs Him, Firm $475,000


McCoppin, Robert, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Robert McCoppin Daily Herald Staff Writer

When he counseled female clients about their marriage problems, social worker Steven Stone sometimes would turn down the lights, according to court testimony.

He also advised some wives in troubled marriages they were better off without their husbands. Developing a close relationship with his patients, he began having sexual relationships with some of those he had treated.

In the case of one Naperville couple, that relationship helped lead to the shattering of their marriage and family, a jury has decided.

A DuPage County Circuit Court jury ruled Friday that both Stone and his former employer, Psych Associates of DuPage Chartered, are liable and must pay the husband $475,000 in damages.

"It commonly happens in patient-therapist relationships. The therapist has to keep that under control and not encourage it," said Dr. Donald Langsley, chairman of ethics for the Illinois Psychiatric Association.

The Naperville couple is not the only victim.

Nationwide, the American Psychiatric Association gets about 30 to 40 complaints per year of sexual misconduct, out of some 40,000 members, less than 1 percent of the membership.

However, George Lindner, an attorney for the Naperville husband, cited the American Psychiatric Journal in estimating 7 percent of male psychiatrists have had sexual relations with female patients.

Part of the problem stems from a phenomena called positive transference, Langsley said.

At a traumatic time in their lives, vulnerable patients invest so much trust in their psychiatrists that they develop an idealized version of them, somewhat like a child's view of parents.

That is why, in the Hippocratic Oath dating to 1200 B.C., doctorsvow not to have sexual relations with their patients, Langsleysaid.

"There's an opportunity for feelings to become very intense," he said. "The therapist has to realize that's part of the treatment process."

"She idealized him to the point where she thought he was god-like," Lindner said of the Naperville woman.

Instead, he said, Stone preyed on women who came to him for help. …

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