Thursday, May 05, 2011

American Psychological Association -- Ethics Complaint against William D. Brown, Ph.D. (1993)

CONFIDENTIAL

April 26, 1993
3801 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Apartment 136
Washington, DC  20008

Betsy Ranslow, M.S.
Director of Investigations
Office of Ethics
American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC  20002-4242

RE:  ETHICS INVESTIGATION COMPLAINT CONCERNING WILLIAM D. BROWN

Dear Ms. Ranslow:

Enclosed is a completed Ethics Complaint Form together with a detailed statement and attachments concerning possible violations by William D. Brown, Ph.D. of the American Psychological Association's Ethical Principles for Psychologists, as amended June 2, 1989.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Gary Freedman
_____________________________

RE: ETHICS INVESTIGATION COMPLAINT CONCERNING WILLIAM D. BROWN

Brief Summary

During the period May 29, 1991 to October 8, 1991 I had 20 weekly psychotherapy sessions with William D. Brown, Ph.D. Dr. Brown’s handling of my case suggests one of two conclusions, either of which raise the possibility of a breach by Dr. Brown of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Ethical Principles of Psychologists, as amended June 2, 1989. Dr. Brown’s handling of my case suggests that he breached APA Ethical Principle 2 re: Competence in that he failed to recognize the boundaries of his competence and the limitations of his techniques by continuing to treat a patient with apparently delusional (paranoid) ideation who might have been more appropriately treated by a psychiatrist.  In the alternative, Dr. Brown’s handling of my case suggests that he breached APA Ethical Principle 5 re: Confidentiality in that he engaged in repeated nonconsentual communications with my employer during the course of therapy upon which he concluded that my seemingly persecutory ideation was in fact not delusional and which communications were the basis of his decision not to recommend that I undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Any nonconsentual communications with my employer would also have violated the District of Columbia Mental Health Information Act and would subject Dr. Brown to possible criminal prosecution for the commission of a misdemeanor.

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Detailed Statement of Facts

A. INTRODUCTION

At an early point in my therapy with Dr. Brown, in about early June 1991, I formed the belief that Dr. Brown was engaged in nonconsentual communications with my employer during which he disclosed confidential mental health information derived from my consultations. Dr. Brown denied that he was in communication with my employer and attributed my belief to a lack of trust. During the course of the therapy I advised Dr. Brown of other beliefs I held, which like the belief that he was in communication with my employer, lacked a firm evidentiary base and which might be termed persecutory. Dr. Brown continued the therapy despite the fact that my belief system would suggest that I suffered from a delusional (paranoid) disorder for which medication might be indicated. Dr. Brown did not recommend that I undergo a psychiatric examination or enter therapy with a psychiatrist.

B. BACKGROUND FACTS

1. I, Gary Freedman, am a 39-year-old male, and reside at 3801 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Apartment 136, Washington, DC 20008.

2. In late May 1991 I sought from Ms. Judy Peres, LCSW of Sheppard Pratt Preferred Resources (202 429-1950), my employer’s Employee Assistance Program provider, a referral to a hypnotherapist. Ms. Peres recommended that I contact the American Hypnosis Training Academy located at 8750 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland. The American Hypnosis Training

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Academy provided me the names and telephone numbers of a number of local hypnotherapists, including that of Dr. William D. Brown, a Ph.D. psychologist and hypnotherapist.

3. During the period May 29, 1991 until October 8, 1991 I had twenty (20) psychotherapy sessions with Dr. William Brown, whose office is located at 1025 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 217, Washington, DC 20036 (202 833-8792) (See Attachment A).

4. During the period of my psychotherapy with Dr. Brown I was employed at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld (“Akin Gump,” “firm,” or “employer”) in the capacity of a legal assistant. The firm’s address is 1333 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036.

5. Prior to my psychotherapy with Dr. Brown I had consulted or had been in therapy with a number of mental health professionals (See Attachment B).


