Attorney Stacie Patterson Announces Ways for Therapists, Doctors and Attorneys to Avoid Temptation

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The news last week that Dr. Scott DesJarlais, a Tennessee congressman, may be asked to vacate his seat due to unprofessional behavior—having an affair with a patient and encouraging her to get an abortion—came as no surprise to attorney Stacie Patterson, who specializes in professional license and criminal defense

Unprofessional behavior can jeopardize careers, as licensing boards look very unfavorably upon those who succumb to temptation.

According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle that Dr. Scott DesJarlais, a Tennessee congressman, may be asked to vacate his seat due to unprofessional behavior—having an affair with a patient and encouraging her to get an abortion—came as no surprise to attorney Stacie Patterson, who specializes in professional license and criminal defense. She’s well aware that due to the nature of their work, therapists, doctors and attorneys often find themselves alone with their patients/clients, something that normally doesn’t present ethical issues, unless it becomes tempting to initiate more personal relationships.

“Those who are tempted to ‘cross the line’ should think of Nike’s famous slogan and act in the opposite manner: just don’t do it,” Patterson said. “Unprofessional behavior can jeopardize careers, as licensing boards look very unfavorably upon those who succumb to temptation.”

Patterson offers the following suggestions for professionals who want to protect themselves from ending up in hot water:

  •     Understand your licensing board’s standards. The California State Bar, for instance, prohibits sexual relations, which it defines as sexual intercourse or touching for the purposes of sexual gratification. Mental health professionals will find their guidance a bit fuzzier, as advances of any kind are prohibited, including flirtations and dining together; therapists are even barred from initiating personal relationships with patients up to two years after treatment has ended.
  •     Ask for advice. If you find yourself in a potentially gray area, it can be a big mistake to rely on self-judgment to determine whether things are straying into a harmful zone. Something you consider “nothing” may not be seen in that same way by a licensing board. This can be an especially slippery slope for younger professionals, who may not have the experience to see how their behavior can be misconstrued or may have repercussions down the road.
  •     Keep detailed documentation. In the event your behavior is challenged, you want to have more on your side than merely your word. No one wants to get involved in a “he said, she said” situation. Carefully document the times you’re alone with patients/clients via written notes and consider audiotaping or videotaping sessions.
  •     Make a referral. If you feel a professional relationship has the potential to veer into personal territory, it may be in your best interest to refer that patient/client to another practitioner. Eliminating the source of temptation may be your only option, especially in cases where patients/clients act in inappropriate ways.
  •     Look at yourself. If you find yourself becoming attracted to a patient/client, it can be useful to discover whether transference is occurring—and why. Ask yourself whether you need to find another outlet that meets the needs you see this patient/client fulfilling.

Patterson notes that “getting personal” with patients/clients is something to avoid at all costs. Rumor and speculation can be damaging to relationships with colleagues, and it’s not unheard of for therapists, doctors or attorneys to lose their licenses after it’s been documented that a patient/client relationship has “crossed the line.”

Licensing boards take all incidents of inappropriate behavior very seriously—and if they involve if patients/clients who are under 18, elderly or disabled, it’s possible to face more than the loss of a license, but a criminal charge. The stakes can be even higher when professionals hold political office, as Rep. DesJarlis is currently discovering.

About Law Office of Stacie L. Patterson
Stacie Patterson is a San Diego professional license defense attorney. Whether you’re facing a professional complaint or a criminal conviction, Ms. Patterson provides honest, straightforward representation. She can help you in your attorney license defense or medical license defense.

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