A few months ago when I wrote Healing From Client-Related Trauma, Wendy Williams reached out and proposed a post about how to stay safe in private practice. As an avid fan of safety, I agreed that it would be really helpful to the Abundance community. Wendy breaks it down into what may seem like obvious steps to some, but I’m pretty sure I’ve personally broken at least half of these in the past week, lulled by my assumption that I’m safe. Interesting given that not long before I wrote that blog post a woman who worked on my office’s very safe street was violently murdered by a stranger. Safety is one of those things we can take for granted and I very much want all of you to be careful without feeling hypervigilant and safe without feeling guarded. These tips help. Here’s Wendy:

Safety In Your Private Practice

Recently I was reading a facebook post from a therapist who experienced a dangerous situation with one of her clients. Luckily with the assistance from her colleagues and office staff, the client was removed from the office and the therapist not harmed. When encountering a potential or actual dangerous incident with a client, it becomes an eye opener for all therapists.

 After reading that Facebook post, I kept thinking about the NYC Psychologist Dr. Kathryn Faughey who was murdered in her office by one of her clients in 2008. This story has hit home for me since Dr. Faughey office was located thirty minutes east from where I live. In the past I have worked with clients who have a history of violence in both community and office setting. It’s very important to learn the following safety precautions in your workplace in order to prevent the same tragedy that happened to Dr. Faughey.

  1. Review Your Office Layout– Make sure your desk and chair is not position where you have to walk pass your client to get to the door. Your chair should be closer to the door so you can make a quick exit.
  1. Keep All Doors Secure– Make sure you keep the doors lock when working alone. Buzzers and doorbells allows you to screen visitors. Check if your office has alarms, and video cameras installed.  
  1. Park You Car In Well Lit Areas– Park your car closer to the entrance of your office. Avoid carrying a lot of items to your car. If your office is in a large corporate building, ask a security guard to assist you at night. Try avoid working late at night.
  1. Screen Your Potential Clients– Don’t be afraid to ask clients about their previous hospital admissions, substance abuse history, domestic violence, or forensic history. Speak to their referral sources (therapists, doctors, probation officers, attorneys, etc) about client’s history. Red flags can determine how much risk a client has in becoming aggressive.
  1. Be Aware Of Your Surroundings. For therapists who make home visits, pay close attention to the neighborhood and the outside of your client’s home. Dark windows at the house, shady people surrounding the client’s home are some of things to take into consideration. If it does not look safe, do not get out of your car. Listen to your sixth sense….that is your adrenaline trying to protect you. Do not visit your client if he/she exhibits bizarre or verbally aggressive behavior on the phone. Contact local mobile crisis team or police office to accompany you to the home.
  1. Do Not Hesitate To Call For Help– Carry a panic button which will alert the local police when facing a dangerous client. Make a safety plan or a drill with other colleagues in the office. Colleagues and other professionals in the office should interrupt your session if they hear client becoming more verbally aggressive.
  1. Learn Self-Defense– Yes, we are therapists and our job is to nurture, understand, and help our clients who are in need. However, when it comes to safety, your life is more important. Learning some self-defense techniques will not kill your clients but it would protect you from harm and allow you to escape from a dangerous environment. There are plenty of self-defense classes to choose from in the community (libraries, martial art studios, community centers, etc). I attended a professional conference where they had a self-defense workshop on the agenda
  1. Be Cautious of Your Interaction– Speak in a calm tone when being confronted by an angry client. If client refuse to calm down, excuse yourself by saying your need to use the restroom and then leave the office and call 911 or security for help. It’s hard to hear a client calling you every name in the book but being hostile would only make the situation worse. Remember, they are not able to control themselves but you have the ability to control yourself.

Therapists are not obligated to treat clients who have history of aggression and who had already displayed aggression during a previous session. You should follow your protocol in termination of client services however, you should not refer the aggressive client to any of your colleagues for safety reasons. Just remember, safety first!

Wendy Williams LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker who has a private practice in Uniondale, NY. Wendy specializes in clients who are experiencing life transitions, chronic illnesses, and cultural concerns. Wendy graduated from Adelphi University with a masters degree in Social Work in 2006. Wendy’s work experience includes but not limited to VA Hospital, St. Barnabas Hospital, and Hospice of NY.


Allison Puryear is an LCSW with a nearly diagnosable obsession with business development. She has started practices in three different states and wants you to know that building a private practice is shockingly doable when you have a plan and support. After retiring her individual consultation services, she opened the Abundance Party, where you can get practice-building help for the cost of a copay. You can download a free private practice checklist to make sure you have your ducks in a row, get weekly private practice tips, listen to the podcast, hop into the free Facebook Group. Allison is all about helping you gain the confidence and tools you need to succeed.

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