C.  FACTS MATERIAL TO A DETERMINATION THAT DR. BROWN VIOLATED APA ETHICAL PRINCIPAL 2 RE: COMPETENCE

6. Some time early in the period of my therapy I advised Dr. Brown that I believed that he was in communication with my employer. I told him that I had formed the belief that he spoke with a manager or managers of my employer after each consultation and advised the managers(s) of the content of the consultation. I told Dr. Brown that my belief was based on my perception that my supervisor, Christine Robertson, and co-workers appeared to use words and phrases that I had used with him during the consultations. Dr. Brown vehemently denied

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that he was in communication with my employer and stated that he did not even know the identity of my employer.

7. During the period of my therapy I told Dr. Brown that I felt I was harassed by co-workers at Akin Gump. I further stated I felt that Akin Gump management was aware of the harassment (although I had not complained to management about the harassment), and that management was engaged in attempts to investigate the harassment. I advised Dr. Brown that I felt his communications with my employer were part of my employer’s attempt to investigate the harassment.

8. I advised Dr. Brown that I felt Akin Gump management, as part of its attempt to investigate the harassment, had an informal arrangement with the then manager of my apartment building (3801 Connecticut Avenue, NW), Ms. Elaine Wranik, whereby the manager inspected my apartment daily without my consent and reported her findings back to Akin Gump management. I told Dr. Brown that I had no hard evidence that this activity was in fact going on, but that I based my belief on words and phrases used by my co-workers and supervisor that suggested that these employees were aware of the contents and condition of my apartment on a day-by-day basis. On one occasion, Dr. Brown, referring to my suspicions about the manager of my apartment building, stated: “What do you think she does when she goes in your apartment, lay in your bed?”

9. I advised Dr. Brown that I felt that Akin Gump management, as part of its attempt to investigate the harassment, had regular and frequent communications with my sister, Mrs. Estelle

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Jacobson (609 727-3295).  My sister denies that she has had communications of any kind with my employer.  Again, my belief that Akin Gump management was in communication with my sister was based on my perception that my co-workers and supervisor used words and phrases relating to my conversations with my sister or to personal facts, knowledge of which could only have been derived from communications between my sister and Akin Gump management.

10.  The various beliefs that I stated to Dr. Brown concerning the actions of my employer were systematic, seemingly delusional, and persecutory.  These beliefs should have suggested to Dr. Brown that I might suffer from a delusional (paranoid) disorder, DSM-III diagnosis: 297.10, a serious mental disorder more appropriately treated by a psychiatrist than by a psychologist.  Despite the seemingly paranoid nature of my belief system, Dr. Brown did not question the advisability of my remaining in therapy with him rather than my being evaluated by or entering therapy with a psychiatrist, a mental heath professional who might determine the indications for and prescribe appropriate medication.  The decision to terminate my therapy with Dr. Brown on October 8, 1991 was my own; Dr. Brown did not recommend that I terminate the therapy.

11.  Dr. Brown is also a hypnotherapist and during one of my psychotherapy sessions he attempted to induce hypnosis.  Experts universally concur that hypnosis should never be attempted in an individual who is suspected of being paranoid; the induction of hypnosis in a paranoiac may lead to psychotic

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decompensation.  The various seemingly paranoid beliefs that I related to Dr. Brown should have alerted him to question the advisability of attempting hypnosis in my case.

12.  On October 24, 1991, about three weeks after I terminated my therapy with Dr. Brown, I complained to two members of Akin Gump management, Dennis M. Race and Malcolm Lassman, that I was a victim of harassment by coworkers, supervisory personnel, and attorneys (See Attachments C and D).  My complaint of harassment was limited to a narration of incidents involving firm personnel exclusively.  I did not communicate to Akin Gump management my belief that it had been in communication with Dr. Brown, my sister, and the manager of my apartment building.  On October 29, 1991 I was terminated by Akin Gump.  Dennis M. Race (202 887 xxxx), an attorney manager of the firm, advised me that he was unable to substantiate my allegations of harassment and that there appeared to be a lack of fit between me and other firm personnel.  I was advised that two supervisory employees, Maggie Sinnott and John D. Neary, stated that they found me difficult to work with, that they could not work with me, and that they were afraid of me.

