I’m testifying in court.
But wait, can’t I just call my association and they can get me out of it? Answer: NO
It’s too late after the fact. Amazing, we teach our clients to prepare and practice for challenges in life and yet we, therapists, wait until after we get a subpoena to deal with the daunting task of court. Better yet, we are hoping and praying that the voice on the other end will give us the magic key to getting out of the mess we are in.
Here is one I hear a lot. “My client wants me to advocate for them in court and I really want to.” Holy crap, let’s call this one “scope.” What is your scope as a therapist? The Code of Ethics is not a myth; it is the structure, the guidelines and the expected conduct of us as therapists.
What will happen when you testify? Do you know the difference between percipient witness and expert witness? It’s pretty important to know that before you end up in court either by subpoena or worse, because you wanted to “advocate” for your client.
The difference between the two is profound and therapists will often answer the “trap” question on the stand when lead down that terrible road called “cross examination.” They will be asked whether or not they are “an expert at post-traumatic stress disorder,” or “after 10 years as a couple’s therapist” whether or not they are an expert.
And guess what? The therapist goes for the cheese. “Yes, I am an expert.” SNAP! Is that a good visual?
Effect of Quicksand
Testifying whether in court or in a deposition is not the arena that one should enter into without preparation, unless of course you don’t mind the mousetrap. Testifying in a court related letter and “advocating” or worse, making a recommendation based upon your “opinion” brings to mind the visual effect of quicksand. It’s a possibly slow and suffocating experience. Quicksand looks just like sand, unless of course you step in it and get sucked in. Am I being melodramatic or eccentric? Not in the least.
Let’s just take a quick canvas of the situation. Are you prepared? Have you come up with a way to avoid or identify the quicksand? How do you start? Review your clinician packet. If you don’t have a good court policy or worse you have none at all, get one. Write one, buy one, but do not leave yourself standing in quicksand with no rope, no help and no chance.
My suggestion, don’t dabble. Take your practice and your license seriously. Be clear on boundaries and motivation. Court is the last place you want to be when you make a mistake or worse, you have no idea what actually is your exposure.
I am always amazed when therapists wait until they get a subpoena to take action and by then, it’s too late. They open themselves up to board complaints, losing their license to practice, losing their homes, losing it all. So next time your client asks you to advocate for them–think again.
I think this article might be the shortest I have ever written, so that being said, READ IT AGAIN. BE SMART. BE PREPARED.
DO NOT END UP IN THE BACK OF “THE MAGAZINE.” And we all know to which magazine I’m referring. Sorry for all the caps. Okay, I’m not going to perjure myself. NOT SORRY!
Do you know how much an attorney costs? I have one on retainer; hello, I am an expert witness so that’s me just being smart and investing in my practice and my protection. But let me tell you, it’s not cheap.
I wrote the curriculum for therapistcourtprep.com specifically for therapists, specifically because they keep ending up waiting till the last minute to ask for help and by then it’s often too late because court is tomorrow.
Hopefully I won’t be reading about any of you in the back of “the magazine.”
Dictionary page photo available from Shutterstock