Dear Suzie, Thank you for your wonderful blog! My husband had a two-year affair with a clinical psychologist, not his therapist. Upon discovery, she came to my home to convince him that she is better for him even though he made clear that he was going to work on his marriage. She knew he was narcissistic but fed this disorder…even in my presence. Before discovery, when he tried to leave, she slashed her arm, requiring eight stitches. At other times she threatened suicide or to expose the affair to me. Should she be reported to the authorities? Is it my place to hold her accountable to her profession?
Thank you for the opportunity to serve. As someone with strong ties to the psychology community – I felt very strongly about answering this particular question.
Regarding your question – have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that I can’t tell you what you should do in this situation; for the simple reason that I am not the one that must live the consequences of any choices you might make. You are. And so, it only makes sense for you to be the one who decides what those actions should be. (Again, not me.)
The good news is…
I can (if you let me) help you unpack some of your concerns and shine a guiding light towards some great questions you can ask yourself, in order to help you find out for yourself, what is the right thing for you to do
Fair enough? If you’re in agreement…let’s begin by unpacking your question.
Your question: Is it my place to hold her accountable to her profession?
This question actually has two key parts (A) what your place in this situation is and (B) holding her accountable to her profession.
So, let’s look at both. Beginning with the first part – “Is it your place?”
From where I sit, there are two possible interpretations I can make about what you might mean when you ask – “Is it your place?”
Interpretation #1: You are asking what is your “social/moral responsibility in this type of situation.
Interpretation #2: You are asking – what is the most appropriate action for you to take in this type of situation.
And since I can’t know which one it is – let’s go over both.
Interpretation #1: If by asking what your place is – you are really asking what your moral or social responsibility is. Then it seems to me, you are primarily concerned with what social and moral responsibilities (or obligations) you may (or may not) have in your situation – given the fact that she’s a clinical psychologist, a person who holds a position of authority in our society.
If this is a primary concern for you – then it suggests to me that you are deeply conscientious person, aware of your value and contribution to society and it also indicates your unwillingness to ignore that responsibility.
And if any of that rings a bell – then I wonder: How much of your question is driven by the fear of being complicit?
Let me explain what I mean.
According to the dictionary, complicit is defined as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act; having a partnership or involvement in wrongdoings” It also suggests: the passive endorsement of unethical or questionable behavior by persons in positions of power – by not speaking out against it.
With those definitions in mind, here are a few questions that can allow you to wade a little deeper into the water and in order to allow you to discover how it really feels.
I want you to ask yourself the following four questions:
- Are you concerned that you have a social obligation to report, or speak up – when people in a position of power who are engaging in questionable behaviors?
- Are you concerned that failure to report this might mean you are “passively endorsing” her questionable choices?
- Are you concerned that by not reporting these questionable behaviors, you are leaving the door open for another family to be hurt by her – causing you to then become partially responsible for the pain and suffering of other people – simply because you failed to alert the appropriate governing board?
- Is it a combination of all of the above?
Let me say this. Whatever it is for you, the key here is for you to honestly “check-in with your gut” as you ponder your answers to these questions.
I want you to allow yourself to go deep and uncover what you really feel and what is truly important to you – so you can make your decisions from a place of calm and clarity – rather than doubt and fear.
I believe you will find this to be important because, as a coach here’s something I have observed. Taking the time to question and clarify your underlying concerns – can take you a long way towards dissolving those concerns. That’s why I often use the tools of self-inquiry so often with my clients.
Let’s keep moving forward.
Interpretation #2 – You are asking what is the most appropriate action for you to take in this type of situation.
Again, this would also make sense – because when you strip it down to the basics – there are really only two actions you can take.
Possible Action #1: You report her to the governing board.
Possible Action# 2: You don’t report her.
So the question is which one is right one for you?
Now notice I am not asking which one you “should do” I am asking for you to figure out which is the right one for you?
Remember, you are the highest authority in your life – the answer can only come from you. So, let’s unpack this one as well.
From the coaching perspective – we believe that all behaviors are problem-solving behaviors. And all actions are attempts to achieve healthy outcomes.
And with these theories in mind, one of the tools I often recommended my clients use is called “the reverse avoidance turnaround”.
Here’s how it works. (It’s a three-step process.)
- List the problems you imagine that taking the action will help you avoid.
- List the opposite of the problem (the healthy outcome).
- Ask yourself, is there is another way you can achieve that healthy outcome?
In your case, here’s how this technique could look.
Step #1: List the problems each action helps you to avoid
If I take action # 1 – and report her to the governing board – then what problems will that help me avoid?
