Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, philosophy and health care

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Vignette 20: Has the Psychologist Done too Much?


Dr. Plenty lives and practices psychology in a rural area.  She began to provide psychotherapy to Mr. DiMencha, a 52-year-old, who suffered with depression.  After six sessions, Mr. DiMencha suffered a significant concussion while at work.  His impairment is noticeable by Dr. Plenty without any type of testing.  He struggles with understanding concepts and becomes tangential during the next two sessions.

Mr. DiMencha’s co-worker, Janet, helped him find an attorney so that his rights are protected.  Dr. Plenty had Mr. DiMencha sign a release to talk with the attorney as well as Janet.  From a phone call with the attorney, Workers Compensation wants to work out a settlement. However, the attorney has little awareness about how impaired Mr. DiMencha is.  The patient has never met the attorney face-to-face, just by email and phone contacts.

Mr. DiMencha demonstrates a variety of cognitive deficits.  He needs assistance and monitoring with daily tasks, such as home care, shopping, transportation, understanding the settlement process, reading his mail, and paying his bills. He will likely need to go into an assisted living facility. His family lives at a distance and provides minimal help. Workers Compensation refuses to pay for the case management services of an independent social worker. Attempts to find social service agencies able to help him have not been successful. Mr. DiMencha doesn't appear to understand his legal rights or the settlement process.

Prior to providing extra-therapy support, Dr. Plenty had Mr. DiMencha sign a document explaining her fees for the additional services.  She is not sure that he completely understands what is happening or her version of informed consent for the additional services.  The psychologist has been doing much of the case management work, e.g. locating a long-time friend who is willing to help him at home, referring him to a neuropsychologist for testing, engaging in lengthy discussions with his primary care physician and neurologist, participating in multiple conversations with the attorney, and trying to find a guardian or power of attorney.

In the midst of all of this activity, the psychologist contacts you for an ethics consultation.

What are the potential ethical issues with this case?

What are the competing ethical principles?

Is Dr. Plenty acting beyond the limits of her competency?

Is she practicing outside of her scope of her license?

What problems may occur as a function of Dr. Plenty engaging in a multiple relationship role in Mr. DiMencha’s care?

What suggestions would you make to Dr. Plenty?


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