Sex and mind games
Exploitation of female patients by mental health experts is one of Delhi's dirtiest secrets, writes Neha Mehta.india Updated: Mar 19, 2006 01:45 IST
It's one of the city's dirtiest secrets: the sexual exploitation of female patients by mental health professionals. Though the community of professionals is well aware of such cases — and sometimes, the culprits — no one is, unfortunately, willing to bring this out into the open.
A leading Delhi psychologist says he's personally come across eight such cases during the past five years. From the behaviour of other patients, he suspects the number could be four times as much. Five mental health professionals confirmed the phenomenon to HT, but would not go on record.
The Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) received two complaints over the past three years, but could take no action as the patients were unwilling to follow up the complaint. “One keeps hearing of these cases off and on,” says Nimesh G. Desai, secretary of Delhi's Mental Health Authority.
Typically, the cases come to light after a patient changes therapists and reveals to the new one what happened. Most of the time, the women blame themselves for “leading on” their therapist, and are unwilling to bring it out into the open.
The new therapist not only has to undo the psychological damage to the victim, but there's also the doctor-patient confidentiality to honour. “Also, the act takes place in private, where there are no witnesses, so it's difficult to make a case out of it,” says a psychologist.
Former IPS president S Nambi cautions that some cases could be false allegations: “Patients suffering from paranoid schizophrenia or hysterical personality disorder may falsely allege that their doctors are involved with them.”
Part of the problem is the lack of accountability in the mental health care system, experts say. “Abuse occurs when the vulnerability of a single, attractive woman seems alluring to a male therapist,” says a professional. “Supervision by another professional would help keep the therapist within the firm boundaries a doctor should maintain.”
Dr Desai points out that central and state mental health authorities do not have the power to monitor individual practices. He also advocates a supervisory system as well as multi-disciplinary teamwork.
Neeru Kanwar of the Psychological Foundation feels therapists themselves should undergo therapy before they practice, so that they deal with their own needs. “The consumer,” she adds, “also needs to be educated on the fact that touch is not encouraged in therapy and asking for personal favours from clients is just not on.”