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Female Psychologists Report Sexual Harassment by Patients

by Robert deMayo, Ph.D.

Practicing psychologists and other psychotherapists must often spend time alone in closed rooms discussing intimate topics with people whose problems may include inappropriate sexual behavior. To find how often that situation leads to sexual harassment of female psychologists by their patients, psychologist Robert A. deMayo, Ph.D. of Pepperdine University conducted the first nationwide survey of a sample of 750 female psychologists practicing psychology.

Of the 354 who responded to the questionnaire, 53.4 percent reported at least one incident of sexual harassment by a patient. The highest number of incidents reported by a single psychologist was 29. But, the author notes, the number of incidents reported works out to less than one in 5,000 therapy sessions overall.

Participants in the survey were also provided with a list of 15 types of sexualized behaviors other psychologists had reported experiencing. These ranged from "patient requested a hug" to "patient made sexually suggestive gestures" to "patient made physical sexual assault." Survey participants were asked which of those they had experienced, whether they considered it harassing and if so, how severely harassing.

While the psychologists reported a variety of emotional responses to their harassment, relatively few (26 respondents) experienced a decrease in feelings of competency or emotional well-being (18 respondents), which tend to be the most common reactions to sexual harassment in some work settings.

"These findings," Dr. deMayo notes, "suggest that although the role of psychologist may not protect a woman from inappropriate sexual behaviors, it does provide a means of understanding and coping with the events that differs significantly from other occupations."


Patient Sexual Behavior and Sexual Harassment: A National Survey of Female Psychologists by Robert A. deMayo, Ph.D., Pepperdine University, in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 28, No. 1. (Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)

This information received from the American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC.

Originally published 4/17/98
Revised 10/13/08 by Marlene M. Maheu, Ph.D.
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