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Saturday, October 15, 2022

Boundary Issues of Concern

Charles Dike
Psychiatric News
Originally posted 25 AUG 22

Here is an excerpt:

There are, of course, less prominent but equally serious boundary violations other than sexual relations with patients or a patients’ relatives. The case of Dr. Jerome Oremland, a prominent California psychiatrist, is one example. According to a report by KQED on October 3, 2016, John Pierce, a patient, alleged that his psychiatrist, Dr. Oremland, induced Mr. Pierce to give him at least 12 works of highly valued art. The psychiatrist argued that the patient had consented to their business dealings and that the art he had received from the patient was given willingly as payment for psychiatric treatment. The patient further alleged that Dr. Oremland used many of their sessions to solicit art, propose financial schemes (including investments), and discuss other subjects unrelated to treatment. Furthermore, the patient allegedly made repairs in Dr. Oremland’s home, offices, and rental units; helped clear out the home of Dr. Oremland’s deceased brother; and cleaned his pool. Mr. Pierce began therapy with Dr. Oremland in 1984 but brought a lawsuit against him in 2015. The court trial began shortly after Dr. Oremland’s death in 2016, and Dr. Oremland’s estate eventually settled with Mr. Pierce. In addition to being a private practitioner, Dr. Oremland had been chief of psychiatry at the Children’s Hospital in San Francisco and a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF. He also wrote books on the intersection of art and psychology.


There are less dramatic but still problematic boundary crossings such as when a psychiatrist in private practice agrees that a patient may pay off treatment costs by doing some work for the psychiatrist. Other examples include a psychiatrist hiring a patient, for example, a skilled plumber, to work in the psychiatrist’s office or home at the patient’s going rate or obtaining investment tips from a successful investment banker patient. In these situations, questions arise about the physician-patient relationship. Even when the psychiatrist believes he or she is treating the patient fairly—such as paying the going rate for work done for the psychiatrist—the psychiatrist is clueless regarding how the patient is interpreting the arrangement: Does the patient experience it as exploitative? What are the patient’s unspoken expectations? What if the patient’s work in the psychiatrist’s office is inferior or the investment advice results in a loss? Would these outcomes influence the physician-patient relationship? Even compassionate acts such as writing off the bill of patients who are unable to pay or paying for an indigent patient’s medications should make the psychiatrist pause for thought. To avoid potential misinterpretation of the psychiatrist’s intentions or complaints of inequitable practices or favoritism, the psychiatrist should be ready to do the same for other indigent patients. It would be better to establish neutral policies for all indigent patients than to appear to favor some over others.