Mental health professionals (MHP)—psychologists, social workers (LSW/LCSW), LPCs (Licensed Professional Counselors), and others—are trained and prepared to help treat and manage a myriad of mental health difficulties. Working closely with clients, MHPs also must manage the counselor-client relationship. Sometimes, however, something can go horribly wrong in this relationship—for instance, cases of serial stalking by clients.
In an article published last year the Journal of Threat Assessment and Management researchers present a case study of a female client who, over the course of decades, stalked four of her female therapists, whom she had sought out for therapy. On the one hand, this article is a case study which while providing much depth to the subject, may be difficult to generalize the results. Yet the authors note: “[I]t seems likely that the findings are applicable beyond the current case and may suggest some areas of need and preventative efforts that could assist mental health professionals generally.”
To be clear, stalking remains a specific criminal activity defined in various criminal codes throughout the United States and elsewhere around the globe. The Canadian Criminal Code, for instance, defines stalking as: “unwanted and repeated communication, contact, or other conduct that deliberately or recklessly causes people to experience reasonable fear or concern for their safety and the safety of others known to them.”
So, one may ask: How widespread is serial stalking toward mental health professionals?
According to the article mentioned above, the following breakdown by profession have reported serial stalking:
Other research reveals that “32% to 64% of counselors have been the victims of some form of harassing behavior from a client.” As the authors note, research into this subject has been growing in recent years: “Violence risk assessment in cases of stalking is important and can be of great benefit because stalking is repeated and targeted, meaning that we know the behavior will likely continue and we know who the victim will be.”
It is also important to point out—as the researchers do—that, “although criminalized relatively recently and only in some countries, stalking is a global issue that has severe physical, psychological, and economic consequences.” Researchers estimate that the prevalence of stalking of women ranges from 4% to 7% and is roughly 2% for men.
One of the tools that MHPs can use if they encounter as case of serial stalking by a client is The Stalking Assessment and Management Guide (SAM). The SAM identifies specific interventions and practices used to assess and manage cases of stalking.
To conclude, stalking remains a global problem that can have dire consequences for victims. What is more, some professions may be more prone to stalking. Those working in mental health professions such as psychology, counseling, and social work may be professions where the stalking of a counselor by his or her client may occur. Finally, professionals need to become more aware of this problem and how to combat it using available resources (the APA, for example, has some helpful information here).
Storey, J. E., Hart, S. D., and Lim, Y. L. (2017). Serial Stalking of Mental health Professionals: Case Prevention, Analysis, and Formulation Using the Guidelines for Stalking, Assessment, and Management (SAM). Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 4(3), 122 – 143.