When A Therapist is Being Stalked

Based on victim surveys, about 16 percent of women and 5 percent of men in the United States reported having been stalked at some point in their lives.     The legal definition varies, stalking is usually defined as "repeated unwanted behaviors that reasonably cause the individual who is being stalked to experience fear of harm or death to self, family, or household" but many stalkers are careful enough to avoid breaking laws.   Even though the majority of stalkers are men, an estimated 12 to 22 percent are women although the motivation often varies according to the intended target.

According to the research of Paul E. Mullen and his colleagues, there are five types of stalkers though there can be considerable overlap among the different categories.  

  • Rejected stalkers who are seeking revenge following a perceived rejection (real or imagined)
  • Intimacy-seeking stalkers who are seeking to form a close relationship with their intended target
  • Incompetent stalkers lack basic social skills and often engage in stalking behaviour in the hope of becoming intimate with their target
  • Resentful stalkers are revenge-seekers who feel they have been somehow wronged by their target.   They are often prone to paranoid ideation that is difficult to treat.
  • Predatory stalkers seek power and control over their targets and are most likely to intimidate their their victims.   These are the stalkers most likely to be charged for their offenses.

While most stalkers are not violent, the risk should not be overlooked despite the reluctance of many police officers to lay charges unless a clear criminal act occurs.   Risk of violence usually rises in stalkers with a previous criminal history while nonpsychotic stalkers are more likely to become violent than psychotic stalkers.    Still, regardless of the actual risk of assault, stalking has a clear impact on the mental health of their targets.   Around twenty to thirty percent of stalking victims seek counseling because of the emotional distress caused by stalking and one in seven will change their residence.   Stalking victims are also much more likely to arm themselves or take other defensive measures to ensure their safety. 

But what if the stalking victim is a mental health professional?  Being stalked by a former patient is a potential threat for many therapists with several studies of mental health settings in the United States suggesting that as many as six to eleven percent of therapists will be stalked by patients at some point in their careers.    Studies of different medical specialties suggests that psychiatrists are the most likely to be stalked with one Australian study showing the incidence of psychiatrists being stalked is as high as 19.5 percent.  

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post. 






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