When I was a graduate student one of my colleagues was married to an Ophthalmologist who had his own practice. She asked three of us to schedule an examination and gave each of us cash to pay for the exam. This was a win-win. We got free eye examinations and they were able to “follow the money” in their practices.

            This experiment was suggested by their accountant. This is because they knew that sometimes “cash walks away” in practices.     They were able to see if the money that we paid was properly recorded and placed with the other accounts receivable from that day. Turns out that all of our payments made it to the right place.

            However, go to a large professional meeting and ask if anyone has ever had a staff member steal money from their practice. You will be surprised as to the number of hands that are raised and the stories (and amounts) that are told. However, embezzlement is something that is rarely spoken about. I believe the main reason is that clinicians are embarrassed to say that someone has stolen from them.

            In my co-authored (with Jeff Barnett) book Financial Success in Mental Health Practice we present an interview with Psychologist Dr. Jennifer Kelly regarding her experience with embezzlement by an employee. Turns out that the employee (who was hired thru a staffing agency that said they did background checks) was a convicted felon. She embezzled $128,000 from Dr. Kelly’s practice! Dr. Kelly courageously and generously shared her story with us. This is clearly the largest amount we have ever heard of but we have also heard other stories of thousands of dollars being stolen by either sociopathic or desperate employees.

            Jeff and I advise that you speak with your accountant to learn strategies to safeguard your hard-earned money. If you are overly trusting (even with family or friends) with the people who are handling your money you may be inviting disaster.


Steven Walfish, Ph.D. is a Licensed Psychologist in Atlanta and a Partner at The Practice Institute (www.thepracticeinstitute.com). Direct questions or comments to stevewalfishphd@thepracticeinstitute.com. TPI now has an affiliate agreement with an environmental psychologist, Dr. Sally Augustin to do consultations regarding the design of office space for mental health professionals. She combines the research data on office design for clinicians with a designer’s touch. See more about this consultation on our Practices Services page at http://thepracticeinstitute.com/publications-and-products/practice-services