State Revokes License Of Well-known Psychologist

September 12, 1990|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff writer

The state has revoked the psychology license of Dennis M. Harrison, a practicing psychologist in Columbia who has enjoyed a national reputation as an expert in child custody and abuse cases.

In a 53-page decision by the state's psychology board released to The Howard County Sun on Monday, the board stated that Harrison's license was revoked due to unprofessional and unethical conduct dating back to 1986.

The decision stated that Harrison failed to follow requirements of confidentiality in some cases, did not complete evaluations and treatment for which he was paid, and in one case allowed his assistant -- a high school student -- to handle treatment sessions for him.

The decision also said that Harrison repeatedly lied about his credentials, saying he had a doctorate in psychology. His doctorate is in philosophy.

Assistant Attorney General Harry J. Matz, representing the State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, said that unless the court chooses to intervene, the revocation is permanent and will preclude Harrison, 43, from practicing psychology in the state.

More than 2,300 psychologists are licensed to practice in Maryland. In the past five years, five have had their licenses revoked for unprofessional behavior, said Roslyn Blankman, administrator for the psychology board.

Harrison's attorney, Jeffrey W. Thompson, said in a written statement Tuesday that Harrison "categorically denies the allegations."

He said the board's actions were prompted by "pressure from various organizations," adding that Harrison was targeted because he is an outspoken advocate for children in sexual abuse cases.

The state board charged that Harrison asked parents and others to help him send into hiding children he believed were being sexually abused.

"The board's decision against Dr. Harrison strikes a blow to the rights of abused children and those doctors who speak out for them," Thompson said in the prepared statement.

Thompson filed suit Monday in Howard County Circuit Court, asking a judge to block the revocation order and to prevent the psychology board from disseminating copies of it to the press and public.The information is considered public information once a final order is signed.

But Judge J. Thomas Nissel, who met with Thompson and Matz in a closed session for an hour, denied that request.

The judge also decided the request to block the order would have to be scheduled for court next week.

If Harrison's request to block the board's order from taking effect is denied, he can appeal the board's decision in Circuit Court.

Harrison, who has practiced psychology for 15 years in Columbia, developed a national reputation for his involvement in child custody cases, particularly those involving allegations of sexual abuse. Among his cases was the highly publicized Washington, D.C., custody battle over Hilary Foretich, daughter of Dr. Elizabeth Morgan and Dr. Eric Foretich.

He also is licensed to practice in Washington, D.C. However, Matz said the licensing board there would be notified of Maryland's action, which would likely result in the loss of a license there.

In its decision to revoke the license Monday, the board outlined complaints from five of Harrison's former patients.

Court records state: *A patient sent to Harrison for counseling about emotional distress stemming from a back injury complained that Harrison spent most of their sessions talking about his child abuse cases. During one session, he graphically described sexual incidents of incest.

During other sessions, Harrison asked the patient if she would travel to Seattle, Wash., to help care for a child who had been sent into hiding. He also asked the woman to hide another child in her parents' home, where she was residing.

*During a highly publicized child custody case in Massachusetts, the mother, who did not have custody, sent the couple's young daughter into hiding. While the child was in hiding, Harrison allegedly interviewed and evaluated her without the court's permission and without telling court officers the child's whereabouts.

He also used photographs and part of a videotape of the child during the television program "A Current Affair" and discussed part of the "child's alleged examination" in a newspaper interview.

*A man placed on probation for five years due to a child pornography conviction was required to meet with Harrison monthly for treatment. But as Harrison's travel schedule and speaking engagements increased, he canceled that client's appointments.

The man "was beginning to get in trouble with his probation officer" as a result. Although Harrison knew the terms of probation required meetings with a psychologist, he instead allowed the man to meet with his assistant -- a high school student clearly not trained as a psychologist -- in lieu of scheduled sessions with Harrison.

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