ASK YOUR THERAPIST IF SHE HAS A PROFESSIONAL WILL

Many psychotherapists work in private practice.  They often serve a very important function in our lives: holding our deepest hopes and fears as we traverse the peaks and valleys of our lives.  Yet, they are human beings who can die or suddenly lose capacity just like the rest of us. 

When a therapist dies, the ripple effects are going to be felt strongly by her patients.  Therapists understand very well that abandonment is one of the most hurtful experiences a patient can experience.  They plan to have a backup therapist available when they go on vacation.  But despite the fact that they are generally required to have one, most therapists do not have a professional will for referring their patients out and handling clinical files properly if the therapist dies or becomes incapacitated.  Many therapists do not even know that they are required to have such a document, which is similar to a will (hence the term, “professional will”). 

What’s more, many inexpensive professional will options available to therapists are created by other therapists, not estate planning lawyers.  You wouldn’t want a lawyer for grief counseling.  Why would you want a therapist creating a professional will?  It is simply unreasonable to expect a therapist to think like an estate planning lawyer. 

 
If you are a patient, ask your therapist if she has a professional will.  You have a right to know, just as you have a right to know whether she carries malpractice insurance.  in fact, the American Counseling Association requires disclosure of the existence of a professional will in the patient-therapist informed consent agreement.  Hopefully your inquiry with your therapist will spur a healing conversation about the mortality of the people on whom you depend.

Remember that your therapist is human too.  If she doesn’t have a professional will, it’s not because she’s irresponsible.  Many therapists simply do not know they need such a document.  They have so many ethical demands that they are not likely to think about this one without being informed.  To illustrate the point, you might want to share with them the story of a real person whose therapist died without a professional will.  This is not just an academic exercise.  It really does happen.

Finally, therapists are not lawyers.  So they might not consider the fact that such a document should be vetted by an estate planning lawyer.  The best solution is to get a lawyer involved.  It doesn’t have to be a $3,000 estate plan.  They can create their own professional will and have an estate planning lawyer give an opinion/recommendations.  Or they can try therapist-will.com, which offers a relatively inexpensive online option.  But therapist-will.com is only available to California therapists at this time.

It is very easy to avoid this topic until it’s too late.  In the spirit of Seven Ponds, you are invited to break the avoidance norm and broach this topic with your therapist.  Hopefully, you’ll both be glad you discussed it.

The Death of My Therapist: A Patient’s Story

The following is an excerpt from an article called The Death of My Therapist: A Patient’s Story in Psychiatric Times by an anonymous author known by the screen name “NeedsFixing.” Had this person’s therapist had a professional will, this patient might not have suffered the abandonment feelings she went through. With Therapist Will, tragedies like this one can be mitigated with a commitment of a few minutes and $79 from a therapist. We just need to get the word out to therapists about how easy it is!

“I did not allow my therapist’s death to push me over the edge, but what about her other patients? Did they get what they needed? Do the professionals in her circle have any idea what her patients went through? Do other therapists have better contingency plans? I know no one likes to think about his or her mortality, but shouldn’t there be a plan in place if something happens? If I had not reached out, would I not have learned anything about what happened? Why wasn’t the therapeutic community there to help me get through this loss?

What I went through is apparently not an isolated incident; when I told others in the therapeutic community, they reported similar experiences with patients who had gone through the death of a therapist. Therapists need to be made aware of the effect this can have on patients; they should be taught to develop a plan so that they can offer services to those left behind.  I know that I would have had a difficult time no matter what. But if people had been available to help me deal with the loss it would have made me feel less vulnerable and alone.

It has been a year since my therapist died. As her anniversary approached, I kept thinking about her and my anger surfaced again. I have gotten over the abandonment I felt from her death, but I still haven’t gotten over the anger I felt at being left with no support or guidance from her colleagues. I am using this story to help me deal with my anger by putting it to productive use. I am hoping therapists will learn from reading about what I went through. Please take some action so that someone else does not have to go through what I did.”

The full article is available on the Psychiatric Times website by clicking on the hyperlink in this sentence. You must register with Psychiatric Times in order to read the full article. Membership is free of charge and you do not have to be a health care provider in order to register.

I did not allow my therapist’s death to push me over the edge, but what about her other patients? Did they get what they needed? Do the professionals in her circle have any idea what her patients went through? Do other therapists have better contingency plans? I know no one likes to think about his or her mortality, but shouldn’t there be a plan in place if something happens? If I had not reached out, would I not have learned anything about what happened? Why wasn’t the therapeutic community there to help me get through this loss?What I went through is apparently not an isolated incident; when I told others in the therapeutic community, they reported similar experiences with patients who had gone through the death of a therapist. Therapists need to be made aware of the effect this can have on patients; they should be taught to develop a plan so that they can offer services to those left behind. I know that I would have had a difficult time no matter what. But if people had been available to help me deal with the loss it would have made me feel less vulnerable and alone.

