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Professional Indemnity Insurance For Psychologists

To provide psychological services in the UK, a person needs to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HPC-UK), a recently established regulator. There are many conditions that make a successful application to this regulator, one of which is to have professional indemnity cover.

Those that practice as a psychologist may have titles such as clinical psychologist, forensic psychologist and occupational psychologist, all of which are protected by law. A general title for a registered psychologist is practitioner psychologist.

The society that upholds standards in the practice of psychology, in addition to the HPC-UK, is the British Psychological Society (BPS). A psychologist attached to this society may be known as a chartered psychologist, much like accountants.

How a psychologist becomes indemnity insured depends on circumstance. Some will be insured under their employer's policies, others will be covered when they registered with a professional body. For the self employed, insurance often comes directly from an insurer.

No matter where you get you professional indemnity insurance, it’s important to be covered for all eventualities. If something goes wrong and you are liable for compensation as a result of the service you provide, any costs could be mitigated with the right professional indemnity insurance for your circumstances.

The right cover for your circumstances will depend on the risks, determined by the area you work in, who you work with and the intrinsic dangers a particular type of psychological service poses. If your circumstances change, for instance by working with people with different types of problems, your indemnity insurance may not provide adequate cover any longer.

Psychology does not always run smoothly ....

It is tempting to think of psychologists as incredibly wise and "together" people: sure to know all the solutions to our emotional and mental issues, but sometimes the psychiatric profession has been responsible for almost unbelievable blunders!

Hysteria was formerly considered to be some sort of mental issue: I say 'some sort" because psychiatrists have used the term to cover a wealth of issues from post-partum depression, to Munchausen's Syndrome, to malingering and "making it up for attention". The term is misogynistic in the extreme, coming from the ancient Greek for "uterus". It was believed that the organ wandered around the female body causing any number of upsets which poor beleaguered men would just have to deal with as best they could… Hippocrates recommended marriage as a "cure" for hysteria and doctors in the 18th century invented vibrators and sex toys to relieve the 'symptoms of hysteria" in women – symptoms now recognised as those of sexual frustration! However, the relief of the condition was not to give the women any pleasure: men did not believe that women felt sexual desire or received any pleasure from the act of intercourse! The various descriptions of "hysteria" have now been recognised as being a series of genuine mental illnesses: which makes more horrifying the information that several doctors enforced the sterilisation of women incarcerated in asylums with only the nebulous diagnosis of "hysteria" to work from… Many of these women were put into the hands of the asylum by husbands and fathers who no longer wanted the burden of a "hysterical" woman in their lives, sometimes without any justification at all.

A disturbing case is that of Nicola Edgington, a severely mentally ill woman who killed her mother during an episode of her disease. Released from prison, she was put onto a regimen of medications to control and stabilise her moods. However, upon becoming pregnant, and duly informing her medical professional, she was advised to stop taking this medication. Some short time later, Nicola fearing that she was about to hurt someone else, sought help at a hospital. The busy hospital made her wait and wait, despite even the clearly voiced "Do I need to kill someone else to be seen?" Eventually, Nicola phoned 999 from a hospital asking to be arrested: only to be ignored again. Had the police run an enquiry on Nicola's name and found her previous conviction, perhaps action would have been taken sooner, rather than later… Nicola's illness overtook her and she stabbed one woman to death and attacking another, before, finally and tragically too late, being arrested.

Sigmund Freud is known as being a "great" psychoanalyst – but was he, really? His psychiatric advice and theories have now been discredited by the profession (and it is easy to see why: see "Dora" below) and some of this may have been because of his rather lax attitude to sex and sexuality. He is said to have said, of a female patient, "What this lady really needs is a prescription reading: Rx penis normalis, repetetur." Although he did caution some restraint, adding "If you start with a kiss you risk an ultimately very lively scene!" This brings us to the next point: that of psychiatrists falling for, or – worse – dallying with their affections. Several psychiatrists have married patients or former patients and still others seem to think that it is something of a competition to bed as many willing female patients as possible. Sadly, transference, in which patients become very attached to their therapists (probably due to the very intimate nature of the sessions and the subjects discussed during them) is probably to blame for a large degree of this willingness to participate in behaviour that almost everyone knows to be forbidden or, at the very least, frowned upon. Interestingly, the patients in these cases tend to be overwhelmingly female and their therapists overwhelmingly male: although there have been cases of same sex affairs and female psychiatrists dallying with male patients, these are very much the minority.

Sometimes people may feel that their symptoms are indicative of mental illness – but they are really physical issues: pollution, unwittingly interacting medications and some degenerative diseases can cause symptoms that appear to be entirely mental. Undiscovered, these conditions can subject the victims to months or years in asylums, taking medications that mask symptoms rather than cure them and can even end in early death. Fortunately, modern medicine requires that patients are checked for physical causes, via blood and urine tests, before being firmly diagnosed with mental issues.

In the mid to late 20th century patients were being found to have repressed memories of serious abuse, some of it stretching into their earliest childhoods. The public was shocked at this immense body of unsavoury treatment of people and psychiatrists were employed in droves to unlock the secrets of the past. However, scrupulous and careful psychiatrists realised that the very "methods" used to recall these "memories" were actually planting the ideas in the first place. The patient was put into a deep trance or hypnotic state and then told to "remember" instances of abuse, with praise being given for each incident recalled. "Do you remember the man touching you?" for example, would plant the idea that it happened and hence, lead to the belief that the memory was real. There are now very strict guidelines on the way patients can be questioned in order to retrieve hidden memories and the floodgates have now closed…

One of Freud's worse errors in psychoanalysis came about in his treatment of a young girl, who came to be known as "Dora" in the case study. Her real name was Ida Bauer, but we shall call her Dora. Dora's parents were friendly with another couple, known as Herr and Frau K for the purposes of the study. Dora claimed that Herr K had made sexual advances towards her at the age of 14, advances that she indignantly spurned by slapping the man across the face. When Dora told her parents of the incident, Herr K denied it and Dora's father believed his friend over his daughter.

Dora was traumatised by this incident (which was followed by another, some short time later) and began to manifest physical symptoms, such as various pains in her body and loss of voice (diagnosed, typically for the time, as "hysteria").

Her father brought her to see Freud, making it clear that he did not believe his daughter. Freud according to his notes, sweetly reserved judgement on the matter, and had a few sessions with the girl. Almost immediately Dora told him that her father was having an affair with Frau K and about the two incidents with Herr K. She also told him of two dreams that she had had: one of which was about a jewel case in danger of being burned in a house fire. Instead of being shocked and appalled at what this tender young girl had been exposed to, Freud could not understand why she was so upset! Surely, he reasoned, any young girl, newly through puberty and ready to be a mother, would be nothing but flattered by the attentions of Herr K who was, after all, a relatively young and good-looking man… He saw the treasured jewel case of the dream as being symbolic of Dora's virginity and claimed the dreams meant that she wanted to initiate sexual relations with her own father, Herr K and even, believe it or not, with Frau K!

The whole case was mishandled by Freud from the start (something he eventually came to realise, but he ascribed the reasons for the failure to something other than his mishandling of the situation and complete lack of insight into the young female psyche!). Fortunately, Dora managed to resolve many of her own problems by confronting the Ks, receiving an apology and thus achieving closure for herself.