Facing Up to What I’d Done

Facing Up to What I’d Done

March 2019

Details in the story below have been altered to protect the author’s privacy.

My Story ...Facing up to what I'd done

I’m still not sure why I did it—I can think of several reasons, but none relieves me of responsibility for my behavior. The fact is that some years ago I felt a strong attraction to a female patient and decided that the honorable thing to do would be to tell her openly and honestly what I was feeling. Not only that, I told her about a sexual fantasy I had been having about her.

Needless to say, she left, saying that she could no longer be my patient. I made matters worse by calling to explain and trying to apologize. Once my patient filed a complaint, the board suspended my license for five years and told me that I would have to take remedial courses if I ever wanted to get it back.

At first, I felt like something was happening to me rather than because of me. But I went to see a therapist and quickly realized— faster than most, I now know—that I had injured a good person. It was terribly painful. I’m not by nature a hurtful person. I’ve wanted to be a physician since I was ten, and I’ve loved being a smart, helpful doctor. The knowledge that I had hurt someone who came to me for help was excruciating.

I felt very guilty and depressed about what I had done to my patient, to my profession and to my family. My wife, found the whole episode very difficult. She was shocked, disbelieving. I had always been so upright. Our marriage was shaken, but we were committed to each other and eventually we got through it with the help of therapists.

Facing up to what I had done totally changed my sense of who I was. I finally understood what it meant to be human. I had grown up trying to be the perfect child my parents expected me to be. That’s why I was always such a straight arrow. But now I realized that I had an internal life, like everyone else, and just as much need of companionship as others have.

I had been working way too hard, seeing more patients than I should have, serving on committees, teaching classes, often going without eating or sleeping enough. And all this work had left me with no time for personal relationships. I was very busy and very lonely, which was perhaps one reason I responded as I did to a patient who seemed warm and understanding.

This change in how I saw myself opened me up to a fuller understanding of other people. As I realized what I was going through, I realized more and more that others were going through their own troubles. This has made me, I think, a much better doctor, because now I can understand the pain others go through in a very profound way.

Over the past five years, I’ve been helped enormously by several PBI courses and weekly follow-up phone conferences, by therapists, and by immersing myself in a very involving hobby, building furniture. I’ve joined a cabinetmaking club and made many new and dear friends. I’m also working on a book with a few co-authors, who I enjoy talking to on a regular basis. I am taking care of myself on my own time, and taking care of my patients during my much more manageable hours as a doctor.

I am happier now, especially since the board agreed to reinstate my license without restrictions.


Excerpted from: “Forget ethics training: Focus on empathy”

The sheer volume and diversity of recent scandals in the corporate world, various levels of government, and even the media, has been astounding. Even though initiatives to get tough on corporate malfeasance were introduced and promoted in the early 2000s, it seems the only lesson learned is how to shield bad deeds more effectively while keeping up the appearance of compliance.

The most recent National Business Ethics survey reinforces this notion. Using data from the 2011 report, 42% of respondents state their organizations have weak ethical cultures — a result comparable the highest level in the history of the survey.

Given the importance of ethics in underpinning effective organizational leadership, the question remains: how do we demonstrate and promote ethical behavior?

Empathy and the moral compass. The Management Research Group (MRG) has been administering the “360 review” process to executives for almost 30 years, allowing it to build a database of 100,000 leaders’ assessments.

One of the great value-added features of the MRG 360 process is that it includes various outcome measures of leadership effectiveness. One of the performance indicators asks respondents to rate a leader on whether he or she “demonstrates ethical leadership.”

When MRG examined what was the strongest predictor of ethical leadership behavior out of the 22 competencies in their model, the resounding answer was empathy. In other words, leaders who scored highest on empathy also exhibited the highest levels of ethical leadership.

—Forget ethics training: Focus on empathy, by Craig Dowden, Financial Post, June 21, 2013

Excerpted from “At Personal Risk” (Chapter V: Psychological Wounds: The Victim’s Response)

“Having assumed that they were safe, that their needs came first, that the professional cared about them, clients feel devalued as persons deserving respect when they are victimized. Some react with anger. Many feel humiliated and keep the violation a secret. Still others do not feel much because the let-down is familiar and matches their low self-esteem… Clients go to extraordinary lengths to manage the pain of the internalized violation. Since they find it intolerable to experience simultaneously the painful truth of their losses, their vulnerability and the aloneness in a situation where they believed they were being watched over, they make valiant efforts to protect themselves from being emotionally overwhelmed. They try to clarify what happened so that they feel less anxious and confused. They try to make themselves safe so that they feel less frightened. They try to take complete responsibility so that they feel less helpless. They seek validation so they feel less alone.”

—from At Personal Risk, by Marilyn Peterson, W.W. Norton & Company ©1992, pp.109 and 113.

Excerpted from “The Wounded Healer” (Chapter IV: The Sexually Exploitive Relationship)

As a result of the unwanted ending of a relationship of unequal power, clients can experience the following:

  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Impaired ability to trust. They mistrust themselves for having developed a trust for the physician. They mistrust others, especially professionals.
  • Deep ambivalence about the exploitive professional. They still have positive feelings about the value of the therapy and about the therapist.
  • Guilt and self-blame:
    • Guilt for getting involved with sexually with the therapist
    • Guilt for continuing the involvement
    • Guilt for believing they meant something special to the therapist
    • Guilt for not telling anyone sooner.
  • Sense of emptiness and isolation…
  • Sexual confusion and sexual trauma. For some, any sexual activity may bring back traumatic memories. Others may be trapped in ritualistic, compulsive, or self-destructive sexual encounters and activities.
  • Depression of anxiety, and increased suicidal risk
  • Suppressed rage or overt anger at being exploited. There may be unresolved anger and a desire for revenge or retaliation.
  • Cognitive dysfunction, such as difficulty concentrating and intrusive thoughts.

—from The Wounded Healer, by Richard Irons and Jennifer P. Schneider, Jason Aronson, Inc. ©1999, p.