Mr. Race had determined, in consultation with two mental health professionals (whose identities have not been disclosed), including a psychiatrist, that my allegations of harassment were based on paranoid “ideas of reference” and that I was potentially violent (See Attachment C).  Mr. Race determined that allowing me to remain on the firm’s premises might constitute negligence (See Attachment E).

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On February 4, 1992 I filed a Complaint with the District of Columbia Department of Human Rights (DOHR) alleging that Akin Gump’s decision to terminate my employment was unlawfully based on the perception that I was homosexual in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977 (See Attachment F).  DOHR’s investigation of the complaint [Docket No. 92-087-P(N)] is pending.

Akin Gump was extended an opportunity to mediate the Complaint by DOHR; the offer to mediate is continuing in nature.  To date, Akin Gump has refused to mediate the Complaint, which suggests that the firm continues to believe that its decision to terminate was justified and that I continue to suffer from a serious mental disorder.  Akin Gump’s Response to the DOHR Complaint, dated May 22, 1992, characterizes my mental state as paranoid and terms my behavior as bizarre, violent, and disruptive (See Attachment C).  The description of my mental state contained in the Response suggests a diagnosis of delusional (paranoid) disorder: DSM-III 297.10, a psychotic condition.  The Response states that firm personnel were afraid of me, that I had difficulty communicating with peers and that I demanded to work in total isolation.

The conclusions of Akin Gump management, based on interviews of co-workers and supervisors and on consultations with two mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, are at marked variance with Dr. Brown’s handling of my case.  Indeed, the conclusions reached by Akin Gump management that

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I was paranoid and potentially violent (or violent) suggest that Dr. Brown failed to recognize and respond appropriately to the seemingly paranoid beliefs I had stated to him and in so doing failed to recognize the boundaries of his competence and the limitations of his techniques in violation of APA Ethical Principle 2 re: Competence.

D.  FACTS MATERIAL TO A DETERMINATION THAT DR. BROWN VIOLATED APA ETHICAL PRINCIPAL 5: CONFIDENTIALITY


In order to conclude that Dr. Brown’s handling of my case was competent, it must be inferred that Dr. Brown determined that the various seemingly delusional beliefs I stated to him were in fact accurate representations of reality.  In order for Dr. Brown to have determined that I was not delusional he would have had to have substantiated my belief that Akin Gump management was in communication with my sister and the manager of my apartment building, and have been apprised that Akin Gump management also suspected that I was a victim of harassment by co-workers.  Communications with Akin Gump management are the only means by which Dr. Brown could have substantiated my beliefs and have determined that I was not paranoid and that his handling of my case was therefore appropriate.  A finding that Dr. Brown’s therapeutic handling of my case was appropriate and therefore not in violation APA Ethical Principal 2 re: Competence requires a conclusion that Dr. Brown violated APA Ethical Principle 5 re: Confidentiality by having nonconsentual communications with Akin Gump management, a finding that would also subject Dr.

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Brown to possible criminal prosecution for violation of the District of Columbia Mental Health Information Act.

13.  At no time during my therapy with Dr. Brown did I provide oral or written consent authorizing Dr. Brown to communicate with my employer or any third party.

In connection with DOHR Complaint Docket No. 92-087-P(N) I did execute and mail to Dr. Brown, on January 14, 1992, a notarized release authorizing Dr. Brown to communicate with representatives of the District of Columbia Department of Human Rights (See Attachment G).

