Psychiatrist pays for violating patient boundaries

2005 Medical Malpractice Settlement Report

Boundary violations by psychiatrist resulting in psychological damage and failure to progress in therapy — $750,000 settlement

The defendant doctor was plaintiff’s treating psychiatrist between 1997 and 2001. During that time and while treating the plaintiff for bi-polar disorder, obsessive- compulsive/body dysmorphic disorder, self-injurious behavior and depression, the defendant doctor repeatedly committed boundary violations including inappropriate sexual conduct, inappropriate physical contact, inappropriate visits to the patient’s home and workplace, inappropriate visits of the patient at the defendant doctor’s home, inappropriate writings of cards and letters expressing personal sentiments, and inappropriate giving of gifts.

More specifically, on several occasions during therapy sessions, the defendant doctor initiated sexual activity with the patient including digital penetration and oral genital contact. Additionally, on numerous occasions during therapy sessions, the defendant doctor kissed the patient on the lips, hugged her, stroked her thigh and held her hand. Further, the defendant doctor visited the patient at her home, went into her bedroom and sat on her bed. The defendant doctor also invited and allowed the patient to visit his family home when no other family member was present. Also, the defendant doctor gave the patient cards and notes in which he stated that he loved her and referred to her as his “sweetie”. In July 2001, the patient terminated all contact with the defendant doctor. As a consequence of the defendant doctor’s conduct, the plaintiff suffered worsening psychiatric symptoms, a lack of progress in therapy and a more difficult course of treatment.

In response to plaintiff’s allegations, an expert for the defense opined that the defendant doctor’s conduct was done as an aid to the patient. More specifically, the expert opined that the defendant doctor’s physical contact with the patient was done for reassurance or at the end of a particularly difficult therapy session; that gifts given were “transitional objects”; that writings were created at the request of the patient; and, that visits to the patient’s home and at the defendant doctor’s home were done to accommodate the patient when she could not come to an office visit. Further, defense experts opined that the patient had difficulty with reality testing and that because her clinical picture was so complicated and her problems so severe that there was no harm.

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