SEX WITH THE IMPROPER THERAPIST
by Paul Morantz
Copyright October 24, 2015
My book Escape: My Lifelong War Against Cults also discussed my role in the evolution of the rise of lawsuits against psychotherapists who have sex with patients. Eventually the prohibition against the same became part of California statutory law. I could not in the book discuss all my cases; a limitation had to be made on the pages. But starting in early 80’s I became a pioneer in exposing the damages to patients from sex with their therapist. And about 60% of all psychotherapists had done the deed at least once. It was not all males doing women. There were female therapist s doing male and/or female patients.
An investigator for the Board of Medical Quality Assurance referred a lot of therapist sex victims to me. The Board was really not supposed to make referrals to private attorneys, but when I first started taking therapist – sex cases in the early 80s there were not many plaintiff lawyers knowledgeable in the area and not knowing how to properly plead such a case could be detrimental including losing of insurance coverage for the defendant (however insurance policies today generally have exclusions for sexual acts and further the courts find them to be excludable intentional acts and do not find coverage because the accompanying pled negligent cause of actions generally arise out of the seduction)).
The most interesting case I will call the case of Sarah Reynolds, although that is not her real name. Or simply call her Poor Sarah as events in her early life were not kind. The account is restricted by the attorney client privilege and what is presented here is from public file, omplaint, pleadings, discovery, records, recording, documents and sworn testimony, not from private discussion with client.
It’s in the 90s and Sarah, 29, lived back East. She routinely called a hotline for minors who were being sexually molested and complained she was a teen-ager abused by her uncle. When it became suspected she was not a minor and as misuse of the minor-call-for help system was a crime she was arrested for her fakery. The authorities decided she should get help and somehow a Los Angeles husband and wife who were both psychotherapists were contacted. We will call them George and Nancy Cohen. Sight unseen, the therapist couple had Sarah put on a bus and brought to their home to live where the psychologists would treat her. Oddly, she was entrusted to be the Nanny to their 2 children.
The wife, noting that Sarah had exhibited a teenager’s personality on the hotline, concluded Sarah had a multiple personality disorder and was excited to treat her, as if getting a prize. Because of the popularity of such characters in the movies, lesser psychotherapists r were routinely in high hopes of making such diagnosis of one of the own patients so they could brag about it when in fact there have never been more than a handful of real known such cases throughout history. But there are many cases where the therapist convinces the patient of the same, and the patient wanting to please the therapist manufactures multiple personalities and comes to believe they are real. When the therapist then asks for another personality by name the patient obliges and conjures the person up.
Poor Sarah fell into that category. She definitely wanted to please her new therapists who were also role playing as her new quasi-parents. Her real father had skipped away when Sarah was born and her mother gave her up when she was 4. When she was finally adopted, the bonds were apparently not sufficient to overcome her loss. To Poor Sarah, the Cohens were probably the first real family she felt she was part of. She had appointments with George, who was in his 60’s, at his office for individual therapy while at home Nancy worked , having her fun, talking with the multiple personalities she claimed Poor Sarah had ; and to make Nancy happy Sarah developed a voice for each personality that would respond when Nancy asked to speak to that personality. At night, to be close, sometimes Poor Sarah slept on the floor next to their bed in order to be near two adults who finally cared.
It was a scenario from which disaster was certain; only how long until it struck and its form was in question. This is why therapists are not ethically allowed to have dual relationships with their patients. It is malpractice to take the patient to their home, employ and/or develop a personal relation. It will confuse the patients and lead to dependency, the opposite of what therapy is supposed to achieve.
Another problem was that Nancy liked to drink alcohol before going to bed and her sleeping more resembled a passing out. Noises did not awake her. George at midnight liked to come downstairs and snack on chicken in the refrigerator. And as Poor Sarah often slept on the downstairs sofa, not surprisingly George started getting his breast and leg from the sofa and not the ice box And of course, it soon followed that the therapy sessions at George’s office occurred behind a locked door where instead of counseling, George continued to pluck away.
Poor Sarah, lost and without a family, pretending on a hotline to be a current sexually abused minor, somehow sent by authorities back East to a selected therapist couple who had not been sufficiently checked out, now believed she had a family she so wanted to serve; a situation that led to her to victimization by a husband and wife themselves disordered.
