Doctor & Therapist Abuse


Doctor’s and Therapist sexual abuse are both underreported, but are more common than people think.  Unfortunately there are not a lot of recent statistics that can give a true picture of how prevalent this form of abuse is.  This is because most research polls doctors and the results are based on the doctor actually being honest about previously sexually assaulting their patients.  The likely hood of this is slim.  Even for the doctors who admit to this behavior also under report tremendously the amount of victims that they have preyed upon. 


Many women assume that sexual abuse by a doctor cannot happen to them because it is rare. That is totally untrue. Sexual abuse by doctors is often underreported because many women feel uncomfortable coming forward.  Having a nurse or an assistant present in the room with the doctor doesn't guarantee that nothing inappropriate would happen to you. Remember that the nurse or assistant is present to "protect" the doctor and will often be on the doctor's side. There have been cases where female patients felt the male doctor went too far, but the nurse or assistant felt he was simply doing thorough examinations. A number of sexual misconduct cases by doctors happened with a nurse present. Patients under anesthesia are very vulnerable if they do not have a family member or friend with them because many unethical things such as sexual abuse, non-consensual pelvic and genital exams, stripping of their underwear & gown against their wishes, and unnecessary urinary catheterizations can happen.   



To find out more about Sexual Misconduct Cases by Physicians in the News click this link. It is important for Patients to Know and Understand Their Rights take the opportunity to read the next section to learn more about your rights.    To learn more information on what Therapist Abuse is, click this link. To learn how Therapist Abuse thier Clients click this link. To learn more about When Doctors Sexually Abuse or Assault their Patients click this link.



Websites Providing Support

Patient Bill of Rights


Patients have the right to:

  • Request and receive information about the therapist’s professional capabilities, including licensure, education, training, experience, professional association membership, specialization and limitations.

  • Have written information about fees, payment methods, insurance reimbursement, number of sessions, substitutions (in cases of vacation and emergencies), and cancellation policies before beginning therapy.

  • Receive respectful treatment that will be helpful to you.

  • A safe environment, free from sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

  • Ask questions about your therapy.

  • Refuse to answer any question or disclose any information you choose not to reveal.

  • Request and receive information from the therapist about your progress.

  • Know the limits of confidentiality and the circumstances in which a therapist is legally required to disclose information to others.

  • Know if there are supervisors, consultants, students, or others with whom your therapist will discuss your case.

  • Refuse a particular type of treatment, or end treatment without obligation or harassment.

  • Refuse electronic recording (but you may request it if you wish).

  • Request and (in most cases) receive a summary of your file, including the diagnosis, your progress, and the type of treatment.

  • Report unethical and illegal behavior by a therapist.

  • Receive a second opinion at any time about your therapy or therapist’s methods.

  • Have a copy of your file transferred to any therapist or agency you choose.


Source: Professional Therapy Never Includes Sex published by the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

When Doctors Sexually Abuse or Assault Their Patients

Eileen Bailey Health Guide February 10, 2014



The doctor-patient relationship is paramount to our health and well-being. Our health, and sometimes our lives, depend on our doctor’s genuine concern that we are well - physically and emotionally. We place our lives and our trust in our doctor. When a doctor sexually exploits or abuses a patient, the emotional toll is immense.


I recently did a web search to see if there was statistics on this type of abuse. I couldn’t find any hard statistics. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of psychiatrists reported some type of sexual contact with patients and, however, this was assumed to be underreported as the research used physician self-reporting. It was assumed that doctors in other fields was about the same. This number doesn’t take into account the many patients who have been abused and have not reported this invasion of their body.



Sexual misconduct by doctors falls into three main categories:

  • A romantic relationship with a former or current patient

  • Gaining sexual access by indicating it is a part of treatment

  • Sexual assault





All of these are considered unethical by the AMA. Some doctors, the AMA states, have a “one-time” incident - a time when they didn’t properly manage the inevitable attraction to a patient. Most, however, “use or exploit their patients’ vulnerabilities for their own gratification.” [1] During my web search, there were countless headlines similar to, “Sex-abuse complaints against…., “Doctor accused of sexually abusing…, and “Doctor sentenced to...for sexual assault.” Even though these headlines are popping up, there are so many more cases, those that live in the shadows, afraid of saying anything, or worse yet, being dismissed as if it was nothing.


