Psychiatric Medical Malpractice: What to Do If Your Therapist Hurts You

Few relationships require the same trust as those between mental health professionals and their patients. Psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and other mental health workers are directly responsible for helping people during their most vulnerable moments. Unfortunately, just like every other medical professional, these people can and do make mistakes, neglect their patients’ needs, and cause harm.

While the harm caused by negligent mental healthcare workers may not be visible to the naked eye, it’s often as bad or worse than other types of medical malpractice. Infections can be cured and diagnoses corrected, but broken trust is rarely restored. It can make the original issue worse and often create new trauma around the environment that was supposed to help. 

That’s why victims of psychiatric neglect can file medical malpractice claims against their providers. Below, we explain what mental healthcare malpractice looks like, why it’s so damaging, and what you can do if a psychiatrist or other mental health professional has harmed you.

Can Psychiatric Professionals Commit Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is defined by the American Bar Association as “negligence committed  by a professional health care provider whose performance of duties departs from a standard of practice of those with similar training and experience, resulting in harm to a patient or patients.” In other words, if a medical worker hurts a patient because they neglected to follow standard practices, they have committed malpractice. 

Malpractice is not restricted to physical healthcare, either. Any licensed medical professional can be liable if they violate the standards of their field. This includes those dedicated to mental health. 

Which Mental Health Workers Can Commit Malpractice?

Only people who are specifically licensed as medical professionals can commit malpractice. These include people like:

  • Psychiatrists: Licensed medical doctors with specialist training in diagnosing and prescribing medications for mental health issues. 
  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners: Nursing specialists who specialize in mental health conditions and can diagnose and refer patients for psychiatric concerns. 
  • Psychologists: Professionals with doctoral degrees in clinical psychology or related fields who specialize in making diagnoses and providing therapy and behavioral interventions. 
  • Licensed Therapists: Professionals specializing in therapy for a variety of conditions but who cannot issue official diagnoses. 
  • Primary Care Providers: Primary care doctors and nurse practitioners provide initial screenings for mental health concerns and may prescribe medications or refer patients to specialists. 
  • Psychiatric Pharmacists: These pharmacists may prescribe and alter medications to help patients find the right balance for their needs.

These professionals are trained and licensed medical workers, so violating their field’s standards and hurting patients is considered malpractice.

Examples of Malpractice by Psychiatric Healthcare Professionals

Malpractice is a purposefully broad term. Any violation of professional standards that hurts a patient is negligent and may make the responsible party liable for malpractice. However, some types of negligence are more common than others in the field, including:

  • Misdiagnoses: Psychiatrists and psychologists must perform their due diligence when diagnosing patients instead of letting unconscious biases affect their decisions. Common misdiagnoses include diagnosing women with bipolar disorder or depression instead of ADHD or diagnosing men with Intermittent Explosive Disorder instead of PTSD. An incorrect diagnosis prevents patients from receiving treatment that might be more effective.  
  • Prescription errors: Giving someone the wrong medication or dose can have major consequences. Drugs like lithium and SSRIs have serious and potentially permanent effects on the brain, as can forcing someone to suddenly stop a medication they’ve been on for a long time. 
  • Ignoring suicide risk assessment requirements: All mental health workers must follow suicide risk assessment requirements to ensure their patients aren’t at risk of harming themselves. If they fail to do so and a patient kills themselves, the team may be liable for their wrongful death
  • Violating professional boundaries: Therapists have a moral and legal responsibility to maintain professional boundaries with their patients. Taking advantage of patients, such as by starting sexual relationships with them, could be malpractice.
  • Violating patient privacy: Patients need to be able to trust their mental health team. Revealing private information to others without a patient’s consent may be unlawful because it violates their trust and therapist-patient privilege.

These are not the only forms of psychiatric malpractice, but they demonstrate exactly how many behaviors may be considered negligent in the field. 

How to File a Malpractice Claim Against Therapists, Psychologists, and Psychiatrists

If someone on your mental healthcare team has harmed you, you can hold them accountable for your suffering. Here’s how to get started:

  • Collect evidence that your provider was negligent. You need to prove that you were a provider’s patient and they failed to treat you appropriately. You can request copies of your medical records to demonstrate your status as a patient. You may also need to speak to an unaffiliated mental healthcare provider for a second opinion about your treatment. 
  • Document how you were harmed. This includes what your provider did that hurt you and how their behavior impacted you. For example, if you were misdiagnosed, get an expert opinion to support your actual diagnosis and explain how the incorrect diagnosis affected your life for the worse. 
  • Talk to a skilled medical malpractice lawyer: Since psychiatric malpractice rarely leaves obvious scars, it can be harder to prove. Make sure you have an experienced attorney on your side to help you argue your case.

At the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, we have more than 30 years of experience helping clients who have experienced all types of neglect. We are dedicated to helping you hold negligent providers accountable for the harm they cause. 

If you’ve been hurt by a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other member of your mental healthcare team, we can help. Discuss your needs and take the first step toward justice by scheduling your consultation with our Los Angeles malpractice law firm today. 

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