Could things get worse? Yes, they could and did. Poor Sarah got pregnant and informed George. George called her and when he heard the beep he began to leave a message. Poor Sarah walked in at this point and picked up the phone and they spoke. Under those circumstances, answering machines continue to record.
Without any apparent sympathy, George complained over the pregnancy and then chastised himself for at his age still being “led around by his dick.” The words so upset Poor Sarah that she drove off into a heavy rain, smashed into a tree and lost the baby.
Poor Sarah was referred to me.
These cases can have some difficulty, in addition on how to plead and/or keep the insurance company obligated, in that the therapist is usually more believable. And since the Board will take action now on the license, it is not something a therapist wants to admit. But at first glance in r this case we had George’s coarse confession on Sarah’s tape machine. The question was, however, could we get it into evidence?
The Cohens’ attorney planned to object to the use of the tape at trial on the grounds that tapes of private conversation telephone calls are not admissible unless consent to taping was obtained. However, I had a good counter argument. One that logic told me it would prevail even though the law was new and this fact situation had never been ruled upon. Simply, George gave consent by his actions. He did not reasonably expect privacy because he knew the call was being taped recorded because you can hear him leaving a taped message after the beep on the tape and then you hear Sarah pick up the phone. Thus,, he knew by the beep the tape answering machine had been activated and continued to talk without asking the recorder be turned off. So he could not claim this was taped without his consent.
However, I was not going to leave it to a court decision of my first impression just because my argument seemed the most logical. I took George’s deposition and played the tape at the start of which his attorney made his objection for time of trial. Then I asked George if the things he said on the tape had happened. George was in the predicament that if he lied about having sex with his patient and reacting so cold-blooded when he found out she was pregnant, and the tape was admissible, not only would the jury know he was lying, he could face criminal perjury charges. So by my playing him the tape, he really had no choice but to admit what was on it. Once I had his testimony confirming what was said on tape had occurred the tape was no longer really needed.
Now it seemed this was a pretty good case and had what we call a lot of jury appeal; a lot of sympathy for Poor Sarah. But this perfect case soon had other problems.
Sarah Reynolds sworn deposition testimony was that the family that adopted her was a devil cult led by her adopted father. In rituals they would have her on a table and all would take turns having sex with her including her adopted father and adopted brother. Despite admission sof George, the defendants would argue that as to any emotional problems she has these events were far more the cause of damages and further also raised a question as to her credibility as it was already known she faked being a minor abused by her uncle when she was back east. How could we tell, they would argue, what really happened, to what degree, and what damages, if any, really resulted?
You never know with a jury. It would be my job to explain we don’t really know what happened to her as a child; that pre-existing problems only made her easy to take advantage of. What was not in doubt was her problems led her to the Cohens for desperately needed help and instead professionals used and abuse her. What really happened in her childhood was not important, what was important to the present had been admitted to. That damages would flow was obvious, the car accident clearly resulted from the way he treated her and she lost the baby from it. She was entitled clearly to a lot of money. What the Cohens did was completely outrageous– from the taking her into their home, using her as a Nanny, convincing her she was a multiple personality, making her dependent, the sexual acts and the abandonment ( repeat of losing her parents). All this was done to a girl who needed and wanted help.
But then a bigger problem happened.
After her own deposition was completed and not much was left to do but wait for a trial date, I got a telephone call from poor Sarah’s roommate. Apparently Sarah was now having a sexual affair with her current treating therapist. It had come to the point that the new therapist was in their apartment arguing with Sarah to come home with him. Sarah was resisting when the roommate intervened and told him to get out. The therapists had been telling Sarah that he was not like George. While George had used his therapeutic position to take advantage of her, his feelings were real.
None of this was too much of a surprise to me. One, it is known that one of the consequences of being victimized sexually by a therapists is the tendency to fall victim to another therapist. It’s sort of like the girl who keeps picking a boyfriend who will slug her. Also, despite the pain and being explained she had no bona fide therapy when there was sex, this seduction is like illicit drugs– it is a high from being communicated a message that you must be ok because your therapist desires you–so subconsciously the victim is looking for that stamp of approval again and again. It is very necessary for the 2nd therapist to understand this and teach appropriate boundaries to the victim and make it clear this will not happen again and why.
