Woooo hoooo, a subpoena! YES! Is this a fair assessment of your reaction as a therapist when a subpoena shows up at your office? Hmm, perhaps not. Here is a secret, when a subpoena shows up, it is not the end of the world. No, I am not making that up.
Let’s pretend like ALL of our work is being subpoenaed. ALL of it! Why am I asking you to play this fun game? Because if your clinician packet and your notes and any work you have done on your case is in “ship shape” aka “subpoena ready” then you have nothing to worry about.
Come on guys, it’s 2016! Clean it up, get it ready and tie a bow on it. Don’t make this a year of resolutions that never happens. Example: “This year I will audit all of my notes and charts, daily” and then never do that, or only some charts, only some notes. That is not going to work.
That subpoena will be on a case you haven’t seen in a while, or the one you wish you had taken better notes on, or worse…..How about that case you are now thinking, “Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to write that letter.”
Well folks, as long as you left out your opinion you should be fine. If you are not clear on what an opinion might look like in a court letter or worse you’re angry that I am mentioning the word “opinion,” because you just gave one in court or in a letter, allow me to clarify.
If you are the therapist, not the court appointed expert, court appointed evaluator or independent expert hired specifically for your expert opinion, then you SHOULD NOT be giving your opinion.
Now, some of you might be getting anxious or even angry while reading this message. Let’s breathe and take a look at what giving an “opinion” can do to your practice, if you are the therapist. It’s called bias. That is a word that no one wants to have tossed around in cour, or thrown at them in court or before “the board.”
What is Bias?
What is bias? Well it’s actually helpful in many situations. An example of animal bias is the quick assessment of a bunny rabbit that sees a large dog running towards it. Bias tells the bunny to run, hide and get away and that danger is near.
The bunny may know this by the size of the dog or previous stories told by papa bunny around the campfire. In this instance, bias is helpful.
But bias is tricky. Our first visual assessment may not be indicative of the truth. If a Labrador and a bunny grow up together, they might defy odds and get along quite well. And by getting along, I mean the Labrador does not try to eat the bunny.
How about another bias example? After working with your client and “walking with them” for over a year as they grow from victim to survivor, you believe in their ability to overcome and you are now aligned, in a good way.
You read the police report documenting the on-going abuse the client suffered and the violence that was witnessed by the children, again and again. The children now suffer from nightmares and anxiety. Can you give your opinion in court that your client should have custody of their children over Mr. Abuser? You’ve seen the police report.
Well the answer is NO! This is the side of bias that will BITE you in the butt. You are biased. Sorry, you might be “right” but you are in fact biased and because of your therapeutic alliance with your client, you cannot give your opinion.
The reason expert witnesses and evaluators are hired is because they have no previous relationship with the clients. This fact is crucial to them being able to give an impartial, balanced and effective opinion based upon their expertise, not their relationship with the client.
So as we roll into 2016, look at what you write, what you say and what you do as if you were being subpoenaed and you had to testify as to why you wrote this, or said that. I’m not asking you to do this to make you feel like you are walking on eggshells, I am asking you to do this because I value your work and I want you to be able to keep on doing your work.
One of the quickest ways to tank your practice or your esteem and reputation is to offer an opinion when you are working in the capacity of therapist.
Slicing and Dicing
Now some of you might be thinking, who is this lady? Well folks, I am a therapist turned expert witness. I give my opinion, a lot. And with that I accept the “slicing and dicing” that an attorney might try on me when I am on the stand.
I wish them luck. They are going to need it. I wholeheartedly believe that therapists must protect themselves and their work!
It matters too much to let some attorney take you apart on the stand. Fight back, take the time to review your clinician packet and make sure you have a court policy in it. Be careful if you write a court related letter. Stay away from opinions, like the plague. If you get subpoenaed, you must be prepared!
I started www.therapistcourtprep.com because my friends and colleagues would call me the night before court and need coaching and prep, the night before and in a panic. Hello stress and anxiety, nice to meet you.
The night before does not cut it when we are talking about your practice! Be smart, start BEFORE you get the subpoena!
I would not have spent hours and hours developing an online class and a workbook on court prep for therapists if this was something that therapists were already doing, and my kids were tired of my late night coaching phone calls and they both can now define testimony, bias and alliance.
Trust me, they make compelling arguments as to why they should not have to go to bed and can “formulate their testimony.”
So, let’s make 2016 amazing and not procrastinate. Get it done! If a subpoena shows up you will not panic, you will not freak out, you will be prepared!
Subpoena image available from Shutterstock