As most of you know, I’ve been going back and forth about the decision to file a formal complaint against my former therapist for her highly unethical behavior. If you’d like to know more about the specifics, you can read about it here or here.
(Short version: she abruptly terminated treatment with me after 10 months of twice-weekly therapy. I walked in to session one day and it was over. No transition and no new therapist in place. And to top it off, she blamed it all on me.)
I’ve been agonizing over this because I think I always knew that what she did was very wrong. But in the aftermath of losing her, I was still intent on preserving the relationship and trying to stay connected with her somehow. I loved her and she was important to me. Thus I was afraid of doing anything that might provoke her and push her further away from me. Now that all ties have been officially cut, I’ve had more clarity and the chance to think about this objectively. With my new perspective, it is clearer than ever that what she did was unethical.
Still, though, I’ve been doubting myself and whether or not filing such a complaint would be an act of retaliation or some attempt for me to remain connected to her somehow. I don’t want to be punitive. And I don’t want to get myself into some long drawn-out process that will be emotionally draining.
I’ve been debating over whether to not to bring this up with the therapist I’m seeing now. Since she is also a social worker, I felt that this might be a strange topic to discuss. I also admittedly don’t want her to think I’m the type of client who just files arbitrary complaints left and right when things don’t go the way I want them to. (She would probably never think that, but I don’t want to risk it. Or, more importantly, I don’t to risk that I will perceive her reaction as some version of the aforementioned opinion.)
Luckily, Wife and I have a friend who is also a therapist. Even better, she’s a therapist who’s not a social worker. So when Wife and I went to visit her and her husband this weekend, I used the opportunity to pick her brain a LOT. I’d sent her the link to this blog, so she was already aware of what happened with Zooey. And let’s just say she was not impressed.
Our (very long) conversation helped clarify this even further for me – which is to say that regardless of any additional layers I may have brought to the situation because of the nature of my trauma or the stupid insurance dilemma, Zooey was 100% wrong in the way she acted. My friend basically said that it didn’t matter what my diagnosis was or how I was responding to treatment, I still deserved a proper transition.
Which then brought me back to the question of “why?” Why did Zooey have to stop my treatment so immediately? What was so damn urgent that she literally could not bring herself to continue to see me long enough for me to at least get a new fucking therapist?! Why didn’t she think I deserved that?!
To which this therapist friend responded by adding that even if Zooey was up to her eyeballs in some intense transfer/countertransference feelings, it was still her responsibility to handle my termination in a professional and ethical manner. Also, apparently there are all kinds of resources for therapists who find themselves in a situation that is overwhelming. So if her normal supervision process was not proving useful, Zooey could have called some sort of therapist crisis line and received emergency supervision to gain additional insight and guidance for how to move forward with my care. The point is – she had options beyond what she chose. And her decision was wrong.
So then I just explicitly asked my friend outright if she felt, given all that she knew, that Zooey was in need of professional review? She answered with a resounding “yes”, which is all I needed to hear to finalize my decision. Because if another therapist can look at this scenario and be absolutely certain that Zooey acted unethically, I must not be totally off base. She further told me that as she was reading about what happened, she visualized herself as the therapist and tried to imagine how she would handle a similar situation. Ultimately, she couldn’t find any scenario in which she would find it acceptable to just abandon a client in the middle of treatment.
She also pointed out that had I not had a solid support system in place outside of Zooey, this could have been even more disastrous and damaging than it already was. I thought about it and then said, “You know, I think Zooey was really banking on that. She figured I would be okay because I have a supportive wife and friends and some family that loves me.” Which really pisses me off because the relationship you have with your therapist is not a substitute for the relationship you have with others in your life (and vice versa). If the support of everyone else in my life had been enough, I wouldn’t have sought therapy in the first place.
True to the nature of Social Work, I cannot actually file a “complaint”, but rather a Request for Professional Review (RPR). Which means that I submit paperwork explaining who I am, who Zooey is, how we were engaged in a professional relationship, what ethical violation I believe she committed, and when it happened. I also have to sign a confidentiality pledge.
I looked up the timeline and it would seem that it’s generally not too long of an ordeal (hopefully). The NASW’s Intake Subcommittee has 10 days to acknowledge that they got the paperwork and notify Zooey that she’s been named as a respondent. She has 14 days to respond to that notification with her own paperwork. Once the RPR paperwork is accepted as officially complete, the Intake Subcommittee has 45 days to decide whether or not to accept the case for actual review. If so, they will refer it to either the National or Local Chapter to proceed with mediation or adjudication (I highly doubt this warrants adjudication or the attention of the National Chapter ). Then, in the case of mediation, the Chapter has 45 days to appoint a mediator, an NASW representative, and schedule the mediation. At this point, Zooey and I both would have the option to submit more support documentation. Here is how the NASW describes mediation in their NASW RPR Procedures Manual:
Mediation is a collaborative problem-solving process in which a neutral third party guides a discussion intended to help the parties in the dispute define the issues, obtain relevant information, and generate reasonable options for resolution. As part of the process, a Mediator approved by NASW will aid the parties both in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution and in drafting a written version of that agreement.
Mediation is a conflict resolution process that is valued both as an element of social work practice and as a way to resolve grievances related to violations of ethics. Because mediation is a conflict resolution process in which the parties themselves decide on the outcome, NASW does not determine whether specific violations of the Code of Ethics have or have not occurred.
I honestly don’t even know what that really means for this situation. I’m not sure this “dispute” is between Zooey and I. To me, it’s more of an issue that needs to be addressed. I suppose my goal would be to draw attention to Zooey’s misconduct and allow her the chance to receive some additional supervision or training to correct her unethical behavior. I didn’t deserve this. She was wrong. This should never have happened to me and it should never happen to anyone else.
So tonight I am going to finish writing the summary statement and tomorrow morning I am going to mail the RPR to the Intake Subcommittee.