Hurting the Healers: Stalking and Stalking-Related Behavior Perpetrated Against Counselors

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The increased risk of stalking faced by mental health professionals (MHPs) raises many important questions for practitioners. For instance, what factors place MHPs at greater risk of being stalked, and what perceptions do MHPs have about stalking? The present study investigates these and other understudied questions pertaining to stalking and stalking-related behavior perpetrated toward MHPs in the context of their work, by surveying a sample of 346 registered clinical counselors in British Columbia, Canada. Results indicated that many respondents had experienced individual stalking-related behaviors, and 7% (n = 23) had been stalked by a client. Work-related stalking and stalking-related behavior was perpetrated by clients, coworkers, and the acquaintances of clients. Respondents treating clients for forensic, substance abuse, and sexuality issues as well as for sexual abuse were at greater risk of being victimized. However, respondents treating clients out of their residence were not at greater risk. Less than half (47%) of respondents were aware of their heightened risk of being stalked, and many (50%) endorsed the view that poor clinical skill can increase stalking victimization. The majority of respondents reported that they would call police or terminate therapy in the event that they were being stalked by a client and three-quarters wanted to receive training on stalking. Findings suggest the need and desire for training that raises the awareness and abilities of MHPs to manage stalking behavior, but that also challenges unfounded and potentially harmful beliefs that some MHPs hold about their victimized colleagues.

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