Success Story: A Life-Saving Catastrophe

Success Story: A Life-Saving Catastrophe

May 2021

How one practitioner recovered from a second violation.

The following is a real story from a course graduate who shares his journey after working with PBI Education. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Dr. Thompson was a well-respected internist with a prestigious university appointment when he became romantically involved with a patient. When the relationship ended, the patient reported him to the board and almost overnight everything changed. “It all fell apart,” he recalls, “and I was plunged into grief.”

It took time, but after three years on probation, both the state board and the university decided to give Dr. Thompson a second chance. “Everything kind of returned to normal, and things were going along really well for me,” he says, “until there was a second complaint.”

Recidivist: a person who relapses or repeats the same violation, often after participating in education to prevent such behavior

In some ways, the second offense could be considered less serious than the first. There was no ongoing relationship and no physical contact. However, it was a boundary violation and now Dr. Thompson was a recidivist. The board put him on probation for longer this time and, among other requirements, ordered him to take 50 hours of remedial education. The university fired him. “I was just absolutely devastated, because now I was a recidivist, and that would never go away,” he says.

That was when Dr. Thompson enrolled in PBI’s three-day Professional Boundaries and Ethics course. He remembers being bowled over by a video showing how blinded people were by their preoccupations. “That was a total wow to me,” he recalls. “I finally realized what I hadn’t the first time around, that a lot more was going on in me than I knew.”  


“I finally realized what I hadn’t the first time around, that a lot more was going on in me than I knew.”  

– Dr. Thompson

As Dr. Thompson attended other PBI courses and examined this interior reality, he began to recognize a level of self-regard and self-importance he had never been aware of. “No one would ever describe me as arrogant,” he says, “but inside, I was very arrogant.” Like so many practitioners, Dr. Thompson had been led to think of himself as superhuman. Growing up, his family treated him as if he could do no wrong and once he became a doctor so did much of society.

Now he had to face the fact that he was human after all. No one would ever think of him the same way again. “Who I was and what I was, that was gone forever,” he says.

That realization was enormously humbling. It was also mortifying. There’s a fine line between humility and humiliation, and Dr. Thompson struggled to hold on to his self-respect. If he wasn’t the golden boy he had always believed he was, maybe he was worthless.

Remedial courses made the difference

Dr. Thompson credits PBI with helping him through this very difficult period. After finishing the 50 hours of coursework required by his board, Dr. Thompson continued with PBI’s Maintenance and Accountability Seminar (MAS) course. The longer he continued participating in the weekly conference calls, the more he came to embrace a realistic sense of his own strengths and weaknesses; an absolutely essential step towards becoming a safer clinician. Gradually he came to accept his imperfections without surrendering his self-esteem.

“PBI helped me manage the losses and humanize myself,” he says. “I wasn’t a god, but I wasn’t a monster, either. I was a human being. Realizing that, being reminded of that — I think that’s probably one of the reasons that I keep on going.”

When his five years of probation were over, Dr. Thompson approached the board with a new sense of humility. He did not try to duck his responsibility for the harm he had done or pretend that all his struggles were behind him. Instead, he honestly and candidly told the board what he had learned at PBI about his own vulnerabilities and the risks he faced.

He also shared the Protection Plan he had created at PBI and described the changes he had made in his personal life and career to become a safer professional. His life had become more balanced, he told the board members. Instead of overcommitting himself to work, he now carved out free time to spend with his family and to enjoy other pastimes.

Impressed by his candor and the 250 hours he had voluntarily invested in PBI’s MAS program, the board reinstated Dr. Thompson’s license with absolutely no restrictions. Today he is once again the safe, caring doctor he dreamed of being as a boy.

“It’s paradoxical,” he says of his experience. “In many ways, it was a catastrophe, but in many ways, it also saved me from my own isolation and arrogance. Understanding what was wrong with me, absorbing the loss, not pretending it isn’t there — that kind of honesty, which PBI helped me develop, has enabled me to put myself back together again, a second time, and have a good life.”