It was also known a lot of therapists get into therapy because they need therapy more than they want to give it. And there have been cases of a rape victim explaining what she went through to a therapist who became so excited that he then raped his patient. It is not unusual for a therapist to fall victim to his own desires once he realizes how vulnerable and open his prey is and after listening to her describe his own secret fantasy.
Now the attorneys for the Cohens didn’t know about this 2nd therapist but eventually they would find out. At trial I would have to bring it out and claim it as a damage, rather than risk the fefendants bringing it out on cross-examination and claiming we tried to conceal it. They would claim how damaged could she be from sex with George if she was voluntarily doing it again before her case with George even gets to trial? She must be the aggressor who has lured the therapists. She is the seducer.
My job, with experts, would be to explain that due to “transference” –the transferring of feelings to the therapist–patients often become the seducer and it’s the therapist job to be aware of it and stop it, not take advantage of it. And my experts would explain that having had this experience of being told you are so good that I will make love to you is addicting and that one of the damages is vulnerability to another unscrupulous therapist trying to make the victim fil special for the therapist’s sexual gratification..
In other words, facts and theory are still on my side. But will a jury like her? Will they understand her? Or might sympathy be lost? And then there is the not too believable story about her step family devil cult passing her around for sex. In the end, the verdict might be one of confusion. I was no longer in the confident position even though I still had no doubt that Poor Sarah was the victim of 2 therapists who should lose their licenses.
I made a claim against the 2nd therapist but I knew that when they commenced discovery they would find out about the 1st case and then the 1st case would know about the 2nd. In the 2nd case they would argue how much harm could she have suffered when she walked into the relationship with a lawsuit pending against another therapist for having a similar relationship? They would probably argue that before she even collected from the 1st case she was hunting her next therapist victim to sue again and collect a 2nd time. They would argue she was a seeker of money. The whole case would be argued as the therapist is the victim. They would probably argue she planned it all the way when she was back east pretending to be a minor being abused sexually by her uncle. And they would repeat her story about her adopted family being a devil cult. She was a liar, they would say, and then she seduced these 2 men to get a payoff. I felt I could convince the jury otherwise, but the fact that she testified to the story about her step family didn’t made the task easier.
A worse fear was that the two cases might be consolidated. Poor Sarah needed Justice and a new female therapist to move on. I found a solution.
I knew the insurance carriers wanted to settle due to expense and fear of a big verdict but also wanted part of it paid by their insureds as these were intentional acts. Their lawyers would want it settled for fear insurance might not apply and certainly would not as to punitive damages. So before each could find out about the other I settled each case separately. I did not try to max out the settlements in either case but accepted what seemed a good deal for them. So both insurance companies and the therapist were happy. And as the settlements t combined made one very good settlement my client was happy.
Probably only person unhappy was me. I often wonder what a jury would have done if it had known all the facts, but it’s a mistake for lawyers to pursue their curiosity. An egotistical belief you can out convince your opponent will eventually lead to a disaster for a plaintiff. Attorneys must pursue the path that guarantees a reasonable result for their client and becomes a building block for the client to get on with his/ her life and get the help they need.
By then, I had also obtained the majority of my clients past medical records. That had to be turned over in discovery as the litigation damage claims waived her patient-privilege There was a notation that when she was 14 her adopted father took her to a child therapist. I would expect an abandoned child to have problems but would an adopted father if he was leading a devil cult that sexually used his adopted daughter take the girl to see a child psychologist? All we really know is that probably something very terrible happened to Poor Sarah, along with the abandonment or maybe that was enough, and it is doubtful that she can articulate it. Whatever it was, it led to at age 29 imitating a minor suffering sexual abuse to a hot line and then being abused for real by two unethical maie psychotherapists who made her into a sexual play thing and for another alcoholic psychotherapist who used her to play out fantasy of wanting a pet multi-personality patient.
There are good therapists who can help, but the fact is many are there to help themselves by convincing they are helping others. My Board investigator who referred me cases against psychotherapists once told me she was monitoring the current licensing exams. I asked her how the new bumper crop was looking. She replied it was just like all the others; as she handed out the test some rubbed beads and others chanted. “Great”, I said.
How do people pick the right psychotherapists? Not easy. But f they invite you to stay in their home or have written a self-help book go somewhere else. Run.
And Sarah Reynolds? She went on to have as far as I know a pretty good normal life. She became a psychotherapist.