Tougher sanctions on exploitative therapists urged Patients recount sexual manipulation STATE HOUSE REPORT

February 04, 1993|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer

Patients who were sexually exploited by their therapists backed a proposal yesterday for a task force that would seek remedies to a problem that leads to lives of bitterness.

In testimony that moved some to tears, eight women told a House of Delegates committee yesterday of therapists who lured them into sexual relationships that damaged their mental health and, in some cases, led to suicide attempts and drug addiction.

"I was 21, naive and very trusting of my 52-year-old doctor whom I saw as a sage and a mentor," said Elizabeth Tansey of Baltimore.

"However, knowing the ins and outs of my psyche, my doctor knew just what buttons to push to keep me locked into this destructive situation," she said.

Ms. Tansey, 33, said the 2 1/2 -year relationship left her with "intense shame, alienation from myself and my family and inept psychotherapy." She blames it for two suicide attempts and her inability to trust men or even contemplate raising a family.

Del. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, D-Montgomery, proposed a bill to establish a 22-member task force that would include patients, clergy, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers and lawyers.

By January 1995, the group would propose measures that could range from stiffer penalties for practitioners who exploit their patients to educational programs designed to help both patients and counselors recognize when therapy is becoming inappropriately intimate.

In the past two years, Mr. Teitel

baum has failed to win passage of legislation that would have made sexual misconduct by doctors and therapists a felony or the basis for disciplinary action such as loss of their right to practice.

State regulatory boards have based disciplinary action on broader language barring "immoral or unprofessional conduct," but many patient advocates have said the lack of a specific prohibition has enabled therapists to escape stiff penalties or avoid sanctions altogether.

Mr. Teitelbaum said past efforts failed because legislators did not believe the behavior was as pervasive or injurious as patients claim.

"So we said, OK, they don't understand the need so let's . . . establish the need," he said.

Catherine Nugent, a Baltimore

resident who formed a support group, Treatment Exploitation Recovery Network, said a task force may ease the adversarial relationship between doctors and patients that has thwarted reform efforts.

And, indeed, this year's proposal won the endorsements yesterday of professional organizations representing doctors, nurses, social workers and physical therapists.

Sherry Russell, a 39-year-old Catonsville resident, said in her 20s she consulted a psychiatrist for help with emotional problems stemming from an unhappy childhood. He lured her into a five-year, sexual relationship that included drug use and beatings, she said.

She became so involved in his life that he persuaded her to help him commit insurance fraud, she said.

"I was unable to work and socialize, and I depended on drugs and alcohol," she said.

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