Good therapists put clients first

Nicola Simmersbach is a doctor of psychology with a therapy practice in Midtown Sacramento

Good therapists talk to each other. We do this in consultation, where we protect the privacy of our clients to discuss clinical needs, best practices and the best interest of our clients—and ourselves. The concept of therapist self-care is one of the key elements of a solid professional practice.

Developing good interpersonal and professional boundaries—an endless process of personal maintenance—includes having a clear understanding of the clinician’s rights in providing a very personal and often emotionally draining service. We don’t often discuss the rights of a therapist with the public, but they are a key component of good boundaries. The rights of a therapist when providing treatment are generally considered to be the right to safety, personal privacy, permission to set limits with clients and other such protective measures.

Never in my 30-plus-year career has any teacher, supervisor or colleague asserted the right of a clinician’s freedom of speech in session with a client. In fact, we often are called upon to suppress our personal beliefs in order to keep the best interest of the client at the forefront of therapy. Certainly, a therapist may express clinical opinions and reserve the right to diagnose and prescribe treatment; however, these should always be grounded in evidence-based, professionally acceptable reason and research.

And that’s why the recent order by U.S. District Judge William Shubb that stayed enforcement of the law and seemed to construe a licensed therapist’s “right” to impose his or her personal religious belief on a client in session is beyond me. It flies in the face of every ethical standard I have ever read.

So-called reparative or “conversion” therapy, purporting to alter a person’s sexual orientation, has been repeatedly debunked as junk science by every mainstream professional organization in the healing arts. The last bastion of legitimacy for this viewpoint fell last year, when psychiatrist Robert Spitzer apologized for the harm his flawed research has caused to the LGBT community. A fringe of religiously driven zealots is attempting to drag this unseemly quackery into the courts to impose it on a profession where it does not belong and causes documented and deep harm to our young people.