Avoiding Liability Bulletin – May 2005
… If the termination of treatment process is not properly carried out, the attempt to end the professional relationship can constitute, or at least be argued as, an abandonment of the patient/client. This could lead to a lawsuit for damages, a complaint to the licensing board, and a complaint to the ethics committee of your professional association(s). While patients generally have a right to terminate at any time and for any reason, not so with therapists!
Therapists typically terminate when the patient can no longer pay for services, when the therapist determines that the patient’s problem is beyond the therapist’s scope of competence or scope of license, when the therapist determines that the patient is not benefiting from the treatment, when the course of treatment comes to an end because of the improvement of the patient, or when the therapist is unable or unwilling, for appropriate reasons, to continue to provide care.
Because the termination process can sometimes be so difficult, the therapist might want to consider adding some provisions to their disclosure statement (given to the patient prior to treatment) that address the issue of termination. Perhaps the patient will think twice about pursuing a complaint against the therapist when reminded that it was disclosed to them, at the outset of treatment, that the therapist is under an ethical duty to terminate when the therapist determines that the patient is not sufficiently benefiting from the treatment and the therapist believes that the patient needs a different level or kind of care (or words to that effect).