What Actions Can You Take If You Have Been Harmed By Therapy?
If you feel things have gone wrong in talking therapy (UK), there are a number of options available, some of which are outlined here.
1. Contact The Police
If a therapist has committed a crime against us (e.g. sexual assault or fraud), then we may wish to report the crime to the police. It is understandable however, that we might feel nervous about taking this step. There are various organisations who offer support, if we have been victims of crime &/or would like help/support in reporting. More information on these can be found on our support page.
Once reported, the crime is likely to be investigated & can result in charges being brought against the therapist. The decision to take a case to court is made by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). It is not their job to decide guilt or innocence, but to critically evaluate the evidence gathered during the police investigation, with two aims. Firstly, to determine whether evidence is sufficient to make a conviction a realistic prospect. Secondly, to assess whether the prosecution would be in the public interest (usually dependent on the seriousness of the crime).
If the CPS decide the case should proceed to trial & the perpetrator is found guilty, they will usually receive a prison sentence. There is a greater chance of a successful prosecution, if we contact the police as soon as possible after the events occurred & can provide as much evidence as possible.
2. Contact The Therapist's Regulatory Body
The regulatory processes depends on the qualifications on the therapist. Some professions who engage in talking therapy in the UK are under statutory regulation. These include practitoner psycholgists (e.g. clinicial & counselling psychologists), doctors, occupational therapists & state registred mental health nurses. Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered ( including counselling & clinical) psychologists, qualified doctors & mental health nurses are somewhat different (& more robust) than for professions under voluntary regulation. Further details can be found here (coming soon).
UK counsellors & psychotherapists working in private practice, do not have to be registered with any professional organisation/governing body (!). Anyone can use these titles, even without any training! Most therapists are however, registered with a professional organisation. Whilst many of these have a complaints procedure, some are far from robust. This may be in part, due to their combined professional (promoting the profession & supporting members) & regulatory (safeguarding the public) roles of these organisations, where the interests of one potentially conflicts with that of the other.
Those accredited with the UK Professional Standards Authority (PSA) must meet minimum standards. They are obliged to: maintain a register of members; set appropriate standards with respect to competence, professionalism, business practice, education & training; implement a transparent/timely complaints/concerns procedure & have a framework for effective governance.
PSA accredited organisations for counsellors & psychotherapists include:
-British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) with ~47,000 members
-The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) with ~8,000 members
-Human Givens Institute
-National Hypnotherapy Society
-UK Association for Humanistic Psychology Practitioners
-Association of Christian Counsellors
-Counselling & Psychotherapy in Scotland (COSCA)
Each organisation aims to promote good practice & minimise the likelihood of harm to, or exploitation (emotional, sexual, financial or otherwise) of, clients/patients. Therapists on these registers are expected to be honest & act in our best interests.
If our therapist is registered with BACP and we are unsure about any aspect of our therapy, then we can contact their confidential service (formerly called Ask Kathleen) for advice & guidance (info here).
Further information on how to raise a concern (complaint) can be found on each organisation's website here: for BACP, UKCP & for other PSA accredited professional bodies details can be found on the PSA website.
3. Civil Litigation
In UK law, if civil action against an abusive therapist is successful, it awards financial compensation to the victim for the harm they suffered. This type of claim typically follows-on from successful criminal proceedings or a complaint upheld by the therapist’s professional/regulatory body. If the therapist is insured, the claim will be handled by the perpetrator's insurance company. If no insurance is in place, civil action can be taken against the therapist directly, but their personal circumstances would determine if they had sufficient funds to pay any compensation awarded. Some UK law firms will take on cases on a no-win no-fee basis, if they think there is a good chance of success. In civil cases for personal injury, you must issue court proceedings within 3 years of the injury. Sometimes the limitation period is longer, for example if you only become aware of it later, then get 3 years from the date you became aware of it (or could reasonably have become so). If you lack mental capacity at the time of injury e.g. if sectioned under the Mental Health Act, then the time starts once you have regained capacity. If you are under 18 at the time you were harmed, you have until your 21st birthday to start proceedings.