One of the Health Guides here at HealthCentral recently shared her story about physican sexual abuse. She wants to make sure it is understood that she went to two different plastic surgeons - her “real plastic surgeon” was not involved - it was a physician she went to for one follow-up visit who, in her words, “sexualized her exam.” She has told her story because she wants you to know, this can happen to anyone. This is not your fault.


Our Health Guide went through a tummy-tuck after losing a large amount of weight. She began her journey as a size 24W. At the time of the tummy-tuck, she was wearing a “S.” What a phenomenal accomplishment! The tummy-tuck was not just a medical procedure, it was a celebration of her weight loss. The physician who performed the surgery, in her words, “is one of the finest plastic surgeons in the nation.” Unfortunately, he was out of state so when she needed a quick follow-up exam, she found a plastic surgeon in her area.


The doctor, who she had never met before the exam, used his power and her vulnerability to touch her in places that didn’t need to be touched. He wasn’t seedy or a doctor in some back alley. He had a beautiful office, he advertises with a well designed website. He was charming, interested, attentive. He did all the right things...until he did all the wrong things.



And while we have all seen the headlines where doctors are convicted of sexual assault on their patients, these are the rare cases. Too often, no one wants to do anything. The AMA states. “physicians should be particularly vigilant in exposing colleagues who commit sexual misconduct.” Four states have mandatory reporting laws - four out of fifty! In the case of our Health Guide, her regular physician chose to ignore her, dismissing her rendition of the event and was unwilling to “expose” a colleague.


The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) states, “...sexual misconduct will not be tolerated,” and State Medical Boards should “take prompt and decisive action against any licensee found to have participated in such conduct.” Each case, they state, “should be investigated.” The FSMB lays out clear guidelines for investigating each complaint and recommends specific discipline measures.


If you believe you have been the victim of sexual misconduct by your doctor, talk to someone. This abuse, as other abuse, can leave lasting scars if you don’t address it. Report it. Get care for yourself. Talk to others.


Additional Resources:


A Plastic Surgeon Sexualized My Exam: Trauma Inflicted by the Hands of a Healer


TELL - Therapy Exploitation Link Line

RAINN- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network




“Addressing Sexual Boundaries,” 2006, May, Staff Writer, Federation of State Medical Boards


“Sexual Misconduct in the Practice of Medicine,” American Medical Association




What is Therapist Abuse?


Therapist abuse is using the imbalance of power in the therapeutic relationship to…

  • Control, manipulate and exploit clients.

  • Therapist abuse comes in many forms.

  • Therapists encouraging their clients to do certain things

  • That are not within the clients best interests

  • Therapists encouraging the clients dependency.

  • Therapists using the clients vulnerability to the therapists advantage.

  • Abandoning clients.

  • Engaging in an unethical dual relationship with client.


How it happens…

People seek therapy for a variety of reasons. Therapy is supposed to provide a healthy relationship where the client feels safe and secure. The building of trust in the therapeutic relationship is essential to providing a healthy, stable environment where the client can express their emotions and feelings that are troublesome for them.  In the therapeutic relationship there is an imbalance of power. The therapist has a significant amount of power and influence over the client.


As a client we grow to respect their opinions and appreciate their guidance.  For clients who experienced childhood abuse and neglect, the therapist may take on the role of a parent.  In this case we seek validation, approval and acceptance from the therapist to replace what we didn’t receive as a child.


Adults who experienced childhood abuse are at a higher risk of being abused in the therapeutic relationship.

If clients were abused as children or abandoned, they most likely never developed self-esteem, self-worth and appropriate boundaries. Never developing these things can make clients a target for abuse as adults.

Clients who have suffered abuse in the past may not be able to distinguish between what is a violation and what is theraputetic .


The power and influence the therapist has, has a lot of potential to do a lot of good and by the same token it also has the power to cause severe damage that could have long lasting effects on the client.

How often does it happen?


Statistics about therapy patient abuse only tell part of the story.

  • Approximately 4.4% of therapists report having engaged in sex with at least one client,

  • The offenders are about four times more likely to be male than female,

  • The vast majority of sexually exploited clients are women (88-92%), and

  • One out of 20 victims is a minor.

  • The aftermath is incalculable. 11% of victims of therapist patient abuse end up in the hospital, 14% attempt suicide, and 1% actually commit suicide


Check list for therapy abuse

  • Go with your gut feelings, if something seems off, trust your instinct and seek another therapist.

    Does your therapist seem unprofessional? ( Do they talk about other clients, their personal life or things that make you feel uncomfortable?)

