From a legal point of view, psychologists and psychiatrists are two of the healthcare specialties that tend to be among the most contentious.
By virtue of their chosen field of practice, mental health specialists are often targeted by patients, employers, health regulators, hospital administrators, professional boards, law enforcement agencies, and even their own colleagues.
When psychology students prepare for their future careers, they are often introduced to the ethical and legal risks that their chosen profession may bring, but this instruction tends too be too basic. Psychologists know that the human mind works in unpredictable ways, and yet they tend to be very surprised when their names are mentioned in a civil lawsuit, a professional complaint or as part of an investigation.
Being slapped with a lawsuit or being surprised by a serious complaint can be devastating for a psychologist, particularly for those who work in the specialty field of behavioral therapy. Mental health professionals work hard to help unstable patients who could one day turn against them with a number of allegations.
Legal Issues Faced By Mental Health Professionals
Some patients who feel that they have not made progress in terms of emotional well-being may be consumed by their erroneous behavior and decide to file a lawsuit or complaint against their former therapists. In many cases, such lawsuits are filed out of misguided scorn, but state healthcare agencies and professional regulation boards are required to investigate. A psychologist who is not adequately represented by an experienced attorney may be placing his or her professional license at risk.
Two of the most common complaints filed against psychologist involve allegations of malpractice or inadequate billing. Such lawsuits are often filed frivolously by unstable patients with unreasonably high expectations, but they still need to be dismissed by following the rules of civil procedure. Complaints of ethical violations, discrimination, sexual misconduct, or breach of privacy are more serious and could even lead to criminal investigations.
From time to time, psychologists may be called upon by overzealous law enforcement officers or prosecutors to testify in a criminal case. Agents and prosecuting attorneys can sometimes get edgy and threaten psychologists with legal action or court penalties if they do not get what they want. In such cases, the best course of action for a psychologist is to retain an attorney as a safeguard since there is no guarantee that the court will offer adequate protection. Unfortunately, mental health professionals who work for the state or for the federal government are often left unprotected by their own employers when serious complaints are brought up.
Psychologists can also run into legal issues related to the administration of their practice as a business. To this effect, they can also face allegations of improper Medicaid and Medicare billing; most of the time, these issues are discovered at the audit level and catch psychologists off guard. Healthcare lawyers can help not only in defending mental health professionals when billing issues arise; they can also help in setting up a compliant billing system for the purpose of preventing potential issues.