Friday, February 4, 2011

Crime, stupidity and responsibility among mental health professionals

I in no way want to promote the Church of Scientology nor am I in the fan club of Dr. Thomas Szasz.
I don’t have much to say about Scientology other than the fact that it gets pretty annoying to be accused of being a Scientologist simply because I question the validity of a diagnostic category like Attention Deficit Disorder and maybe I’ve suggested that giving amphetamines to young children might not be the best solution to this non-disease.
On the other hand, I could say a lot about Szasz who is something like the father of the anti-psychiatry movement.  I certainly think that he has done a lot of good by questioning the assumptions and practices in the mental health field going all the way back to the 1950’s.  Unfortunately, his discourse and that of his anti-psychiatry disciples is just as ideological and lacking in factuality as the worst drivel coming out of NAMI and from pharmaceutical marketers and the APA for that matter.  But, we’ll save that discussion for a later post.
Today, I just wanted to share about their Psychiatric Crimes Database, a rogues' gallery of badly behaved mental health professionals.  It makes for a, maybe not exactly fun, but perhaps amusing at times and otherwise disturbing read.  It is part of a website presented to the world by the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights (CCHR).  CCHR is a joint effort by Szasz and the Scientologists dating back to 1969.  Its mission is to ”investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights and to clean up the field of mental healing.”
They claim to have aided in increasing prosecutions of mental health professionals of all kinds and to have promoted improved ethical and legal standards in the industry.  As to the later of these claims, I cannot vouch for the activities of CCHR itself, but I can say from my experience in mental health that the consistent pressure from the psychiatric survivor and anti-psychiatry movements, which have at least symbolic if not real leadership and impetus from Szasz, have had an actual and positive impact in the industry by increasing awareness and respect for things like informed consent and patient/client choice.  Yet, that being said, I do have to question what they seem to want to imply about themselves and the industry with their database.
Carrie Denbow, social worker, had her license suspended, according to the CCHR site, due to accusations she had sexual relations with a minor client in a motel room with two other students while drinking and smoking marijuana.  The client was an adolescent to whom she was providing counseling.  It is further alleged that Ms. Denbow took the client to her office three or four times a week where she performed oral sex followed by intercourse.  It is also alleged she broke confidence by seeking relationship advice from her minor client's peers.  Ms. Denbow was let go from her job in 2009.
The Psychiatirc Crimes Database is, very simply, a list of prosecutions and licensing censures against mental health professionals.  It appears to be updated quite frequently; there are eleven items in the database for January of 2011.  If CCHR had a role in any of these investigations, it is not evident and seems unlikely.  It appears to simply be a list of items gathered from the news and public records.  Items span a gambit of crimes and ethical violations.  Just in the last couple of months we see everything from a psychologist having his license placed on probation due to DUI to a psychiatrist charged with attempted murder for stabbing a patient twice in the chest with a sword.
My non-scientific cursory look at the database leads me to the conclusion that the most common category is the big no-no of sexual relationships between providers and clients, in some cases with minor clients.  This appears to be followed by billing and documentational faults leading to charges of fraud.  A third category is providing excessive prescriptions of controlled substances, sometimes for a payoff, sometimes without medical examination (as in being handed out in a public park in one case).  Otherwise, items are a miscellany of misdemeanors, violations and serious crimes.
The website explains its purpose:
The following database is being presented as a public interest service to law enforcement agencies, health care fraud investigators, immigration offices, international police agencies, medical and psychological licensing boards, and the general public.
And claims to impact larger issues:
Many psychiatrists have an intimate knowledge of criminality-one which has nothing to do with the professions involvement in the expert witness field.
  • Between $20 billion and $40 billion is defrauded by the American psychiatric industry in any given year.
  • At least 10% of psychiatrists admit to sexually abusing their patients: In America, that's at least 4,500 rapes and, internationally, more than 15,000 rapes.
  • Psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists have the dubious distinction of having laws specifically designed to curtail their tendency to commit sex crimes against those in their charge.
  • A 1992 study of Medicaid and Medicare insurance fraud in the U.S. showed psychiatry to have the worst track record of all medical disciplines.
They don’t indicate how they came up with the specific numbers (e.g., 10% of psychiatrists admit to sexually abusing patients), but it is also true that both Szasz and the Scientologists share an overall denouncement of the very concept of mental illness and this database has to be seen as part of their larger pogrom against all things psychiatric.
Psychiatrist Douglas Rank who, according to CCHR, was charged with stabbing a woman in the chest twice with a sword in front of his office.  The wounds were life-threatening, but she survived after hospitalization.   She was apparently both his patient and in a "personal relationship" with him.  Rank was sentenced to 15 years after plea bargaining down from attempted murder to first-degree assault.  He had previously been investigated for over medicating and having sex with a patient.
Speaking to that implied intent, I have to feel that simply listing every kind of crime and stupid behavior of individual mental health providers cannot be taken as a condemnation of the industry as a whole.  There is plenty of room to criticize the mental health field and all of its tenuous assumptions and cherished beliefs, but, in my opinion, the fact that a particular California psychologist had his license placed on a probationary status, for instance, according to the CCHR site, because he was found awakening from unconsciousness in a department store after hours with a pocket full of methamphetamine, has no real bearing on the field of mental health other than the fact that it is peopled by human beings who are capable of addictions, errors, criminality and stupidity as humans are in any profession.  
Furthermore, the fact that professionals are censured, placed on probation, suspended and prosecuted, if anything, indicates that the industry does in fact have good safeguards and oversight by which to protect consumers and the public.
Yet, the database does have an impact on the reader, and if you haven’t yet, I suggest every one take a look at it who has an interest in mental health whether as a provider, consumer, family member or interested bystander.  If nothing else, it serves as a reminder that it is always a good idea to be cautious and do a little research before accepting a particular professional as the mechanic of your mind, so to speak.