It is with mixed emotions that I write this complaint regarding my former psychotherapist, Dr. X, a psychotherapist in New Jersey. Though he helped me through some very difficult times, any progress I made during therapy has been erased in the aftermath of his behavior. I have been exploited by Dr. X. I am willing to answer questions and elaborate on this matter.
In reviewing state statutes regarding professional behavior, I believe Dr. X has violated many rules designed to protect the public. I am committed to ensuring that what happened to me will not happen to anyone else and that Dr. X is held accountable for his behavior.
How I Became Involved
On November 3, 2003, I brought my daughter Melissa, age 9, to Dr. X for help with problems due to anxiety; soon my daughter Katherine, age 12, began to see him regularly as well. I began individual counseling with him December 22, 2004, which continued regularly until September 15, 2005. Also, my husband and I attended regular marriage counseling sessions from January 14 until May 12, 2005. My husband saw him individually once as well. Melissa saw him regularly until November 2, 2005. We spent over $10,000 (out-of-pocket) on Dr. X's professional services.
I had never been in therapy before and initially found the experience very positive. I thought Dr. X was a compassionate man who genuinely cared about my problems. I felt a strong connection with him. I began to rely on him for insight and empathy. He soon became a powerful person in my life, and I took him very seriously. I had complete confidence in his skills as a therapist. I trusted him.
On January 25, 2005, Dr. X asked if I would like to go to The Berkshire Retreat Center with him and his wife. The Berkshire Retreat Center is an intense learning experience held over 3 14-hour days in a workshop setting. Over 100 participants are coached by a leader on how to meaningfully transform their lives. During the evening session of Day 3 (Sunday), participants share newly acquired insights with each other and invited guests. Dr. and Mrs. X had been invited as guests that night, and Dr. X invited me to go with them. He gave me a ride there, and we also had dinner together. Dr. and Mrs. X attended a similar evening session on March 7, 2005, when I participated in the The Berkshire Retreat Center. I invited him to attend as my friend, and we sat together that evening. I was honored that he took a special interest in helping me by introducing me to The Berkshire Retreat Center. I took two Berkshire Retreat Center courses in 2005.
On May 12, after our last marriage counseling session, Dr. X asked my husband and me if we would like to go out to dinner with him and his wife. We agreed. On May 30, my entire family had dinner with Dr. and Mrs. X at a local restaurant, followed by a trip to a local ice cream parlor. On June 4, we had dinner together and attended a concert. Then my family and I, and Dr. and Mrs. X went to lunch at a local restaurant before attending the Broadway musical "Wicked" in New York City on June 20,2005. We also met for drinks one Friday afternoon in June at a local cafe.
At the time, I thought that socializing with Dr. X was a positive thing and did not realize the harm that could come from it. Dr. X can be a very charming and charismatic man. I loved spending time with him outside of sessions. Though we discussed these "boundary violations" in therapy, I felt very special knowing that he broke the rules for me. Socializing intensified my romantic feelings for him, though Dr. X attributed my feelings to "'transference." This idea confused me, as did Dr. X's behavior. In sessions after socializing, his usual warm and affectionate demeanor frequently turned cold and distant. I felt as if I was being punished for socializing with him. This added to my growing anger and confusion in therapy.
On numerous occasions, Dr. X told me about his personal problems and conflicts. Most of what he shared did not directly relate to my problems. The intimate nature and frequency of these discussions intensified as therapy continued. He told me about his two failed marriages, problems in his current marriage, and his conflicts in his relationships with his children and step-children. He was angry at his stepson for not allowing more contact with his step-grandson. His children had problems too. He had disappointing friendships. He was also feeling "burned out" in his career, and wanted to change his professional life.
I loved it when he shared his personal feelings with me during my sessions. I was flattered that he trusted me enough to discuss his own problems. It made me feel closer to him, like I was more than just a client. His problems became important to me.
I now realize that this was part of being exploited, i.e., he benefited from telling me his problems. His needs were being met when I expressed my concern for him. I believe that my therapy was seriously compromised by knowing so much about his personal life.
Unprofessional Behavior in General
Dr. X frequently interrupted sessions to talk on the telephone to his wife, clients, or friends. He told me about other clients and their problems. One tragic case involved the death of another client's daughter. His wife sometimes visited during sessions. Dr. X described his vacations and shared personal photos. The day after a business associate of Dr. X died in an auto accident, much of my session was spent listening to Dr. X inform his colleagues. He often gave me business cards from local businesses, encouraging me to use them. I went to a chiropractor and joined a workout club based on his recommendations. I also purchased an Alpha-Stim device from him (for $524.70) in hopes it would reduce my daughter's anxiety. (Alpha-Stim devices are advertised as providing relief from depression, anxiety, and insomnia.)
During a session in June, Dr. X handed me his phone and asked me to say 'hello' to Elizabeth. I knew about Elizabeth from prior conversations with Dr. X . They had spent time together in his home hot tub and had touched each other provocatively (even though their spouses were present). Once when I called him to ask for a ride to Nyack (where we had dinner together and attended a concert), he said he had just been talking to Elizabeth about me. He took pictures of me with his digital camera during a session on June 22, saying he wanted to show his wife my new hairstyle. He said he would show me how to use his digital camera someday.
