Therapists often work one-on-one with people who have a known history of mental illness. And while the vast majority of people suffering from mental health problems will never become violent, patients struggling with complex issues are more likely to display erratic and aggressive behavior. As a result, therapists can be at an increased risk of experiencing violence or intimidation in the workplace.
Developing healthcare security, and creating a more secure environment, can improve staff retention and ensure that patients get the care they deserve. Here, we take a look at some of the main risks faced by therapists and how they can take action to mitigate them.
Risks and Hazards Faced by Therapists
Due to the sensitive nature of their profession, therapists generally work with their patients one to one and behind closed doors. Many of these patients will be suffering from chronic or acute mental health issues, making them more likely to be unpredictable and display violent behavior. According to OSHA, healthcare workers account for nearly as many violent injuries as all other industries combined.
Because therapists work alone, it can be difficult for them to summon help if they feel threatened. The often-intense relationship that develops between therapists and their patients can also make therapists more prone to stalking and harassment.
Personal Safety Tips for Therapists
Taking a few basic precautions when treating patients can make a significant difference when it comes to reducing violence and keeping healthcare professionals safe. Many of these safety tips are simple, affordable and easy to implement, making them a must for therapists in behavioral health centers and private practice alike.
Pay Close Attention to Your Surroundings
One of the most effective safety measures you can take is to be aware of your surroundings. Before seeing patients, take the time to remove any objects that could be used as weapons from the space. This might include things like paperweights, vases, glass bottles and ornaments, as well as removing jewelry and earrings.
You should also ensure you place yourself between the door and your patient. This will allow you to leave the room quickly if a patient becomes aggressive and should help you to avoid becoming trapped.
When leaving your office at the end of the day, make sure to take a good look around to check no one is waiting for you outside. If possible, walk to your car with a friend or colleague, or park in a place that’s busy, well-lit and very visible.
When arriving at your office in the mornings and leaving at night, avoid wearing headphones as this can distract you and make you less likely to notice people in the immediate area.
Notice Your Vulnerability
No one really wants to think of themselves as vulnerable, especially when they’re at work. However, it’s very important to be aware of your vulnerabilities when treating patients. Think about escape routes, consider the physical strength of your patient and be aware of people working nearby who could help you in an emergency.
One very simple measure you can take to protect your well-being is to keep the door to your premises locked at all times when it’s not in use. This will help you to control who comes in and out of your office and could help to keep you safe if a violent patient, or one of their family members, comes around unannounced.
Before starting therapy sessions, screen potential clients for any behaviors that may indicate violent tendencies. This could include a history of self-harm, domestic violence, aggression with a family member or a criminal record. If you decide to go ahead and treat a person you think may become violent, make sure you take extra steps to ensure your personal safety both during and after your therapy sessions.
Take Safety Precautions
As a mental health clinician, you’ll probably be well aware of just how quickly a patient can become aggressive. A lot of people with mental health problems can be easily triggered by their memories and may struggle to contain their emotions, and their anger, when dealing with difficult subjects.
Taking simple but effective safety precautions both before and during sessions - as well as when arriving and leaving your workplace - will help to minimize the risks you face. Even if you don’t feel threatened by patient behavior, it’s still a good idea to follow standard safety precautions at all times.
Invest in Safety Devices
Safety devices should be an integral part of any comprehensive safety plan. For example, you could look at installing a panic button system to allow you to silently call for help if a patient becomes aggressive.
Having a panic button at your fingertips when you’re in your treatment room will ensure you get help fast if a patient becomes violent. One of the benefits of panic buttons is that they’re completely silent. This avoids the need for an audible alarm that could further aggravate the situation.
Other high tech safety measures available include camera entry systems and CCTV. Both of these solutions can help to make your premises more secure and discourage patients from making threats or getting violent.
Guard Your Privacy
Although you may feel a close bond with the people you’re treating, it’s important to protect your privacy at all times when treating patients. Don’t tell patients any personal details about yourself or your loved ones and try to avoid giving patients your personal phone number, address or social media handles. In general, the less your patients know about you, the better.
Be Aware of Toxic or Dangerous Environment
As a therapist, you’re likely to pay close attention to the mood and mental well-being of your patients. If the environment starts to feel dangerous or toxic, try to summon help via a panic button or by calling a colleague on the phone.
Often, calling someone else into the room can help to defuse a situation and change the mood of a session. If the atmosphere continues to darken, your colleague may be better placed to call for back-up.
If you believe that there’s a risk of violence before treatment starts, tell another caregiver of your concerns so that they can check on you during your session.
Dressing in a business-like manner can help to reinforce boundaries and remind your patient that this is a purely professional relationship. Dressing in a neutral way may also prevent your patient making assumptions about you and your personal life.
Stay in Touch
If you’re working with patients that you think may become violent, make sure you stay in close touch with colleagues or family members during your sessions. Send them a message to let them know your patient has arrived and arrange to send them messages at regular intervals to let them know you’re ok. If your messages fail to arrive on time, your friend or colleague will know that something is wrong.
While patient violence and aggression are thankfully rare, therapists need to be aware of the unique risks and challenges that affect their profession. To help minimize the risks to themselves and their staff, all therapy providers should carry out thorough assessments covering all health and safety issues that could impact both patients and professionals.
Implementing well-thought through safety solutions will help to reduce the risk of violence and keep therapists safe. To find out more, and to learn how our panic button systems are already protecting healthcare and wellness providers across the country, take a look around or get in touch with a member of our team today.