Patient Perception of Verbal Abuse

Patients under stress, those who are fragile and, at times, the victims of a history of abuse by those in authority easily can have a misperception of being verbally abused by their psychologist when verbal abuse has not occurred. The psychologist would be wise to take precautions to protect him or herself from unwarranted complaints, as well as to reduce the distress of the patient/client by:

  • Being aware that the problems of some patients may eventually lead to claims of verbal or other abuse, recognizing the signs of these problems and developing the skills to defuse the situation;
  • Discussing immediately with the patient, who has told the psychologist that he or she has felt verbally abused, what was viewed as verbal abuse, followed by an attempt to clarify and resolve the problem. A frank discussion may alleviate the persistence of discomfort on the part of the patient/client and future unwarranted complaints;
  • Keeping careful records, including diagnosis, of what transpires in discussions with patients;
  • Documenting the claims by the patient of the perception of verbal abuse and what led up to it in the evaluation and/or treatment process, as well as the patient's claims of verbal abuse by others in the history of contacts;
  • Apologizing to the patient/client if, for any reason, the psychologist loses his or her temper and speaks harshly;
  • Establishing a solidly grounded, caring working alliance.

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Last Updated: June 11, 2009