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Why is a Couch Like a Turkey?

Avoiding Malpractice: Tips for Social Workers to Manage Risk

Why is a Couch Like a Turkey?

In early November, each crisp fall day’s golden sunlight grows shorter and wanes into the cold dark night. We see the bright, colorful, and radiant leaves sparkling in the autumn sun sinking low on the horizon. We smell the woodsy humus fragrance of the fallen leaves and acorns from the tall oak trees rooted in the damp dark earth. As our minds wander in a sort of Freudian free-associative state, we remember our happy childhood memories of days gone by. Those days marked with the anticipation of the coming holidays, and Thanksgiving Day rapidly approaching. A time for self-reflection, sharing, and greeting family and friends at warm social gatherings. Some folks may still remember the child’s Thanksgiving riddle: “Why is a couch like a turkey? Because they are both full of stuffing”! We’ll talk more about the contextual perspectives of the couch later.

Yet today, still tens of thousands of human beings in our nation are not so lucky. They suffer indescribably. Many of our brothers and sisters don’t have happy childhood memories, and if they did, the memories are displaced as they struggle each day in misery and despair. They face a myriad of challenges just to survive, while Social Workers nobly lead the way towards a hopeful recovery. This is a dangerous trail because frequently, social workers serve in a threatening environment riddled with violence. The social work profession is truly a noble endeavor rooted in the values of service, integrity, and clinical competence. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to social workers. Thank you for all that you do.

The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017 reported that there is 1 felonious assault death per 100,000 social workers per year. According to a report by AFGE dated July 15, 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that during the period 2011 and 2013 there were 24,000 workplace assaults, and 75% of them occurred in the social services setting. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Health Care and Social Services settings sustained 52% of all workplace violence incidents.

These are merely the reported assaults. Insurance carriers and Lloyds London reinsurance syndicates admit that there are many more assaults in the social services setting that go unreported. A Lloyds London professional liability syndicate insurance carrier recently reported that their reported claims losses indicate that 690 per 100,000 social workers are assaulted annually while providing Professional Services. On average, they suffer 19 days out of work for injury recovery. If drug and alcohol issues are involved, the assault incidents almost triple to 2,000 per 100,000 social workers per year.

To address this alarming situation, NASW Assurance Services launched a new, and free Felonious Assault insurance policy at no cost to NASW members who are active policyholders in the NASW endorsed life and health insurance program with The Hartford. The notice letters were issued by NASW Assurance Services in October 2019, so retain your Felonious Assault policy notice in your file. It is worth $25,000 in cash.

If an insured dies due to a felonious assault while providing Professional Services, including traveling to or from the case assignment, the policy pays $25,000 to the insured’s estate to satisfy outstanding liabilities of the social work practice including the expenses arising from terminating or reconciling the practice. If any cash benefits remain from the $25,000 cash death benefit, the cash transfers into the insured’s estate. This Felonious Assault policy is insured and underwritten by the NASW Insurance Company Inc., is approved by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking insurance regulators, and is a free NASW conditional member benefit.

This is our way of saying “THANK YOU” for all the noble work that you do to heal society and the risks that you sustain every day while doing this great work for people.

So why do we talk about a “couch”? Philosophically and briefly speaking, there are at least three interpretations of a couch that come to mind. More creative interpretations will likely turn up while pondering this question further. We prescribe various meanings and resultant outcomes that are eventually derived depending on the context, facts, and circumstances combined with our own experiences through which we view the “couch” using our respective lenses and perceptions as follows:

  1. The child’s view. A simple riddle of a couch being stuffed like a turkey.
  2. The Freudian view. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, pioneered the use of a couch as an evolution from the hypnotic method to a mutual free-associative method. Essentially while lying on the couch relaxing, the client letting the mind wander and engage in free and open dialog. (“Freud’s Couch: Why a Comfortable Couch Matters”, Medleyhome.com, 11/16/2016)
  3. The insurance risk view. The couch is a chattel or personal property. Its replacement value or depreciable basis can be insured through a property cover. The liabilities arising from interaction with the couch as a therapy tool and/or as an office fixture for visitors can also be insured through a professional liability insurance policy and a general liability insurance policy.

It is the third element, insurance risk, that NASW Assurance Services and the NASW Risk Retention Group perceive the couch. Using literal insurance-speak, and our contextual insurance experiential perspective, the couch represents an element of potential professional liability and insurance claim for bodily injury if a client slips off the couch during a therapy session, or trips over it. The couch can also be the root cause of a general liability insurance claim if business invitees or client trips and falls over it thereby sustaining an injury. Understandably, the simple insurance perspective of the couch is much less cerebral and profound compared to the Freudian perspective of the couch.

So much for the philosophical perspective of this month’s tip. From a purely pragmatic utilitarian perspective, just remember that we protect you. When you buy insurance policies that are offered by NASW Assurance Services and the NASW Risk Retention Group, they cover you like gravy on turkey and mashed potatoes, so “gobble” them up!

Happy Thanksgiving from your friends here at NASW Assurance Services!

Published November 2019

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