It has been a year since my therapist died. As her anniversary approached, I kept thinking about her and my anger surfaced again. I have gotten over the abandonment I felt from her death, but I still have not gotten over the anger I felt at being left with no support or guidance from her colleagues. I am using this story to help me deal with my anger by putting it to productive use. I am hoping therapists will learn from reading about what I went through. Please take some action so that someone else does not have to go through what I did. – See more at: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/death-my-therapist-patients-story#sthash.peZ0pK8V.dpuf

I did not allow my therapist’s death to push me over the edge, but what about her other patients? Did they get what they needed? Do the professionals in her circle have any idea what her patients went through? Do other therapists have better contingency plans? I know no one likes to think about his or her mortality, but shouldn’t there be a plan in place if something happens? If I had not reached out, would I not have learned anything about what happened? Why wasn’t the therapeutic community there to help me get through this loss?What I went through is apparently not an isolated incident; when I told others in the therapeutic community, they reported similar experiences with patients who had gone through the death of a therapist. Therapists need to be made aware of the effect this can have on patients; they should be taught to develop a plan so that they can offer services to those left behind. I know that I would have had a difficult time no matter what. But if people had been available to help me deal with the loss it would have made me feel less vulnerable and alone.

It has been a year since my therapist died. As her anniversary approached, I kept thinking about her and my anger surfaced again. I have gotten over the abandonment I felt from her death, but I still have not gotten over the anger I felt at being left with no support or guidance from her colleagues. I am using this story to help me deal with my anger by putting it to productive use. I am hoping therapists will learn from reading about what I went through. Please take some action so that someone else does not have to go through what I did. – See more at: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/death-my-therapist-patients-story#sthash.peZ0pK8V.dpuf

I did not allow my therapist’s death to push me over the edge, but what about her other patients? Did they get what they needed? Do the professionals in her circle have any idea what her patients went through? Do other therapists have better contingency plans? I know no one likes to think about his or her mortality, but shouldn’t there be a plan in place if something happens? If I had not reached out, would I not have learned anything about what happened? Why wasn’t the therapeutic community there to help me get through this loss?What I went through is apparently not an isolated incident; when I told others in the therapeutic community, they reported similar experiences with patients who had gone through the death of a therapist. Therapists need to be made aware of the effect this can have on patients; they should be taught to develop a plan so that they can offer services to those left behind. I know that I would have had a difficult time no matter what. But if people had been available to help me deal with the loss it would have made me feel less vulnerable and alone.

It has been a year since my therapist died. As her anniversary approached, I kept thinking about her and my anger surfaced again. I have gotten over the abandonment I felt from her death, but I still have not gotten over the anger I felt at being left with no support or guidance from her colleagues. I am using this story to help me deal with my anger by putting it to productive use. I am hoping therapists will learn from reading about what I went through. Please take some action so that someone else does not have to go through what I did. – See more at: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/death-my-therapist-patients-story#sthash.peZ0pK8V.dpuf

Patients’ Rights Dictate that Psychotherapists and Counselors must have a Professional Will

A psychotherapist is under a duty to create a professional will, because most if not all ethical codes as well as various laws require the clinician to provide for undisrupted care of patients in the event of an untimely death or incapacity.[1]  Most, if not all, psychotherapists and counselors know that they must leave a backup therapist available when your regular therapist is unavailable (due to illness or vacation, for example).  The same concept holds true equally, if not more so, in the event a therapist meets an untimely demise or somehow loses the capacity to treat patients.  Therefore, a professional will must act as the backup in such situations so that the patient’s rights are protected.

In addition to the care of patients, a psychotherapist must make sure clinical files are available to the patient or for the patient’s benefit.  This is a patient’s right.  This again evinces the need of a professional will.

As the term professional will suggests, the document acts very much in the same manner as what we traditionally think of as a will.  Instructions are left to be followed by designated responsible people.  And because the professional will is more like a will than any other traditional legal document, there are many advantages to involving a trusts and estates attorney to create a professional will.

Therapist-Will.com was founded by a trusts and estates attorney and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  Our documents are vetted by licensed trusts and estates attorneys in every state we serve.  And the process of creating a Therapist Will professional will makes it possible for therapists to complete a personalized professional will in 20 minutes.  And the cost is so reasonable that there is simply no legitimate excuse for a licensed private practice clinician to fail to create a professional will.

 

 

[1] See, e.g., California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Code of Ethics Rule 1.3; National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics Rule 1.15; American Psychological Association Code of Conduct Rules 3.12 and 10.09; American Counseling Association Code of Ethics Rule C.2.h.; California Business and Professions Code §2919.