If I take action #2 – and I don’t report her – then what problems will that help me avoid?
Here’s how I imagine your answers might look. (Please keep in mind, since I can’t read your mind, these are my imaginary examples. You will need to do the exercise for yourself to find out what’s real for you.)
If I report her, it will help me avoid the problem of
- I avoid experiencing the guilt of being complicit.
- I avoid the worry of being passive.
- I avoid the discomfort of feeling powerless.
If I don’t report her, it will help me avoid the problem of
- I avoid the problem of looking like a troublemaker.
- I avoid the discomfort of putting someone’s career in jeopardy.
- I avoid the problem of self-loathing associated with the fear that I allowed her to get away with what she did.
Step #2: List the opposite of the problem you are trying to avoid ( which reveals the healthy outcome you are seeking)
- The opposite of guilt – I hope to find peace of mind.
- The opposite of worry about being passive – I hope to find self-respect.
- The opposite of self-loathing – I hope to find self-love.
Step #3: Ask yourself is there a better way for you to achieve your healthy outcome of peace if mind? (or whatever it is for you)
I wonder if you noticed…
Even your avoidance strategies are heath-seeking behaviors.
However, the challenge with avoidance – as a strategy – is that it takes your attention from what you want to achieve and refocuses it on what you want to avoid. This would be like a person driving in the country taking their eyes off the road to focus on the trees by the side of the road they are trying to avoid. It’s like a golfer taking his eye off the fairway to focus on the sand traps to the left of the green that he wants to avoid (you get the point.)
Bottom-line? “Avoidance is setting a negative goal.”
And no since human is motivated for long by negative goals – no matter how strong your willpower or how disciplined your stubbornness – eventually a person will get burnt out from going after avoidance goals.
Am I saying that by navigating through life – based on what you want to avoid –is a bad thing? No. I’m simply saying it’s an inadequate strategy. Because, while knowing what you want to avoid is nice – it’s not enough. It only takes you halfway up the mountain. It won’t take you all the way to the top.
Is there any good news? Yes, there is. (All is not lost.)
Because knowing what painful states – you want to take certain actions to avoid – can become a useful part of your recipe for taking right actions. That is, as long as you remember to use avoidance strategies like you would use salt as an ingredient the recipe for baking a cake and not confuse it with the cake itself.
So, now look back at the 3-step process you just did and ask yourself:
Which healthy outcome did you feel most connected to?
In the midnight of your soul – are you wanting to take the type of action that will bring you (a) peace of mind (b) self-confidence or (c) self-love?
Or, is it something totally different for you? Whatever it is for you. I have faith that you will be inspired to take the actions that bring those healthy states closer, and as soon as right away. And that will allow nothing to interfere or delay those outcomes in any way.
The final part of your question has to do with you holding her accountable to her profession.
Here are two things to consider as you unpack the outcome you really want from this situation.
- What’s motivating you to hold her accountable?
- What’s the best case / worst case consequences of holding her accountable?
Let’s unpack the motives.
If for example…
By holding her accountable to her profession – you are hoping for some type of punishment for her questionable choices – then you’ll want to be honest with yourself about that.
And while I can’t speak for your location – I can tell you that here in the United States, the fact that he was not her direct patient, means that technically she hasn’t committed any real infractions. Is her behavior questionable? Yes, perhaps. Does it fall into malpractice? That I am unsure about.
However, something to keep in mind.
Being motivated by justice and being motivated by revenge (punishing others) is not the same thing. The key difference? One impacts the good of all concerned and the other satisfies your own self-interest.
Again, the goal here is not to self-judge but rather to self-evaluate. Are you motivated by the good of all concerned – or to repair your own wounded ego?
The next thing to consider is what consequences do you envision will result from holding her accountable?
What’s the best-case scenario you can envision from holding her accountable?
For example: By having her questionable choices exposed will cause her to A) Become a better person B) Prevent her from hurting others.
Now let’s look at what might be the worst-case scenario.
For example: Are you concerned that holding her accountable could lead to an escalation of erratic behavior rather than the healing for them?
These are all legitimate concerns.
Your job now is to evaluate the risk. How likely is the worst-case scenario? And how likely is the best-case scenario? I leave that risk assessment up to you.
Whatever, action you choose to take, I highly recommend you take those actions based on what healthy outcomes you want to achieve (rather than the ones you want to avoid) and I have faith that you found something helpful today – something that will take you towards right actions that are motivated from a place of Love rather than fear.
Until we speak again…
Remember… Love Wins!