On June 27, 2016, the Virginia Board of Psychology reached a “summary” decision to suspend my license for at least a two year period, following which I could apply for reinstatement of my license.
For reasons I will address, both I and my legal counsel ultimately judged it wisest not to challenge this decision in a formal hearing, and to simply sign off on the resulting charges and consent decree My signature of this document included revocation of right to any further legal action in my own defense.
My purpose in this current statement is to clarify two essential points. First, I acknowledge full accountability for what I consider to be the ___ core charges out of the ___ total number of charges in the order which I signed. And second, I am unwilling to let stand without comment what I believe amounts to legally sanctioned and virtually slanderous misrepresentation of my professional conduct.
It should be understood that, in consultation with my legal counsel, I saw no alternative to signing this order without being subjected to an intolerable degree of harangue and humiliation that I am convinced would have occurred should I have agreed to participate in a formal hearing of my responses to the stated charges.
Because in doing so, I would simply have been defending myself by once again presenting and stating what I had already said and documented during the investigation. Only this time in person, to the same Board members who had dismissed that information without merit or validity.
Again, in consultation with my legal counsel, I chose to respond to this situation the only way I deem viable: by proactively making the loss of my licensure publicly known at the initial point of contact with anyone likely to be considering working with me as their Life Coach, and at least present my situation for their consideration outside of the Board’s conclusions.
I will therefore give considerable detail about the context within which these events took place that resulted in the loss of my license. And I am willing to risk erring on the side of too much detail because I believe they are essential in understanding my actions and choices at the time—whether given credibility by the Board of Psychology or not.
These details give indication of important aspects about who I am as a person and how I choose to live my life. This is crucial information when considering anyone as one’s personal Life Coach. And I would want to raise any questions in the beginning rather than having omitted something important back in the beginning.
The basis for the Board’s action was the result of a very conscious choice I made in November of 2011. Under virtually life and death circumstances, I knowingly chose to risk loss of my license by breeching a core Ethical principle knows as “Dual Relationships”. And were I ever faced with this choice again in comparable circumstances, I would make the same choice.
At the same time, I am clear that I am accountable for more than just breech of dual relationship as charged, and that I did conduct myself in a manner with regard to a key issue that indeed warrants reprimand. I will clarify this at a later point.
“Dual Relationships” mean that it is considered unethical for a therapist to engage in any kind of personal, professional or other relationship with a patient outside of the therapeutic relationship. That is, a licensed therapist cannot ethically have any sort of significant ongoing relationship or interaction with anyone they are treating. This prohibition extends to those with whom the therapist already has or has had such a relationship in the past. This is a widely held principle consistent with the tenet that physicians should not treat members of their own family, though it is applied much more broadly than this for a licensed psychotherapist.
There are very good and clear reasons for this prohibition as protection for the public. There are indeed potentially (and not, in fact, inevitable) damaging consequences that could or might result from the therapist wearing too many hats with someone they treat, so to speak. And in becoming licensed, I agreed to accept and abide by that principle. In all instances save the one in question, I absolutely and categorically have.
Briefly (!), in November, 2011, my wife and I were literally about to be evicted from her home of 12 years because of foreclosure. This occurred following 3 years of consecutive and catastrophic financial reversals. These included, among others, foreclosure on both my wife’s 6 rental homes and my own, and bankruptcy for myself, my wife and my mother. We had less credit than can be measured, and only the income from my practice to support us.
Our string of financial debacles was in part due to collapse of the housing market and as well as of the US financial system in 2008. Along with this, we had been and continued to be the only financial support to both families of the two primary developers of a large-scale internet startup.
Because our entire financial future was dependent on the success or failure of that venture, we were not in a position to simply abandon making further payments. The consequences of stopping were clear and certain. And throughout this process, there were solid, on-going indications that the venture would ultimately succeed if we could keep it afloat long enough.
Our support also included the travel and business expenses associated with their efforts to develop the project. The total monthly amount ultimately reached over $9,000 per month.
Logistically, we were faced with moving literally 6 stories of “stuff” accumulated from four different families, along with 4 dogs. In addition, my then 92-year-old mother had been living with us for several years, and was totally dependent on us financially and physically.
Given our lack of financial credit, it had been nearly impossible to find anyone willing to work with us in any scenario that would have met our needs as renters. Even so, I had been able to secure arrangements for signing a lease after several other potential leases had fallen through.
Literally the night before I was to sign this lease, I was called and informed that the residence we were to occupy had just been sold in light of an unexpected offer to buy. This occurred 3 days before the “drop dead” date after which the police would come and literally put everything in our house out on the street.
In this context, I unexpectedly received a totally unsolicited offer of potential lodging from a couple in their early seventies with whom I had been doing both individual and couple therapy for over 3 years. They and all of my patients at that time knew of our basic circumstances because I wanted them all to have a context for my unavoidable appearance of preoccupation and concern.
