What Is Counseling Liability?

Counseling liability is a term used to refer to legal liabilities arising from the provision of counseling services. Counseling liability is a risk for a number of professionals including family counselors, marriage counselors, substance abuse counselors, psychologists, social workers, speech therapists, and mental health workers.

Key Takeaways

  • Counseling liability is the legal risk taken on by therapists, social workers, and others in the helping professions.
  • Therapists and other counselors face the same risk of malpractice and negligence lawsuits as other medical professionals.
  • Because counselors are providing mental health services, therapy, and treatment for those who've suffered grief and trauma, they need to protect themselves from legal risk.
  • Professional liability insurance can protect counselors from claims their clients initiate, while E&O insurance protects against claims of inadequate work or negligence.

How Counseling Liability Works

Counseling liability is a form of liability risk faced by therapists, social workers, psychologists, and other professionals who provide counseling services. Just as doctors face the risk of claims of medical malpractice by their patients, so too do counselors face the risk of negligence claims from those they treat. Counselors provide specialized mental health services, providing therapy for individuals and families who face trauma, are dealing with grief, or are suffering from other mental difficulties. In order to mitigate exposure to counseling liability, individuals can purchase professional liability insurance.

Special Considerations

There are several types of insurance available to those at risk for counseling liability. Professional liability insurance can protect professionals against claims initiated by their clients and is required by professionals who have expertise in a specific area, as general liability insurance policies do not offer protection against claims arising out of business or professional practices such as negligence, malpractice, or misrepresentation.

Those affected by counseling liability may choose a more specialized form of professional liability insurance called errors and omissions insurance or E&O insurance, which protects companies and their workers or individuals against claims made by clients alleging inadequate work or negligent actions. E&O insurance often covers both court costs and any settlements up to the amount specified by the insurance contract. Counselors may also purchase general liability insurance to cover claims made for bodily injury or property damage.

Counseling Liability Example

Counseling liability can arise in a number of situations. For example, a family therapist suspects that a child is living in a potential abusive household, but fails to report this suspicion to the police or the local authorities. If the child is ultimately injured by his or her parents, the government may file a lawsuit on behalf of the injured child against the family therapist for not reporting the dangerous situation that the child was in.

Therapists may also face claims that do not involve physical injury. For example, a married couple seeks the advice of a marriage counselor to help them work out their problems and save their marriage. If the couple ultimately decides to get a divorce, they may sue the marriage counselor for not providing them the help that they needed. They would do this by filing a claim for professional negligence.