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Mental Health Counsellor Pays Price for Overstepping the Professional Mark

Professional counsellors often have to delve deep into their clients' private lives but must always be careful not to overstep the mark of propriety. The High Court made that point in awarding compensation to a troubled woman whose counsellor recklessly did just that with a view to his own gratification.

The woman received work/life coaching from the counsellor through her work and then paid privately for further sessions in respect of mental health and wellbeing issues, during which psycho-sexual issues were discussed. She subsequently launched a personal injury claim against him, alleging that he had worsened her condition by subjecting her to verbal sexual abuse.

In upholding her claim in respect of one counselling session only, the Court found that the counsellor had asked her to undress and perform a sex act in front of him or to record herself performing a sex act at home. He was not a specialist sex therapist or psycho-sexual counsellor and there was no therapeutic justification for those requests.

The Court acknowledged that there was no malevolence on the counsellor's part and that he did not intend to do her harm. However, given his knowledge of her fragile mental health, their proximity and the imbalance of power in their relationship, he owed her a duty of care.

The requests were reckless in that, by making them, he threw fuel upon the fire of her vulnerability for his own gratification. Although there was no sexual touching involved, it was foreseeable that his words would exacerbate her mental health problems. The woman was awarded £10,000 in damages for her pain, suffering and loss of amenity. Further awards were made in respect of certain legal expenses and the cost of additional therapy.

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