Woman speaking with therapist

Can a Therapist Be Held Responsible for Malpractice in New Mexico?

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When many people think of medical malpractice, they may think of doctors who handle physical care –- surgeons, specialists, or general practitioners. However, therapists and licensed counselors, who handle mental health concerns, are also subject to malpractice claims. 

Although psychologist malpractice may be harder to spot than physical damage or bodily injury, it can be just as damaging to the person who experiences it.

The basic case structure of malpractice claims against a therapist will take the same form as that against a medical doctor. The plaintiff will have to prove:

  • A duty of care was owed
  • That duty was breached
  • The breach of care caused injury

In many cases involving malpractice suits against a therapist, you need a medical malpractice attorney with experience pursuing these cases.

What are common negligent or abusive acts from a therapist?

Negligence and abuse in a psychiatry setting generally stem from an imbalance of power that favors the professional over the patient. The professional may breach boundaries or provide negligent treatment.

When erosion of professional boundaries happens, the patient and professional may become enmeshed, to the detriment of the patient’s mental health. Other times, a sexual relationship and manipulation can occur. 

Whether the negligent or abusive acts were sexual or not, the overall breach of patient trust typically harms them the most.

Therapist negligence falls into two categories:

Boundary Crossing

There are many ways that a therapist can cross professional boundaries, including:

  • Revealing personal details of their own life
  • Holding sessions in inappropriate venues, such as a public setting
  • Moving sessions to the end of the day, when the therapist and patient are the only ones in the office
  • Sexual innuendos, or discussion of their own sex lives
  • Crossing physical boundaries, such as holding hands, hugging, or kissing
  • Breaching confidentiality by discussing your details or details of another person

This isn’t a complete list, but in general, erosion of boundaries reduces the effect of treatment. Additionally, crossing boundaries may exacerbate betrayal of trust or sexual assault the patient has experienced in the past.

Inappropriate Treatment

Counseling negligence and abuse aren’t limited to boundary-crossing. Therapists can fail to provide treatment in the same way medical doctors may, such as:

  • Failure to explain the style of therapy that will be employed
  • Acting critical, aggressive, or abusive in sessions
  • Being overly opinionated to dictatorial 
  • Threatening to terminate sessions or change sessions without notice
  • Employing practices they aren’t trained in
  • Failing to address your presenting issues
  • Failing to refer you to a specialist better able to treat your needs

If you, the patient, are in worse mental health than before you began treatment, you may have a malpractice case. Your medical malpractice lawyer will help determine your legal options.

New Mexico Medical Malpractice

The New Mexico Medical Malpractice Act governs medical malpractice cases in the state. It sets out the statute of limitations, which is three years from the date of the incident, which means that you have three years from either the date of the first incident or the date you discovered you were harmed. Your lawyer will help you understand your deadlines to file a claim.

Before you file a suit in court, you must submit a written application to the New Mexico Medical Review Commission, which includes the details of your allegations, and grant the New Mexico Medical Malpractice Review Board permission to review relevant medical records.

The New Mexico Medical Malpractice Act also sets a cap on damages you can receive at $600,000 unless the costs of ongoing rehabilitation and medical care exceed this amount. Your lawyer will explain a few other stipulations pertaining to your case.

Have you experienced therapist malpractice?

If you have been abused by your therapist or feel that you received inadequate or neglectful medical care, we can help. Hunt Law is a legal team of medical malpractice specialists helping clients in northern New Mexico and Las Vegas, NM. Call us today for a confidential consultation about your case.