In today's chaotic world mental health counselors are in high demand. Whether it be a psychiatrist, psychologist, marriage counselor, life coach, family counselor, or specialist it is extremely important work that yields a high return of accomplishment. Helping people out with their mental health issues can be rewarding. The mental health field comes with its own set of challenges though and if not handled properly, it could have devastating consequences for both the counselor and the practice where they work. From slips and falls to misdiagnosis there is an abundant number of things that could go wrong. It is crucial that as a mental health counselor you have the proper insurance protection in place in order to continue doing the important work that you do.
There are several reasons why mental health counselors need insurance. Some of these situations may seem pretty obvious and others not so much. Regardless, these are all very real scenarios that can occur and it is essential that you be prepared to deal with them, pay for them, and hopefully have the right insurance in place to help with the financial aspect of it.
Fire – Of course there is always the possibility of fire or weather-related events hurting your business, especially if you have an office. You will want insurance to pay for the physical damage and hopefully loss of income so you can get back up and running quickly. After all, mental health problems do not stop just because an unfortunate event has occurred and you can't work.
Injury or Property Damage – If you have an office then there is a chance that someone could become injured on the premises. A simple trip over a rug or slipping on rainwater is enough to hurt someone and cause them to sue you. Also, if you have employees then you will want to provide for them if they are injured or become ill due to a work-related event. It may be rare to deal with this especially since clients come to you, but you could also experience a claim where a client says you damaged their property. This usually happens with those counselors who make home visits and have the chance to be around their personal belongings.
Malpractice – A client could claim that you were negligent, failed to do what you said you were going to do, or make an error or omission whether intentional or not. This is a huge area of concern for many mental health professionals as they are helping to guide a person through their problems and if they say the wrong thing or give bad advice it could have dire consequences.
Sexual Misconduct – Because sexual misconduct is so publicized in the media these days, anyone who is alone with patients should have insurance for these types of claims. A word could be taken the wrong way, a touch of comfort on the shoulder, and this is especially true if you are working with children. You can never be too careful by having the best insurance protection in place.
With the type of work you do as a mental health counselor, Professional Liability insurance, sometimes referred to as Errors & Omissions or Malpractice insurance is probably the most important insurance policy that you need. Because you are working with patients on personal issues such as marital issues, other relationships, depression, anger management, stress, parenting, and even addiction there is major room for error. Some patients could take what you say the wrong way or simply not understand what you mean. Often, patients can claim negligence just because they didn't understand what you said and even though you were not at fault, if they bring a lawsuit you will have to defend yourself.
Professional Liability insurance provides coverage for defense costs regardless of whether you were at fault or not, and this is great because attorney fees and court costs can add up quickly. And because you are in the profession of advising clients on how to cope with their personal issues, the chance of a claim like this occurring during the course of your career is high. Also, you are human and can make mistakes so for that reason alone it is a good idea to purchase a Professional Liability insurance policy.
While Professional Liability insurance is extremely important for a mental health counselor to have, there are some other claims that could arise and impact your career in a negative way so it is important that you understand some other insurance types that you should consider.
General Liability – Especially if you have an office or travel to clients, General Liability insurance is very important to have. General Liability insurance will provide coverage for claims alleging third-party injury or property damage. For example, a patient comes to your office and slips on an icy sidewalk, injured their ankle and has to go to the doctor, they will then most likely sue you to pay for the medical bills. If you visit a patient at home and knock over an expensive sculpture, they will expect you to pay for it. All of these types of incidents will be covered under the General Liability policy.
BOP – Because you will also need coverage for some property if you own the office you use or have items inside that you own, a Businessowner's policy or BOP is a great and affordable way to get important bundled coverages. A BOP will have the property coverage you need, whether building, business personal property, or both, and General Liability. Because it is a bundled policy it will save money, as well as give you some extra bells and whistles that could come in handy. Another great coverage found within a BOP is Business Interruption which will pay for loss of income due to a covered loss. An example would be if your office has a fire and you are unable to provide services there while it is being repaired or rebuilt.
Workers Compensation – If you are a mental health counselor that does not own and operate a practice this may not apply to you, but if you own a practice and have employees you should have Workers Compensation insurance. Your employees could get hurt with a work-related injury or illness which causes them to miss work and incur some medical expenses. Workers Compensation will reimburse them for the medical expenses and pay for their lost wages during the time they are unable to work.
When it comes to Professional Liability there a lot of incidents that can warrant a claim that will be covered. As always, it is critical that you read your insurance policy so you know all of the inclusions and exclusions. Here are some common claims that we see that are covered by Professional Liability insurance for mental health counselors.
If you are working with someone who has substance abuse issues and they tell their family that they are doing great and counseling is working, then they are going to expect that this is true. Unfortunately, people with addiction issues often lie. If they end up overdosing or hurting someone or themselves while under the influence, the family could come to you and claim negligence and that you failed to deliver services. Professional Liability will protect you here even if you did not make a mistake at all.
Perhaps you are an occupational therapist dealing with clients who are attempting to get back to work. You may tell the client they are ready to go back to work before they are, as a simple mistake that can be made. Should the client then become re-injured they could sue you for negligence. Professional Liability insurance will pay for any settlements or judgments that be awarded, as well as any defense costs. Even if the client was ready and able to go back to work and you did nothing wrong, the policy will still pay to defend you.
You could misdiagnose a client based on symptoms that you are able to observe. There could be symptoms that you do not see or the patient doesn't talk about. Because you diagnose them with something based on only half the information, you could end up treating them incorrectly and they could sue you for ineffective treatment. This type of claim would also be covered by Professional Liability insurance.
Being a mental health counselor is very rewarding work and the possibility of a lawsuit should not scare you out of doing what you are passionate about. However, it is essential that your eyes are open to the possibilities and that you are prepared with the proper insurance protection. That way if a lawsuit does pop up you can continue to provide your professional services to your patients that are counting on you to help them deal with their personal issues.
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