  • If you can’t tell if therapy is helping or hurting.

  • If the therapist is degrading, humiliating, intimidating, shaming you or you feel manipulated.

    Making suggestive comments, sexual comments erotic comments.

  • Pressuring you to make decisions or engage in activities that you feel uncomfortable with.

  • Calling you on the phone, email, text messages, meeting with you outside the office.

  • Giving constant attention to your looks or complimenting your physical appearance ( you are beautiful, sexy) rather than personality or things you’ve accomplished.

  • Pay close attention to their compliments about your achievements. Does it seem like over kill?

  • Does the therapist make you feel like you “need” them? Do you feel anxious if you miss a session? Has your therapist made you feel like they are the only one who can “fix” you?

  • Have they made promises to never abandon you and always be there for you? Have they made you feel like they will never let you down?

  • Have they engaged in touching, kissing, hugging, winks, sexually suggestive body language and or sexual activity?


Where to get help?

  • Talk to a friend, spouse or parent.

  • Seek out information. There are many websites on the internet with a vast amount of information and people who can help. I recommend TELL ( therapy exploitation link line. The website is I also recommend The information on these websites can help you through the process of getting help and making the decisions that are best for you.)

  • Seek another therapist.

  • Contact legal counsel, file a board complaint and talk with police.





How Therapist Abuse their Clients


Ray Hurford - VEX


There are many ways in which therapists and counsellors can abuse their clients. The list below, which does not claim to be exhaustive, is based on the experiences of some of those who have been abused in therapy. Categorizing the suggestions has not always been easy: some behaviors fit into more than one category, and there is some overlap between the categories themselves. NB. The words "therapy" and "therapists" here should be taken to refer also to "counselling" and "counsellors" - or indeed to any kind of talking treatment and those who practice it.



"You Don't Matter" - Lack of respect, shaming & not listening

  • Treating the client as a "diagnosis" rather than as a person

  • Undermining the client's self-confidence and self-esteem and making them feel humiliated; emphasizing their "deficiency" and never acknowledging their good qualities

  • Not listening properly to clients - and only "hearing" what fits in with the therapist's own preconceived ideas

  • Rubbishing the client's own insight, understanding, ideals, goals etc. and making them doubt their own reality (gas-lighting)

  • Not allowing client to critically question the therapy they are being subjected to, demanding unlimited compliance and agreement and "faith" in the therapeutic process.

  • Failing to act on/disbelieving/dismissing/writing off client's complaints or distress re their emotional or psychological problems, engaging in the old "same time next week" attitude

  • Treating the client as though he/she is malingering/feigning symptoms so as to get sympathy, time off work etc., and thereby discounting client's complaints about symptoms

  • Dismissing a client's problem (for which they are seeking help) with "you just need to deal with it/exercise/pray/do volunteer work/be more grateful" etc.

  • Refusal/inability to acknowledge the realities of the client's circumstances (e.g. insisting a client of workplace bullying return to work without proper support or changes to the situation)

  • Construing client's belief system as deviant/bad for their mental health/downright delusional simply because it differs from what the therapist considers "normal" (This can also occur when e.g. male therapists encounter feminists or their supporters.)

  • Asking the client to pursue "homework" that is never used in the process of the therapy (e.g. telling client to "think about it!" then forgetting all about it, dismissing it as unimportant or accusing client of "wanting to stay stuck on an issue")

  • Breaking promises made to a client



"You Don't Need To Know" - Withholding information

  • Lying, withholding or distorting information

  • Inflicting any kind of treatment modality on the client without discussing the treatment and particulars with client first and gaining their consent

  • Not telling the client that the therapist is making some kind of assessment or diagnosis of them, and/or not informing the client of any diagnosis which has been made

  • Not allowing client to critically question the therapy they are being subjected to, demanding unlimited compliance and agreement and "faith" in the therapeutic process

  • Refusing to allow a client access to their client record

  • Deliberately confusing a client in order to keep the client off-balance

  • Refusal to explain terminology the therapist is using, such as any psychology or DSM terms

  • Refusal to answer direct requests for clarification of the therapist's words or non-verbal communications



"I'm in Charge" - Controlling, threatening and manipulative behavior

  • Shifting the balance of power further in favor of the therapist

  • Refusal to address the issues which the client wishes to address in therapy

  • Setting the client's goals for them without reference to what the client sees as important, in relation to either therapy or life in general

  • Making a client work on an issue on the therapist's agenda or to his timing

  • Threatening to have the client forcibly admitted to a mental hospital

  • Guilt-tripping the client with phrases such as "You don't want to get better", "You have a problem with trust" etc.

