Many Mental Health Professionals Must Face Violence


Mental health professionals have discovered, sometimes the hard way, that delving deeply into people's feelings can be dangerous, says the New York Times. As police searched for a man who killed a psychologist with a meat cleaver and other knives – and seriously injured another therapist, who heard their struggle from his nearby office and went to help – therapists said they had learned to develop their own physical and psychological defenses against violence. They conceded that a shrewd and determined attacker who appears normal could fool them.

It was not clear if the killer was a patient or a patient's relative, or if he had some other connection to the victims. When Christina Newhill, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, surveyed 1,129 therapeutic workers nationwide in 2003, 58 percent said they had had to deal with violence, though only 24 percent of those said they had actually been attacked. Twenty-five percent of those who had to deal with violence said clients had damaged or destroyed property, while half said the episodes did not go beyond threats. Gary Arthur, a professor emeritus at Georgia State University, surveyed all 6,400 licensed therapists in Georgia in 2001. Of the 1,132 who responded, 14 had been shot at (none hit), 6 attacked with a knife, 209 pushed or shoved, 112 slapped and 87 hit by objects thrown at them. “The results were scary,” he said. “Our profession remains very high on the list for risk of danger.”


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