This couple proposed that we rent their previous home that they had been unable to sell for several years. Even now, the serendipity of their offer astounds me. The setting included a separate suite connected with the main house that would be ideal for my mother.
In addition, there were 2 empty 2 car garages available for storage, as well as storage in the basement (we ended up filling literally all of those spaces). And there was ample room for the dogs to be physically active on the 8.5 acres, with the home overlooking a local river. I admit to looking at this offer as a possible “gift” that had suddenly occurred against more than astronomical odds such a scenario could ever even occur.
My rapport with this couple was excellent and our work together had been extremely successful, both for each of them individually and jointly as a couple. I should mention throughout my practice, it was not uncommon for me to do individual therapy with both members of a couple while simultaneously treating them as a couple. Having no survivable alternative, I chose to accept their offer of lodging.
Several months after we had moved in, they began to learn the reasons for our continued difficulty in meeting the $2,000 monthly rent. After conferring with each other, they both offered to help with payments to support the startup. This occurred at their own initiative, with absolutely no request, hint or proactive effort on my part to get them to do so. And they did it because they considered that it would be to their own financial advantage as well as to ours.
The husband’s very successful business of longstanding was facing inevitable decline due to the worsening economy, and he had already been looking for future alternatives. And they made the choice they did because they trusted in my accounts and formal documentation of substantial and credible data indicating that the startup was approaching actual launching and would be astoundingly rewarding financially.
We were all so confident of this that I eventually signed a contract to buy their home, contingent on success of the business. And throughout the succeeding two years of their involvement, there were ongoing multiple joint and individual discussions of what was and was not occurring as planned with the business, and about their understandable questions and concerns about this.
Ultimately, the situation had become for all of us one of knowing for certain what would happen financially if we did not continue. Foolishly or not, both our landlords and I chose the “make it or break it” route: if successful, it would secure both of our family’s financial security in perpetuity. It would also have allowed me to pursue a long term dream that I have described in my introductory blog on this website.
I agree that my judgment in continuing to pursue an investment through its complete collapse can reasonably be challenged. It certainly was by many around me, though 12 additional individuals and couples had also seen fit to make substantial investments in the same venture’s early beginning phases.
To be specific, until it collapsed, the startup had reached the point that:
- It had functioning offices and sales and telemarketing staff in Majorca, Spain,
- was in the process of establishing similar resources in Holland,
- had sold licenses to business rights in both Spain and Holland,
- and had fully operational commercially equipped websites for Spain, Holland, Canada and the US.
I submitted to the Board copies of formal documents confirming these facts, as well as numerous pictures of myself and my mother in some of these locations at the time. It had been agreed in principle that the lowest price acceptable for any potential buyout offer would be 6 billion dollars. Shared among what became 5 partners, my landlord and his wife included, this amount and probably more would have been quite worth the effort.
The key financial backer, whose deposit into the business account would enable full scale launching of the project, launch had already made test transfers from his account in London to that of the business account in Majorca. I have copies of receipts from those transfers.
Unfortunately, most of the backer’s considerable wealth was in the form of commercial properties in Spain. You may be familiar with Spain’s having been declared the hardest hit by the catastrophic financial failures of that time throughout Europe. Virtually overnight, the value of his properties dropped by one half, and showed little sign of any near-term recovery.
As I indicated, our landlord and his wife ultimately became full partners in this venture. They did so because they had as much reason to believe in its ultimate success as I did. They understandably also had good reason for more trepidation than I about so many fears and “what if’s” whose outcome depended entirely on their confidence in what I was showing and telling them.
They did in fact maintain that confidence and participation until we were all destroyed financially by the catastrophic outcome. It should also be noted that the 12 investors mentioned earlier also lost all of their investments in this debacle.
To compound the utter devastation of this situation, the husband in the couple died of a heart attack in August of 2014. This constituted the unexpected loss of what had become one of my closest friends and “co-dreamers”. His death also meant the financial collapse of any possible recovery through some revamped version of what remained in place of the failed business.
The reason for my choice to continue treatment with my landlord and his wife during this time was that the wife had been actively paranoid and suicidal when we began treatment almost 6 years previously. Her willingness to participate in therapy was quite fragile at that time. In addition, a substantial portion of her coping mechanisms depended on ready access to suicide as an escape hatch. This meant that she was recurrently suicidal throughout treatment and her continued participation in therapy remained fragile.
I saw no conscionable alternative than to continue providing what I judged, rightly or wrongly, to be the only therapeutic services she would be willing to use then or at any point in the future. It should be noted that she did not make a single suicide attempt in the time we worked together, and that she was still very much alive when her husband died of his heart attack. This despite the continued worsening course of her multiple medical problems which were exacerbated by her longstanding disregard for her well-being.
