Crossing the Line: Danger at the Therapist's Office

One in four Americans is suffering with a mental health disorder. About half of those will seek treatment. For those, therapy can help a person explore their inner thoughts and feelings; but how do you know if you have a good psychotherapist? Perhaps more importantly, how do you know when you don't? 

When Nicole Todd began seeing a therapist for depression, she thought she was in good hands.

"I trusted him completely," Todd told Ivanhoe. "I was dazzled by him."

However, the lines of therapy quickly became blurred. After three sessions, her therapist told her he loved her.

"My family would go out to dinner with him, him and his wife. Todd explained. "I was thinking this is delicious, here I have this secret relationship that no one knows about."

Months passed and her feelings grew.

"I felt like we were dating," she said. "We would talk about possible sexual encounters [and] he would tell me about his sex life in a very detailed way." 

Shortly after the relationship became sexual, her therapist ended it abruptly, devastating Todd.

"I'd been exploited and manipulated by someone I trusted to help me," she explained.

Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, Psychiatrist, UNC Health Care, said violations like this are always the fault of the therapist.

"If the boundaries aren't in place it can be extremely damaging," Dr. Meltzer-Brody told Ivanhoe.

To safeguard against that, Dr. Meltzer-Brody said to first check with the state licensing board to make sure you're dealing with a professional.

"Anyone can call themselves a therapist," she explained.

Next, she said, social invitations are inappropriate.

"It doesn't matter if you think they'd make a great friend [or] if you think you'd like to date them," Dr. Meltzer-Brody said. 

She warned that therapy is about you and not about listening to your therapist's problems.

"This is an enormous sign that you should get up and leave immediately," she explained.

Signs Todd won't ignore again.

Experts say any signs of a relationship moving from a professional one to a romantic one, is a huge red flag and needs to be reported to your state's licensing board immediately.

Todd filed complaints against her therapist and his license was revoked.  She said authorities caught him years later still practicing without a license.