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Internet Complaints Against Mental Health Professionals

December 2, 2013

Working with parents whose marriages are on the cusp of failure or already separated parents fighting it out over the care of their children is a challenging proposition for the mental health professional.

Whether acting in the role of couple therapist, mediator, assessor, arbitrator or parenting coordinator, there is a sub-group of persons for whom none of these services provide relief.

Common to these circumstances is the propensity of at least one of the parents to project all manner of blame upon the other parent. Sometimes both parents engage in the blame game with neither taking any responsibility nor appreciating their own contribution to distress.

We refer to persons who are apt to project blame while minimizing or outright denying their own contribution to distress and whose behavior creates conflict and distress with others as high conflict persons.

Other strategies high conflict persons deploy to blame others and avoid responsibility include deflection, denial, deception, distortion and denigration. While presenting themselves as victims of others, these high conflict persons are remarkably adept at spinning convoluted stories that demonize the target of their discontent as the sole cause of problems.

Once the service provider comes to understand the nature of this high conflict person, the service provider must either find a way to help the high conflict person recognize the errors in their own judgment and behavior and/or report upon it and/or facilitate recommendations and/or make decisions with a view to mitigating the destruction imposed by their often intense, provocative and abusive behavior.

However, the very nature of the high conflict person can and often precludes them from understanding or appreciating the intervention made necessary by their own behavior. As such and feeling thwarted by the service provider, the service provider becomes their next target of blame. All the strategies deployed against their former partner or co-parent are next used against the service provider.

The Internet has provided a unique opportunity for high conflict persons to ply their trade. With the service provider as their new target of blame, these high conflict persons post their diatribes to the Internet hoping to discredit or vindictively run the service provider out of business. Indeed and unique to this generation, thanks to the Internet, high conflict persons can find each other and literally band together to create a chorus of like-minded complaints.

There is little the service provider can do to protect him or herself directly from the vindictive and spurious complaints of persons who hide in anonymity. This is a new and remarkable form of abuse perpetrated at the service provider whose only recourse is to ignore and move forward or, and unfortunately, limit their involvement in this much needed area of work. Without these service providers, these high conflict persons might otherwise continue to wreak ruin upon the other parent, their families and children.

Having searched the Internet and found countless complaints regarding well-regarded colleagues, it is clear this is not a unique phenomenon now amongst those mental health professionals who work with high conflict persons.

Indeed those of whom who have anonymous complaints registered about them on the Internet, yet continue to practice are likely those who have shown the resolve, not to be intimidated in the face of abuse.

If you are in a difficult situation with a high conflict person and you find a service provider whose has been complained of, yet continues to practice, then this might be the best person to understand your predicament and offer service.

It is remarkable how high conflict persons often behave in ways contrary to their own interests and goals. I am learning that even though seeking to undermine the livelihood of these service providers, in many cases their referrals increase, thanks to the badmouthing of the high conflict person’s diatribes on the Internet. Seems people do see their messages as more a reflection upon themselves than the service provider.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.


Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. Thanks Merry Christmas!!!


  2. Sharon Sidders permalink

    Ahhh! welcome to the world of child protection! Team Managers and senior managers spend countless hours responding to unfounded complaints. For newer workers this, among many others factors, can rock their world and undermine their confidence so they question their abilities. Additionally, here in the UK, a judge has allowed the precedent to be set of filming Social Workers removing children and then posting it on the Internet along with the workers name and where they work.
    (An American working in the UK)

  3. Peter Roseman permalink

    You know, the way you describe these “High Conflict” people sounds an awful lot like those you’ve described previously a NPD! Any wonder that they would re-enact their subverted (and pathologic) family role in cyber-space, projected onto the “perpetrator” of their own demise! Anyone who would work with these people would have to be going for sainthood! (Truth be told, I have only minimal experience working with NPD’s or people akin to them — your writing here talks about why I don’t!! Thanks for your revelations here Gary


  4. Jan Hembree PhD permalink

    Thank you for writing this.

  5. I received these other comments from my Linked In connections:

    Jane Green, LCSW, BCD
    Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Board Certified Diplomate

    This is routine for Parenting Coordinators and/or Social Investigators. Fl Statute 61.125 No. 9 protects family law professionals working under a court order but the licensing board will still investigate.

    Those of us who have the stomach for it, continue to work in spite of the “blame-game”. I feel there are parents who would rather fight and be activists than parent. I have former clients make websites devoted to how I am the problem.

    I have had clients that were battling with their child in the middle for a decade before I was appointed. However, guess whose fault it all turns out to be?
    Luckily I have good support systems to deal with this. However, many therapists will not see the children of these folks. Attorneys opt out of the field of family law.

    We lose the services of great professionals because of the propensity to blame. Taking responsibility is so freeing. Imagine how much time a parent could spend with their child if they were not so busy making hate web sites or filing complaints and being angry. I would rather be a parent than an activist : )

    Glenn Peppiatt, Ph.D., LL.M.
    Divorce Coach at Glenn B. Peppiett, Barrister

    Great article, Gary. One comment that I have is that the complainer does NOT realize that the vitriol that they spew reflects badly on him/ her and not on the service provider. As much as he/ she would like to destroy the service provider , what they accomplish is just the opposite !!!

  6. Indeed, this is something to consider. Has this issue been brought up within the association of socialworkers?

  7. Tony permalink

    Gee you sound wonderful! Self proclaimed expert! You are so out of touch with reality it’s scary that you can effect so many lives, much in the way hitler did!

  8. Gary, so sorry to hear that.. As an ADHD Coach myself I often run into high conflict/drama situations, this year has been a tough one for some reason ( I like to believe its because I am ‘being taught’ about boundaries) & I have attracted more than my usual share of personal critisism.. It’s tough to keep from taking it personally..Like you say about Professionals sometimes opting out of that line of work because of their experiences with these types of people, this experience has also sadly made me wary of certain types of clients..
    One peice of advice I am now heeding is to post my online articles etc on sites where comments are only to be made by people who give their names. Anonymity it seems increases the lure for angry people to vent with no apparent consequences…
    I for one am glad you found a way to keep helping others and putting yourself ‘out there’ despite those negative experiences. Because so many people can & do benefit from your work and it would be such a shame to have some of those negative folks win that prize and cost your many followers a wonderful source of wisdom.

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