Retirement does not free a therapist from legal, ethical and clinical obligations, even if the retirement is unplanned and as part of unforeseen circumstances. Several years after their retirement, for example, therapists (or their estate) can find themselves still potentially liable for alleged damages that may be claimed by a former client.
Retiring therapists are ethically and legally obligated to:
- have a plan in place for notifying and transitioning clients
- arrange for the securing and disposition of clients’ records
- notify colleagues and third party payers with whom they are contractually obligated
- when appropriate, help clients process their feelings regarding termination with their therapist
Therapists also have their own psychological issues to attend to–even if the retirement is planned and eagerly anticipated. Erikson’s later life task of ego integrity vs. despair does not pertain merely to non-therapists.
As with any life transition, it is not unusual for therapists to find themselves:
- struggling with a changing self-identity
- dealing with grief and loss
- sublimating or projecting these issues onto their remaining clients
The time for several aspects of retirement planning is NOW, because life does not always follow our plans. Such contingencies as a retirement planning checklist, a designated person to handle your details in case of an emergency, a complete understanding of how your malpractice insurance covers (or doesn’t cover) legal actions by former clients against you, and who has your file keys and communication passwords should be all put into place today.