How Do You Know You Can Trust Your Therapist or Doctor?

Female doctor has discussion with female patientOn February 16, 2016, police in West Palm Beach, Florida arrested Malachi Love-Robinson, 18, for allegedly setting up a medical practice, posing as a doctor, and examining patients without a medical license. Amazingly, this was not the first time the teen had been arrested for operating without a medical license. On his website, Love-Robinson listed his qualifications to provide psychotherapy, phototherapy, electrotherapy, and physiotherapy, among many other professional services; however, licenses or certifications to provide such services were never disclosed.

It is frightening to consider that the person you turn to for physical or mental health care may not be who they say they are, let alone able to safely and effectively perform the procedures they say they can.

This sensational story sounds like just that, a story; however, stories of actual health professionals acting outside of their scope of competence occur only too often. As can be seen on popular cosmetic surgery shows such as E!’s Botched and Lifetime’s Atlanta Plastic, it is not uncommon for individuals to discover their health professional was incompetent or unqualified to perform a medical procedure. Unfortunately, this discovery typically happens after a surgical or cosmetic procedure has taken place and the person is left with a physical or psychological issue. Afterward, the person discovers their doctor was not a specialist, not licensed, or worse yet, not a doctor at all.

On reality television and with the Love-Robinson case, it is easy to blame victims for placing themselves in situations that caused physical or mental harm. In regard to Love-Robinson, social media posts have commented, “They (patients) should have known he wasn’t a real doctor by how young he looked” and “I congratulate the young man; it’s the patients’ own faults if they fell for it.” In hindsight, it is always easier to judge things differently, to believe all the information we know now was obvious in the beginning. But the reality is, when people visit health professionals, they typically trust them to be credible, vetted, and experts.

Many (perhaps even most) of us do not take time to really explore who our health professionals are. How much time did you spend investigating your primary care doctor before your first visit? When you were referred to a specialist, how much effort did you expend in reviewing their credentials? When you found a therapist, did you ask questions to determine the best fit or did you schedule with the first person who returned your phone call?

How much time did you spend investigating your primary care doctor before your first visit? When you were referred to a specialist, how much effort did you expend in reviewing their credentials? When you found a therapist, did you ask questions to determine the best fit or did you schedule with the first person who returned your phone call?

Additionally, unethical health professionals may target vulnerable populations, including individuals with low socioeconomic status, ethnic minorities, sexual and gender minorities, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. We have seen this with the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Syphilis Study at Tuskegee in which African-American research participants were purposely left untreated for syphilis despite there being a cure for the disease (Northridge, 2011); the continued practice in some states of conversion therapy, which attempts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals, even with research indicating such practices cause psychological harm (APA, 2015); or the St. Louis Veterans Affairs dental clinic exposing more than 1,800 veterans to HIV and hepatitis. Subjugation to societal discrimination or biases can leave vulnerable populations feeling powerless to assert their rights or question those in positions of power.

It is not helpful to blame the victims when health-related crimes or injustices occur, as it is possible that any of us could be misled by a seemingly legitimate professional. Having said that, there are steps we can take to educate ourselves as consumers and to investigate the credentials of health professionals.

Consider the following:

  • State licensure boards license health care professionals. A simple web search of your state’s licensure board can provide you with information regarding the status of a health professional’s license. Seeking a psychologist? Visit The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards to find your state’s licensure board.
  • Health care professionals may be members of national or state associations. For example, your medical doctor may be a member of the American Medical Association, or your psychologist a member of the American Psychological Association. Membership can lend greater credibility and can alert you to ethical standards your health professional is expected to maintain.
  • Complaints regarding ethical violations, misconduct, or fraud can be filed through your health professional’s state licensure board or professional membership organization. You can also review any previous complaints regarding your health care professional by contacting state licensure and professional membership bodies.
  • If your health professional has certifications, you can check with the certifying organization to verify the certificate. For example, if it is important that your couples counselor is Gottman-trained, you can review therapists through the Gottman Institute website.
  • Research and publications are not necessary for a health professional to be skilled and competent in their field. In fact, many health professionals are so involved with their clinical work that they do not have the time or interest to engage in research. For those health professionals who do, exploring their research and publications can help gauge your health professional’s level of expertise in a particular area.
  • Don’t wait for health professionals to reveal themselves to you. Ask your provider questions to ensure they are the best match for you. This includes asking questions about the provider’s education, expertise, and training. If you don’t feel comfortable with the provider’s answers, find someone else.


  1. American Psychological Association. (2015). Guidelines for psychological practice with transgender and gender nonconforming people. American Psychologist, 70 (9), 832-864.
  2. Northridge, M. (2011). Toward the ethical conduct of science and a socially just world. In R. Katz & R. Warren (Eds.), The search for the legacy of the USPHS Syphilis Study at Tuskegee (pp. 49–58). New York, NY: Lexington.

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kimber Shelton, PhD, Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Daniel

    February 26th, 2016 at 11:25 AM

    For most of us I believe that there is this inherent instinct of knowing who we can tryst and who we can’t. If you really know yourself I think that you can trust your feelings about another person and there is some kind of feeling, call it a sixth sense, that lets you know is this is a person that you can trust with your physical and mental well being.

  • Kim

    February 27th, 2016 at 8:10 AM

    I know that we all think that we have this instinct in us that will tell us if this is a good or a bad person but how does that explain the fact that people get sucked into bad situations every single day by people who are just really good con artists? Now I am not saying that we have to go into every professional or medical situation thinking that but it is also good to do your homework about people, research them online and see what you can find out, get references and talk to friends. It is not ever doing too much when it comes to protecting yourself from getting hurt.

  • R. Hammel

    February 27th, 2016 at 5:42 PM

    And sometimes like Daniel said above, it’s really about going with your gut! Our intuition can often really suss out whether a situation “feels right” or wrong. If something feels wrong we may want to dig deeper and really be sure to protect ourselves.

  • Jillaina

    February 28th, 2016 at 7:23 AM

    Can’t you schedule a first time meeting with a person?
    That would give you a chance to talk to the counselor in not so much a therapeutic setting so that you could ask some questions of him or her to determine if this will be a good fit.
    I don’t think that there is a physician or a therapist out there who would discourage the chance to do that.

  • Adam

    February 28th, 2016 at 3:31 PM

    I have always thought that I would much rather work with someone who has never had even one thing published than I would with someone who is just interested in getting their name in a by line.

  • adelaide

    February 29th, 2016 at 7:15 AM

    I wonder what it is about someone in a professional position like this that makes us hesitant to ask about their credentials as well as complaints which may have been lodged against them. It is like we feel like we should have to blindly trust, which we emphatically do not. If there is something that does not feel right, question it. The truth will eventually come out.

  • Anne

    March 2nd, 2016 at 11:10 AM

    There are things that I think that I need to know and then there would be other things that I don’t think are any of my business.

    I also have this thing that they might think that I am snooping aorund on them and that would give them a bad vibe about me.

  • Stedman

    March 5th, 2016 at 7:48 AM

    I always think that word of mouth from others is bound to be the best way to get an excellent recommendation. Of course there will be some people whose opinions you will value more than others, and that is fine. I think that you have to be willing to talk to several different people about their own therapy experiences and this could help you make the best choice in therapist that will best meet your needs.
    It’s also good to look at who takes your insurance lol

  • sheri

    March 7th, 2016 at 3:35 PM

    The scary thing is that you hear stories all the time about people who have been taken advantage of by their doctors. I am sure that they never thought anything about it until it happened to them, and only then do you start to look back and see some of the warning signs. I am not too sure that in a real con artist this would be readily visible until it may be too late.

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