  • Using threats of termination to control a client's actions, reactions, or behavior

  • Deliberately confusing a client so as to throw them off-balance

  • Emotional blackmail and verbal assault

  • Manipulation through the use of withdrawal and silence (e.g. encouraging client to overstate their distress so as to get a reaction)

  • Unconditional positive regard (conveying the impression that the therapist cares and understands)

  • Arbitrary, capricious or variable attitude to client (cf. "Good Cop, Bad Cop" routine)

  • Making the client make "contracts" as a method of control (e.g. making a client be a "Pollyanna" by having a contract where the client must report "good things that have happened" regardless of the reality of the client's life and recent happenings)

  • Therapist passive-aggressively re-enacts a traumatic or abusive incident that client experienced, without client's consent or knowledge of this "therapeutic technique", just to see how client will respond




"I Know Best" - Misinterpretation of client's symptoms/situation & imposing own beliefs/ preconceptions

  • Not listening properly to clients - and only "hearing" what fits in with the therapist's own preconceived ideas

  • Defining clients in terms of the therapist's own outlook, beliefs, ideals etc.

  • Using circular self-confirming hypotheses, i.e. basing assessments on the therapists’ conjecture rather than actual evidence, and then making further assumptions about the client based on those assessments

  • Labelling understandable distress/anger etc. at external events in terms of mental illness

  • Insisting the client accepts the therapist's interpretation of their distress and submits to a therapy protocol which is not designed for nor is effective for client's specific problem (e.g. treating a depressed person for narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder)

  • Developing endless attributions for client's behavior (e.g. depression/anxiety/OCD etc.) to justify solving it for a long time, and when behavior is still present after therapy, develop a new attribution for the behavior

  • Making the client make "contracts" as a way to control the client or to minimize the client's emotional situation, not as a useful therapy tool (e.g. where the client must report only "good things that have happened" regardless of the reality of the client's life and recent happening)

  • Using ANY type of spiritual/religious or otherwise-not-mainstream "therapy" without first explaining such and getting consent

  • Insisting client adopt therapist's belief system



"You Need Me" - Encouraging dependence & setting self-up as only hope

  • Persuading the client that the therapist is their only hope of happiness, and that they should accept and do everything the therapist says

  • Encouraging an unhealthy dependence on therapy and/or the therapist

  • Making extreme and seeming serious suggestions like cutting off contact with family members or verbally abusing family members, and justifying this behavior by claiming it will "facilitate the therapeutic process"



Use of jargon, clichés, pretense and other inappropriate modes of address

  • Using complex jargon to confuse and disadvantage the client

  • Making jokes at the client's expense

  • Passing off abusive comments as "just a joke"

  • Passing off superficial clichés as "insight" and "wisdom"

  • Using manipulative phrases which contain a critical subtext, e.g.:

    • "This is life, you must learn to deal with it" (subtext: "You are deficient")

    • "Choose to like where you are at, what you've got and to be with whoever you are with" (subtext: "Stop complaining")

    • "I never promised you a rose garden" (subtext: "You are unreasonable" - when the only expectation may have been for decent and respectful behavior!)

    • "Be grateful for what you have" (subtext: "You are ungrateful" )

    • "Do volunteer work" (subtext: "You are ungiven")

    • "Now you're sadder but wiser" (subtext: "Don't be ungrateful - I've done something for you" - even though you sought help in dealing with the sadness)

    • "To have a friend you must be a friend" (subtext: "You are the problem - and if you say anything against other people, you're paranoid")

    • "There's no such word as 'can't'" (subtext: "You are pathetic", or "I don't believe you")

    • "Don't you know that?" (subtext: "You ought to know that")

    • "Don't you want to get better?" (subtext: "You don't want to get better", or " You will only get better if you do what I say")


  • Attempting to lead client to therapist's predetermined conclusions by any of the following:

    • Lying, omitting or distorting information

    • Loaded questions

    • Feigning ignorance about a topic

    • Passing attributional suggestions off as compliments (e.g. "you are a tidy person")

    • Making coercive/fear inducing statements (e.g. "that sounds pretty paranoid to me...")