Beginning in December, 2004, Dr. X sometimes told me that he loved me during sessions. Beginning in the spring, cell phone calls from him gradually increased. We kissed as a social gesture for several weeks in the spring. He sometimes called me "Sweetheart." We hugged after almost every session. Special attention from him was very intoxicating and fostered my romantic feelings for him.
Some of his misconduct was hurtful. During a particularly emotional session in July, he said that it was pathetic having to sit there and listen to me whine about my problems. He abruptly terminated my therapy on August 27, causing me much upset until we resumed at my request on August 30. On September 9, the day after a session I now realize was rife with sexual misconduct, he called me and explained that it “was just the testosterone talking yesterday.".
Unprofessional Behavior to My Daughter
Dr. X took my daughter Susanne, age 16, out to lunch on August 24, 2005.
Susanne was visibly upset when she returned. She had been crying and said that Dr. X had acted "really weird." Though the purpose of their lunch had been to discuss Susanne's emerging modeling career, Dr. X was interested in other topics. He asked my daughter if she had a boyfriend. After lunch at a local restaurant, he took her to a nearby isolated park where he led her to a bench to sit and talk. He told her that from the first moment he saw her, he knew that she was very special. Dr. X looked into her eyes, took her hand, kissed it, and told her that he loved her. He told my daughter that I was deeply in love with him and that I would leave my husband for him. As they walked back to his car, Dr. X asked my daughter if she found him physically attractive. Though he contacted her inquiring about more lunch dates, Susanne avoided any future involvement with him. Susanne and I went through much hurt and upset over this event.
About 4 months after I began therapy, the atmosphere began to slowly change.
Though confusing to me at the time, I now realize that I fell in love with Dr. X. He guessed my feelings for him during a session in late June. When I asked him how long he had known, he said "Oh, about 4 months." I had fantasies of a shared life together outside of therapy. He knew this. He attributed my feelings to "transference," though I believed that I was deeply in love with him.
Discussions of an intimate sexual nature gradually increased over several months. For example, in March, Dr. X told me that he enjoys cross-dressing, that he is sexually unsatisfied in his current marriage, enjoys pornography, and frequently masturbates. In June, he told me about a prior sexual encounter with a client named Felicia. On July 7, he showed me photographs he printed from his favorite pornographic website, showed me a bottle of herbal supplements he had purchased to increase his own breast size, and said that I had "nice-sized jugs." He asked me if I wanted to "go upstairs for about 20 minutes," but I declined. He arranged for us to spend time together the following Monday morning but called me later that afternoon to withdraw the offer, asking if things could "go back to the way they were before."
He told me about another herbal supplement he used that claimed to increase sexual "staying power," as he wanted to make his own sexual experiences last longer. He told me that once while watching the cleaning lady make his bed, he got an obvious erection. He speculated about my own sex life, commenting that I probably "had sex everyday" and that I struck him as being "willing to experiment" sexually. In a March session, he said that if we weren't already married (to other people) we would have "probably already had sex by now" because that was "the natural progression of this relationship." Discussions about having a sexual relationship with each other intensified. He never ruled out the possibility, citing "that grey area" in the future.
He was almost always cold and distant in sessions following his sexual self-disclosures, making me feel as if I had done something wrong by listening to him. Thoroughly confused and angry, I quit therapy twice during the summer (July 19, and August 1) only to return. I now realize that the "therapy" had become all about our relationship.
During my session on September 8, he sat next to me on the arm of my reclining chair, caressed me, held me, and kissed my neck. The atmosphere was highly erotic. Driving home from that session, he called me 3 times on my cell phone, asking me to return to his office to watch him masturbate. On September 13, he called me and invited me over to his house to spend time alone with him. We spent several hours together that afternoon engaged in various forms of sexual contact, including oral sex and sexual intercourse.
Termination of Therapy
I attended a session on September 15, 2005, and terminated therapy 2 days later.
Though I felt "shell shocked" for several weeks afterwards, I began to realize what had happened to me following a phone call from Dr. X on October 25. During that conversation, which also had sexual overtones, he said, "Here's what happened. You fell in love with me. You seduced me, and I exploited you." I angrily terminated my daughter Melissa's therapy via phone on November 3, 2005.
At no point during my therapy was I ever referred to another colleague.
The Impact of This Behavior
I am left profoundly hurt by Dr. X. I feel intense guilt and shame over my own behavior. I am also confused by having deep feelings of grief and loss over a relationship that I now realize as being clearly abusive. I have deep feelings of rejection and abandonment. I have been diagnosed by my current therapist (a clinical psychologist) with "Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood"(DSM-IV 309.28). I am also being treated by a psychiatrist with medication for "Major Depressive Disorder" (DSM-IV 296.3).
My family has also suffered. My children know only that Dr. X acted very unprofessionally and that I am saddened and upset by it. I told my husband the entire story. He has been very supportive, though it is difficult for him to understand how I became so emotionally entangled with Dr. X. My daughter Melissa, now age 11, is bewildered at the loss of her once-trusted therapist.
I have struggled with revealing the confidences he trusted me to keep. But I trusted him too. I was very vulnerable and needy when I came to him for help. I trusted him to know what was best for me. He was my therapist.
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