The final key element to appreciate in this is the extent to which I underestimated the actual degree of secretiveness in my patient-turned-landlord-turned-friend-and-business-partner . Per his report to me, he neither told about nor discussed with anyone his involvement in our partnership outside of his wife. This included his daughter, as well as his business partner to whom he was selling his own previously very successful business.
What I had not suspected was that he would not be honest with me or his wife about a core reality of what had become their financial situation. Contrary to his reassurances to me as well as to his wife in multiple focused and specific discussions that he would not and hadn’t, he did not tell me or her that he had already in fact gone bankrupt. And the reality of this did not become known to anyone, including myself, until his wife was faced with that reality at his death. In addition, his wife had begun exhibiting signs of increasing dementia, and had been transferred to an assisted living facility by the time a family member chose to file a complaint with the board.
I will not attempt to detail the surreal chaos of misunderstanding and misinformation that ensued as family and friends began trying to sort out the situation.
Playing into all of this was the background reality that and at the time after his death she moved to an assisted living facility. So family and friends coming in to help after the husband’s death were faced with sorting out an explanation for the catastrophe they encountered and a traumatized elderly woman’s account of how this all came to be. For example, how could I possibly have “gotten away with” not paying my rent for two and a half years! Well, the reality was that we had all agreed my rent would go toward payments to support the business which we have every reasonable expectation was on the verge of launching.
I believe that understandably, the only coherent explanation others could find was to assume that I must be some Rasputin like figure who had duped, taken advantage of and otherwise abused a completely vulnerable elderly couple. That is at least consistent with the summary refusal by the family to allow me any further contact with the wife whatsoever. And there was certainly no interest in understanding what happened other than what they saw as “obvious”.
There are a multitude of hydra headed misconceptions and erroneous conclusions that grew out of this that can most likely never be rectified. The one family member that initiated and carried out filing complaints against me depicts a scenario in which multiple family members and friends had full knowledge of circumstances they simply could not have had and I am clear they did not have. And from there, the Gordian Knot evolved.
I will jump now to a cursory summary of my experience in attempting to respond to questions from the primary investigator of the complaint that was eventually filed. The bottom line is that the investigators report of “findings of fact” is a parody of one sided accusations and implications with no attempt whatsoever to depict any potentially mitigating factors on my behalf.
Then why would I not simply defend myself appropriately in a hearing with the Board as would be normal procedure? I can only say that despite considerable explicit data that would reasonably seem to counter a number of the charges, no credence or even mention of this data was given by the investigator, or acknowledged by the Board in its summary.
For example, the extensive business involvement I described above was summarized by the investigator as “a business venture Dr. Dane claims to have had.” My lawyer agreed with my perception that any appearance I made at a hearing would be before a group of individuals who were already convinced that I should be given no credibility and certainly no leniency. So, I chose not to appear.
Instead, I have provided the above explanation in case it can be of use, and I would be happy to discuss any of it further with anyone who might want to. With regard to the actual specific charges, I will simply indicate below what I agree I am culpable of. The rest are so preposterous and slanderous that I will not dignify them by putting them in print here. And I am totally willing to address any of them in private with anyone that would want to know my response.
I acknowledge that I knowingly breeched the ethics rule prohibiting Dual Relationships. I have already explained the basis of that choice in 2011. I also explained by reasons for not discontinuing my therapeutic relationship with either of them despite the increasing personal importance of my relationship to them in the form of financial support and business partnership.
I also acknowledge that a significant number of written hand records were not available to provide to the Board. I am unable to account for their disappearance, other than to site the reality of having gone through 3 moves—still with 6 floors of stuff–within the 2 ½ years prior to the formal request for documentation. And I assert that none were knowingly hidden, discarded or otherwise done away with.
The most serious professional failure that I totally agree deserves reprimand is that, contrary to my own policy of longstanding, I did not insist that it would be necessary for the husband to tell his wife about payments he specifically said he was keeping secret from her. As stated in my HIPA related Informed Consent documentation, I reserved the right in doing couples therapy to determine, after extended and through discussion, whether it would be necessary to reveal a “secret” to either party. My policy was that if the one that wanted the secret kept would not consent to revealing it, I would not reveal it, and I could no longer be their therapist.
Clearly, I was not able to override the threat to my personal welfare and benefit and conduct myself professionally in this instance as I unquestionably should have. None of the potentially “legitimate” reasons I gave myself or that could be sited now for not doing so are in fact legitimate. I failed to conduct myself professionally to the detriment of these two patients.
Again, please let me know if it would be useful to discuss any of this further with me in person. I am most willing and happy to do so.
Joseph Dane, PhD