Why, Where and How
to complain about a trusted advisor
Both legal and ethical standards require that all physicians, clinicians, and professionals employed in any medical, psychiatric, or child welfare setting must — above all — do no harm to the patient, client, or child. In addition, any helping professional who tends to the human body and mind must protect the safety of the patient and promote the health of the patient. Upholding the patient’s human dignity and inviolate rights is an integral part of all healthcare and treatment approaches (Pols, 2003). The “do no harm” philosophy has been a shining star, setting guidelines for medicine and other healthcare and helping professionals. Unfortunately, this standard has been betrayed and violated on many occasions since Hippocrates articulated his oath requiring that all physicians uphold professional ethical standards.
Far too often, helping professionals have preyed on their patients’ vulnerability: abusing them physically, sexually, emotionally, and/or financially. Helping professionals who abuse their positions of power and privilege engage in a specific form of abuse: Trusted Adviser Abuse.
Trusted advisor abuse occurs when a person in a position of trust — such as a teacher, faith minister, therapist, doctor, nurse, treatment provider, lawyer, coach, yoga instructor, or financial planner — uses that position to abuse and control a patient, client, parishioner, or athlete. The abuse is usually relational, whereby the person abused feels a special bond or connection to the trusted advisor. The person abused may not see the abuse until long after it has started. Or the victim may immediately know something is wrong but cannot tell anyone, due to social and cultural messages about “trust” or “authority” or “compliance.”
The victim often feels responsible for the abuse, experiencing emotions like guilt or embarrassment. Some unethical professionals cut off their patient’s connections to family and friends. Others have groomed their patients into becoming compliant or dependent on them. Others have physically threatened or blackmailed their patients into obedience. Of course, these approaches evolve over time and anyone may be at risk!
Trusted advisor abuse reveals one of the great unspoken truths: No one should be trusted blindly.
In all situations of trusted advisor abuse, there is a lack of accountability, whether on the part of the perpetrator(s) or the oversight system(s), or both. Abused patients, their parents, or any family members can become aware of the rights and remedies available. Knowledge and resources will allow you to take action!
This website (AKA Complaint Web) is a project of the California Center of Excellence for Trauma Informed Care, providing an opportunity to educate the general public, to hold professionals to a higher level of responsibility, to ensure that accountability systems do a much better job policing abuse within their ranks, and to protect those who rely on providers, whether in publicly-funded systems or on the private market.
We invite you to explore ‘Complaint Web’ to learn more about this issue:
- Reasons to consider a complaint
- Reported cases of Trusted Advisor Abuse
- Know your rights
- Filing complaints via licensing bodies
- Advocacy groups fighting abuse within various professions
- Additional resources
- Suggest a resource or advocacy group (See how in the sidebar.)
- Tell your story! (See how in the sidebar.)