14.  My Reply filed with DOHR in connection with Complaint No. 92-087-P(N) refutes Akin Gump’s assertion that it had a good faith belief that I suffered from a serious mental disorder than necessitated my termination (See Attachment D).  The facts alleged in the Reply are consistent with a determination that Dr. Brown’s handling of my case was competent.  But, as noted above, a finding that Dr. Brown’s handling of my case was competent is relevant to a finding that Dr. Brown violated APA Ethical Principle 5 re: Confidentiality.

15.  During my employment with Akin Gump I was a beneficiary of the firm’s long-term disability income plan.  At the time of my termination I was not advised of my rights under the Plan, and in fact did not file for benefits under the plan.  The termination decision, ostensibly based on Akin Gump management’s finding that I suffered from a severe mental disturbance which would otherwise have qualified me for benefits under the plan, precluded me from filing for benefits.  Akin

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Gump management’s termination decision may therefore have violated applicable provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) that prohibit an employer from terminating an employee to prevent his obtaining a benefit under ERISA.  Relevant facts pertaining to Akin Gump’s possible violation of ERISA are currently being reviewed by the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor (See Attachment H).

Akin Gump’s possible violation of ERISA is relevant to a finding that its decision to terminate was unlawful, malicious, and discriminatory and that the firm did not have a good faith belief that I suffered from a severe mental disturbance.  Whether I suffered from a severe mental disturbance is relevant to a finding that Dr. Brown’s handling of my case was competent.  But, as noted above, a finding that Dr. Brown's handling of my case was competent is relevant to a finding that Dr. Brown violated APA Ethical Principle 5 re: Confidentiality.

16.  In April 1992 a former co-worker at Akin Gump, Patricia McNeil, was unlawfully terminated by my former supervisor, Christine Robertson.  In March 1993, Ms. McNeil filed an action in U.S. District Court, styled McNeil v. Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, alleging that her termination by Christine Robertson was discriminatory in violation of Title VII (See Attachment I).

I believe that my former supervisor, Christine Robertson, was engaged in  a pattern of harassment against me and that Akin Gump’s decision to terminate my employment was based in part

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on false and retaliatory statements that Ms. Robertson made to members of management immediately following my complaint of harassment (See Attachment D).

Facts relating to the unlawful conduct of Christine Robertson in relation to a former co-worker are relevant to a finding that the termination decision in my case was unlawful, malicious, and discriminatory, and not based on Akin Gump management’s good faith belief that I suffered from a severe mental disorder.  Whether I suffered from a severe mental disturbance is relevant to a finding that Dr. Brown’s handling of my case was competent.  But, as noted above, a finding that Dr. Brown’s handling of my case was competent is relevant to a finding that Dr. Brown violated APA Ethical Principle 5 re: Confidentiality.

17.  Akin Gump based its decision to terminate my employment in part on representations regarding my mental status it obtained from two mental health professionals (See Attachment C).  In addition to soliciting a representation from a psychiatrist, Dennis Race sought and obtained a representation regarding my mental status from the firm’s Employee Assistance Program Provider, Sheppard Pratt Preferred Resources.  Akin Gump has not disclosed the name of the Sheppard Pratt mental health professional with whom it consulted.  (On January 11, 1993 I spoke by telephone with Judy Peres, a senior mental heath counselor at Sheppard Pratt (See Attachment J).  Ms. Peres stated that she did not recall ever having spoken to Mr. Race and denied having any knowledge of his identity; she also stated that she


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did not recall who I was.  She stated that the providing of a representation regarding an employee’s mental status to his employer would be a highly unusual occurrence that she would likely recall.)

