Case vignette: unanticipated propinquity.

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Ethics & behavior






CASE VIGNETTE: UNANTICIPATED PROPINQUITY. Dr. Marge N. O'Vera has a reputation in the community as a thoughtful, caring, and highly ethical psychotherapist. For more than a year she has been treating Greta Grievance, helping her to cope with emotional and financial insecurities in the aftermath of a highly contentious divorce. During a therapy session, Ms. Grievance tells Dr. O'Vera that she has decided to sue the attorney who represented her during the divorce. Ms. Grievance believes that he did not represent her interests effectively and that she foolishly took his advice in accepting a very inferior settlement. She has retained another attorney who, she tells O'Vera, will soon be calling to request information on the stress of the divorce and Ms. Grievance's continuing need for therapy. Dr. O'Vera will be asked to testify as to the harm caused to her client and resulting treatment expenses. As Ms. Grievance gets up to leave, she tells Dr. O'Vera, "I'm so glad you'll help me teach that awful Tom Tort a lesson." As she hears the name of Attorney Tort for the first time, Dr. O'Vera begins to sweat. Thomas Tort, attorney at law, is also a client of hers. She had no idea that he had been Ms. Grievance's divorce lawyer. She has treated him for recurring major depression over several years and knows that he probably was sufficiently depressed so as to compromise his professional work at the time he represented Ms. Grievance. When she is named as an expert witness for the plaintiff, Attorney Tort will learn that his therapist was also treating Ms. Grievance. At the same time, her duty of confidentiality precludes her informing others that Tort is also her client. What is Dr. O'Vera to do?

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