Question/Answer Corner: What’s On Your Mind?
Q: I recently defended a mental health professional who had been asked to give an expert opinion on whether a child client of hers should continue to have unsupervised visits with the father. The therapist had only seen that one parent and the child, not the other parent. During the sessions with the child, the therapist became convinced that the child was having severe anxiety when visiting the father and that such anxiety was causing a myriad of emotional and behavioral problems. The therapist believed that a hiatus from having to visit the father was indicated and would help therapy progress.
So, the question for this month is: If a parent brings a child for therapy and/or expert opinion on the possibility of child abuse (sexual or other), should the therapist offer his or her opinion in the form of a letter upon request by that parent and/or the parent’s lawyer?
A: Be careful. If the therapist offers his or her opinion via letter upon request, it may seem as though the therapist is voluntarily weighing in on a parental responsibility allocation issue without having been appointed by the Court to evaluate both parents and their relationships with the child(ren).
If the therapist only sees the child and one parent, especially if the two parents are embroiled in litigation over time with the child(ren), the therapist should beware about being used by the parent who brings the child in for therapy and/or assessment.
If the therapist feels strongly about offering his or her opinion, and sometimes that is very important and the parent seeking such expert opinion has a right to such expert opinion, the therapist should require the parent’s attorney to subpoena that opinion and his or her testimony for the benefit of the Court. That way, the therapist is essentially dragged into the litigation and does not go willingly into the fray.
Best possible plan if this or some similar situation occurs: Seek risk prevention consultation to protect yourself. Litigation is usually frought with risks for the mental health professional.
Recent blog posts you might be interested in:
DORA: What’s On the Various Boards’ Radar?
I try to attend all the public Board meetings of all the Mental Health Boards: Social Work, Professional Counselors, Psychologists, Marriage & Family Therapists, Addiction Counselors, and Registered Psychotherapists. Each month, this section will address current issues that arise in various Board meetings that may seem helpful for practicing clinicians.
The meetings I attended this past month did not provide much grist for this mill.
One tidbit: if any of the Mental Health Boards believe that a practitioner may have a substance abuse or mental health issue that could interfere with his or her practice, they can require that the therapist get a mental health or substance abuse evaluation from the group with which the Board subcontracts, Peer Assistance Services, Inc. (PAS). This is true for licensing applicants as well. This is not optional if the Board requires it.
What people said about my most recent seminar:
- “I always enjoy your trainings. I appreciate your flexibility in regards to discussing audience members’ concerns/experiences.”
- “My third seminar with you — you are great! Keep on teaching this class…”
- “Always great! Thank you! Wish you had more throughout the year… You are engaging and positive.”
- “Excellent! I could not think of anything to improve on this workshop. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
- “Excellent presentation. Very informative and well thought out frame work. Thanks Deb!”
- “Presenter was engaging, knowledgeable, and very thorough.”
- “Great seminar and very informative. Thank you!”
- “Very intriguing and engaging session.”
- “Nice work! Very interesting, especially when examining specific case studies.”
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Deb will present a 1.25 hour workshop entitled:
“Self-Protective, Clinical Practice with High-Risk Clients”
Deb will address how to manage risks with high-risk clients, how to respond to subpoenas for records or deposition/trial testimony, and how to effectively treat child/adolescent clients when their parents are divorced. Deb emphasizes self-protective clinical practice and includes how to best preserve the therapeutic relationship amidst all these challenging situations. Case examples will be offered and participants are welcome to present troublesome situations as long as time allows.
The Colorado Society for Clinical Social Work is again pleased to be offering the following educational and networking opportunities to our members and the community of mental health professionals. These informal workshops exhibit an excellent array of presentations by CSCSW’s more seasoned clinical social workers and other accomplished professionals from the community. They are hosted by members of the Society in their homes. Please contact us if you would like to receive evite’s to these Salons. Non-members will be charged a $30.00 fee (no charge for students).
NEW to Deb’s Practice
(1) Referrals being accepted for women’s therapy group to begin in the fall. Good candidates include women between ages approximately 30 – 60 who are undergoing a significant life transition, such as (a) loss of job, (b) major health issue, (c) divorce or death of partner, or (d) depression/anxiety that you believe group work would help. Client would continue in individual therapy with referring therapist – group would only augment clinical work.
If you would like to discuss a possible referral, please call me at 504.232.8884.
(2) Collaborative Divorce Mediation – if any of your clients are considering divorce, it might be helpful to encourage them to research the Colorado Collaborative Divorce Professionals web site. Deb is available to consult with clients who may have questions about the process, which is more non-adversarial by far than divorce litigation. Especially if the couple has children, collaborative divorce is much less destructive to the self-esteem of the kids (and the parents) and geared toward helping parents learn to co-parent effectively in a less conflict-ridden pattern. I am available to serve as mediator for the couple engaging in this process, which would also include collaboratively-trained lawyers for each party. If you want more information about the collaborative divorce process and/or ideology, feel free to email or call me.
(3) My therapy office in Lakewood (Green Mountain area) is available for reasonable subletting by day, half-day, or evening. Please check out my listing on craigslist or call me for more info or to schedule a time to visit the office.
Legal Services Offered
- Legal Representation & Consultation for grievances (complaints) to licensing boards and/or malpractice lawsuits
- Training & Consultation for Clinicians and Agencies (e.g., respond ethically to subpoenas while protecting yourself and your clients; identify high-risk clients and situations to avoid client disciplinary complaints and harm to clients or third parties)
Deb Henson is an Attorney and LCSW (Tulane School of Social Work, MSW) in private practice in Denver and New Orleans, specializing in mental health licensing defense. She represents clinicians in DORA grievances (CO) and licensing board Complaints (LA) and regularly consults with clinicians in both states to help them deal with legal and clinical conundrums, such as: (1) the receipt of subpoenas for records or testimony; (2) the escalation of high-risk clinical situations; and (3) other sticky ethical wickets that arise in clinical practice. Deb helps clinicians develop self-protective, clinically sound and legally proper strategies for risk prevention.
Deb also maintains a clinical practice in Denver, with an office in the Green Mountain area of Lakewood. Through that private practice, Deb offers individual and couple therapy, primarily, and will be starting an ongoing women’s therapy group in the Fall (ages 35-65; interviews for group placement will be conducted upon referral). Referrals for the group are welcome – 504.232.8884.
Deb has been presenting half- and full-day seminars on “Avoiding Ethics Complaints and Malpractice Lawsuits” or “Legal and Ethical Issues in Clinical Practice” around the country through PESI, Inc. for over 7 years and presenting for many CEU groups in Louisiana and Colorado. She also has lectured for Tulane School of Social Work Continuing Education and the University of Texas School of Social Work (Austin) Continuing Professional Development program, and for many other clinical and counseling groups. Deb started her own training biz — Beyond Ethics, LLC — in 2009. Contact Deb for group presentations to agency staff and/or private practice consultation groups.
Deb can be reached through her law and social work web site: www.deborahmhenson.com or through her training web site: www.beyond-ethics.com. Deb can also be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. And, you can use the old tried and true method of calling her at 504.232.8884.