Increase in `false memory' insurance

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MORE than 5,000 psychologists and counsellors have taken out insurance to protect themselves against negligence claims from clients, including allegations of planting false memories of child abuse.

Psychologists are being urged to insure themselves for up to £2.5m each, and the British Psychological Society is urging its members to protect themselves and their clients. So far, 35 per cent of members have signed up.

There is concern that claims are about to soar, as they have in the USA. Among claims that have already been registered with insurers are several concerning false memory syndrome - the planting of child abuse fantasies during therapy. Other claims registered include allegations of libel and slander, and charges of sexual impropriety.

The society's insurance adviser, Dr Roger Litton, said that psychologists were facing threats from a number of areas. "They are very vulnerable because of the way they work.

"We now have 5,000 psychologists and counsellors insured and most are opting for protection of around £1m. We have four bands of protection, from £250,000 to £2.5m."

Dr Litton said that two claims of false memory syndrome had been registered against a psychologist and a counsellor.

"Each is accused of planting memories of child abuse. In both cases it is the parents who are looking for redress."

Other claims include:

l A youth who claimed he did not get a university place because of the advice given to him by an educational psychologist.

l A claim by a company that, on the advice of an occupational psychologist, it hired a top executive who turned out to be inadequate.

l Several allegations of sexual impropriety, including one involving a boy which has now been thrown out after medical evidence established the psychologist concerned was impotent.

In a report to its 7,018 members, the BPS said: "The board recognises that, until now, the society has done no more than draw attention to the desirability of psychologists having personal, professional insurance. The board is, however, aware that the climate in all professions is changing."