suemypsychologist

Psychotherapist sexual exploitation: A survivor speaks out

In psychologist, sexual exploitation by a psychotherapist on January 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm

The sexually scheming psychiatrist, continually angling to seduce yet another female patient, is a well-deserved stereotype.  One could merely chuckle knowingly about the sex-obsessed sociopaths that make up much of the psychiatric industry were it not for the lives they ruin with their unethical and illegal behavior.  And, while some people think that such psychotherapists exist only on television’s “In Treatment” or other entertainments, current reports filed with the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) by female patients show that such conduct is happening right now, in present time—maybe even to someone you know.  It is a misdemeanor/felony in many states and is otherwise the basis for civil lawsuits that should be pursued vigorously.

In no other area of health care is the patient in such a state of emotional vulnerability as when they visit a psychiatrist or psychologist.  It is a relationship in which the patient can be most easily exploited and manipulated.  Because of this, the professional codes of the American Psychiatric and American Psychological Associations prohibit sex with patients.

But too many practitioners do not heed these codes.  This is well understood by government and law enforcement: as of 2004, there have been more than 25 statutes enacted to address the increasing number of sex crimes against patients by psychiatrists and psychologists in the United States, Australia, Germany, Sweden and Israel.

“Pushing me under when I was already drowning”

In his 2001 report, “Sex Between Therapists and Clients,” Kenneth Pope, the former head of the Ethics Committee of the American Psychological Association wrote: “The health care professions at their earliest beginnings recognized the harm that could result from sexual involvement with patients.  The Hippocratic Oath, named after a physician who practiced around the fifth century B.C., prohibits sex with patients.” The Oath states, “I will come to the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons…”

Melissa R., of Washington State, originally sought help from a psychiatrist for alcoholism.  She contacted CCHR in March 2009 to report the psychiatrist for engaging in sexual contact with her. “He very much seeded the therapy sessions with sexual innuendo and escalating boundary violations.  I am a victim of sexual abuse.  I was sexually assaulted/raped…when I was 5 or 6 years old….  What he did to me was essentially pushing me under when I was already drowning.  He had the power to help me, and I still struggle to understand why he didn’t.  Between the drugs and the sex, this man nearly killed me.  My question is whether he is predatory or inept?”

Answer: Both.

Predatory

The American Psychiatric Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics states: “…the inherent inequality in the doctor-patient relationship may lead to exploitation of the patient.  Sexual activity with a current or former patient is unethical.”

Similarly, the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code Of Conduct states “Psychologists do not exploit persons over whom they have supervisory, evaluative, or other authority such as clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, and employees.  Psychologists do not engage in sexual intimacies with current therapy clients/patients.”

Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health practitioners are well aware they are serving an emotionally and mentally vulnerable population.  They know the potential damage they can cause by the introduction of sex into the therapeutic relationship.  The only conclusion is that they are less interested in helping the vulnerable patient as they are in dominating them for their own sexual gratification.

But psychiatrists and psychologists rarely consider that raping a patient is rape.  Instead, it is euphemistically called “sexual contact,” a “sexual relationship” or “crossing the boundaries” when one of its members sexually forces himself on a patient, often with the help of drugs or electroshock treatment.

Inept

The mental health profession has never identified the cause of a single so-called mental disorder and neither they nor the pharmaceutical companies has any idea how any psychiatric drug operates in the human body to bring about an alleged “therapeutic” effect.  Yet psychiatrists and other mental health clinicians continue to diagnose patients with mental disorders which they cannot substantiate and then prescribe or endorse drugs—some of which carry federal warnings of increased violent and suicidal behavior.

“I was in a drug-induced mania from clonazepam and alprazolam (both, I later learned are contraindicated for alcoholism) along with Lamictal, Topamax, Lexapro and Lunesta….  During this drug-induced mania, I blew through half of my savings, harassed my former employer, broke up with my boyfriend of five years suddenly…overdosed twice, etc.,” said Melissa R.

The ultimate toll of the harm caused by psychotherapist sex is patient suicide.  About 14% of those who have been sexually involved with a therapist will make at least one attempt at suicide.  One in every hundred patients succeeds.  Factoring in the fearful silence of most victims—only an estimated 1% actually report the abuse—tens of thousands of patients of psychiatric therapists have committed suicide, and thousands more have been hospitalized because of the harm caused to them.

“The shame and humiliation is still very much with me a year and a half later.  I’ve been feeling suicidal…I wake up angry at [former psychiatrist] everyday, and I don’t want to continue to let this person have such an impact on my life.  If at some point in the near future I do manage to kill myself, the doctor will be partly to blame,” said Melissa R. in her report to CCHR.

Use them sexually and then use their “illness” against them

If a patient ever complains, offending psychiatrists first blame the patient’s “mental illness,” then the patient’s inability to “come to terms” with their earlier traumatic experience.  Finally, psychiatrists frequently argue that the patient consented to the “relationship,” despite the obvious abuse.

“His defense was that I was recovering memories of my father sexually abusing me,” said Melissa R. “This is despite the fact that I have never made such allegations, nor did that ever happen. [He said] that I attacked him as he admitted to investigators that he had his penis out.  I was 105 lbs at the time [having] shed 15 lbs from the mania and he has to be 230-250 lbs.”

“Run, don’t walk.”

“The biggest lesson I can impart is that if you think something is fishy, i.e. your psychiatrist is very flirtatious, says inappropriate things, or you just get that weird feeling about them:  Run, don’t walk away,” said Melissa R.  “When someone in that position isn’t 100% interested in your care, the results can be a disaster.  Polypharmacy [the prescribing of multiple drugs at once] is more likely to make you sick than better.  I wish I had listened to my gut feeling.  I wish I hadn’t been naïve enough to believe that just because someone is trained and paid to help means anything.  I hope you will keep his name in a file should he harm someone in the future.  Just like child molesters often have more than one victim, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t end up in trouble again.”

Police, attorneys and prosecutors

Melissa R.’s report is hardly an isolated instance, as CCHR’s files (and the news) are full of such reports.  Sexual exploitation of patients by psychotherapists is quite common but victims who report it are so often regarded as “crazy” or “just a psychiatric patient” that they are not likely to risk potential humiliation.  When one does muster up the courage to come forward, police, civil attorneys and prosecutors need to recognize it as an opportunity to identify and remove a destructive entity from the community: Investigate and prosecute/litigate to the fullest.

Please contact Steve Wagner, Director of Litigation and Prosecution, CCHR International for more information on psychiatric sexual exploitation: 800-869-2247 or swagner@cchr.org

Article used with permission of Citizens Commission on Human Rights International.

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