    • Feigning an anger response to client to regain control or compliance

    • Feigning identification with client's feelings

    • Playing on client's weaknesses/fears/needs/vulnerabilities

    • Setting client up by encouraging him/her to do something that will fail or appear silly

    • Playing games with client (e.g. therapist brings own problems into sessions and has an "isn't it terrible" competition - "you think you got problems, well, I'll give you a reason to be depressed....")



Causing disruption to client's life, including breach of confidentiality

  • Encouraging or causing disruption to client's long term friendships and marital relationships

  • Failing to respect client's lifestyle choices as a "given"

  • Discussing the client with others outside the therapy setting, unless the client has given explicit and informed consent to such discussions (which may include both giving and receiving information)

  • Character assassination


Financial/material exploitation

  • Using ANYTHING from a client for the therapist's personal gain, without their knowledge (including the client's story as an anecdotal case study for publication in a book)

  • Keeping any item belonging to the client, even if the item was "created" during therapy or a session of therapy (poetry, artwork, journals etc.), and refusing to return these items when asked to do so

  • Using billing or financial arrangements to control or manipulate the client (e.g. requiring them to pay for a fixed number of sessions when client has decided to terminate early, or threatening to withdraw counselling which is being provided free or at reduced cost)


"It's Your Fault" - Blaming the client & denial of any responsibility for distress in therapy


  • "Pollyannaism" - emphasizing only good qualities, people are all nice, well-adjusted, polite, and kind, so if a problem occurs it's the client's fault, while ignoring/overlooking/minimizing bad things people do, or the possibility that people can deliberately do bad things to others; if client questions trustworthiness of others, he/she is labelled "paranoid"

  • Demanding client "confess" to doing bad things as part of the therapeutic process and refusing to believe denials (e.g. using illegal narcotics, hurting other people, "being an asshole", theft, lying)

  • "Cure must fit the symptom" (i.e. if client has excessive guilt feelings, therapist insists client must have done something bad to make client feel guilty and must "come clean about what you did")

  • Treating the client as though he/she is malingering/feigning symptoms

  • Saying a client is deliberately "dragging their feet" in getting well when the client is confused or does not understand what is going on in the therapy

  • Labelling the client as manipulative or disturbed for questioning the therapist's approach (e.g. diagnosing a personality disorder in order to discredit a client who makes a legitimate complaint)

  • Labelling the client as resistant or in denial if they don't accept the therapist's understanding

  • Refusing to accept that therapists ever make mistakes and blaming the client for any distress the therapist has caused them

  • Character assassination

  • Assuming all therapy "works", even the latest fad, and if client doesn't improve then they are "doing something wrong" (which entails many more hours of therapy) because the "theory" certainly cannot be at fault

  • Playing the victim when the client makes a complaint





  • Complete devastation and despair (feeling like Munch's The Scream - see )

  • Self-blame and feelings of failure, guilt and confusion

  • Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, with excessive over-compensatory behavior for new insecurities and fear about how others will respond to you

  • Withdrawal and inability to talk about the abuse; and feeling also that no one understands

  • Doubting your own perceptions and reality

  • Post-traumatic stress, and ongoing high levels of stress

  • Emotional detachment or "shutting down" (leading among other things to loss of empathy and lack of emotional response within oneself)

  • Intrusive negative rumination/intrusive negative thoughts/flashbacks

  • Extreme (but completely rational) fear of therapists and therapy

  • Re-traumatization in circumstances reminiscent of the abusive behavior (this may lead to becoming unexpectedly or unduly upset with others, and even to adopting therapist's abusive style in dealing with them)

  • Breakdown of or disruption to client's long-term friendships and marital relationships




How To Report Sexual Misconduct


If you have been sexually abused by a doctor, don't delay reporting the sexual abuse no matter how difficult it is. Remember that you could help prevent the doctor from abusing more patients if you report the sexual abuse. It is recommended that you report the sexual abuse as soon as possible. Document all of the details of the abuse on paper as soon as possible so you won't forget the details. You should definitely file a complaint with the State Medical Board.

If you prefer to not report to the police at first, you should contact the administrator at the hospital or doctor's office where the sexual abuse happened.


Some Ways To Report Sexual Misconduct:

1.) Report the abuse to the local police

2.) Contact the administrator/medical director at the medical facility that the abuse happened at. Many major hospitals have complaint forms that you can fill out.

3.) File a complaint with your state medical board.

4.) Consider consulting with a law firm if you desire to sue and receive monetary compensation for the pain you went through. It is best that you try to select a law firm that has experience with sexual misconduct by physicians.




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