On three occasions during my employment I consulted with mental health counselors at Sheppard Pratt, including Judy Peres (See Attachment B).  Any disclosure of Confidential mental health information to Akin Gump by a mental health counselor employed by Sheppard Pratt would be in violation of the District of Columbia Mental Health Information Act, D.C. Code Sec. 6-2002 (Disclosures prohibited; exceptions) and would subject the offending mental health counselor and Sheppard Pratt to criminal prosecution for the commission of a misdemeanor.  Further, Akin Gump’s actions in seeking a representation from a mental heath counselor at Sheppard Pratt raise the possibility of a violation by Akin Gump’s managers of D.C. Code Sec. 6-2062 (Criminal penalties for violation of the District of Columbia Mental Health Information Act) as well as certain criminal statutes including D.C. Code Sec. 22-105a (Conspiracy to commit crime) and D.C. Code Sec. 22-105 (Persons advising, inciting or conniving at criminal offense to be charged as principals.)

Akin Gump management’s actions in seeking a representation regarding my mental status from Sheppard Pratt, a mental health facility with which I had a confidential relationship, and its possible attempts to solicit confidential mental health information from Sheppard Pratt, may indicate Akin Gump’s propensity to solicit, unlawfully, confidential mental health

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information from mental health professionals.  Such a propensity is material on the issue of whether Akin Gump may have solicited confidential mental health information from Dr. Brown during the period of my therapy with him.

In the alternative, if Akin Gump’s assertion that it sought a representation from Sheppard Pratt is a willful misstatement -- that is, if Akin Gump never in fact sought or obtained a representation from Sheppard Pratt (which is consistent with the comments of Judy Peres on January 11, 1993, as stated above) -- that possible willful misstatement is relevant to a finding that Akin Gump did not form a good faith belief that I suffered from a serious mental disorder  Whether I suffered from a severe mental disturbance is relevant to a finding that Dr. Brown’s handling of my case was competent.  But, as noted above, a finding that Dr. Brown’s handling of my case was competent is relevant to a finding that Dr Brown violated APA Ethical Principle 5 re: Confidentiality.

E.  RELEVANT FACTS SUBSEQUENT TO DR. BROWN’S POSSIBLE ETHICAL VIOLATIONS

18.  In September 1992, about one year after my job termination on October 29, 1991, I underwent a two-hour evaluation with Dr Napoleon Cuenco, a psychiatrist at the Department of Psychiatry, George Washington University Medical Center.  During the course of the evaluation I restated the various systematic and unsubstantiated beliefs I had formed regarding the actions of Akin Gump management, including my belief that Akin Gump had been in communication with the various mental health

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professionals I had consulted.  At the conclusion of the first evaluation session on September 1, 1992, Dr. Cuenco deferred the diagnosis (See Attachment K).  At the conclusion of the second evaluation session on September 8, 1992, Dr. Cuenco assigned the diagnosis bi-polar disorder (See Attachment K).

19.  I am currently in therapy with Dr. Suzanne M. Pitts, a psychiatrist at the Department of Psychiatry, George Washington University Medical Center.  I began weekly consultations with Dr. Pitts on October 26, 1992; twice weekly consultations were initiated in late January 1993.

20.  On April 20, 1993 I filed with the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) a claim for disability benefits on the basis that my former employer, Akin Gump, determined in consultation with two mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, that I suffered from a debilitating mental disorder.  A copy of a statement I submitted to SSA in support of the disability insurance claim is attached herewith (See Attachment L).
___________________________

In view of the foregoing statement of facts and the logical implications of those facts, I request that the Ethics Office of the American Psychological Association conduct an investigation into the conduct of Dr. William D. Brown relating to (1) his possible failure to recognize the boundaries of his

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competence and the limitations of his techniques or (2) his willful and repeated breaches of a confidential psychotherapeutic relationship during the period May 29, 1991 through October 8, 1991, and possibly extending to undetermined times thereafter.

/s/
_____________________
Gary Freedman
April 26, 1993

1 comment:

Gary Freedman said...

I saw William D. Brown, Ph.D. -- a psychologist who could not prescribe medication -- in weekly psychotherapy from late May till October 8, 1991, three weeks before my termination. If I had severe mental illness (such as one that featured "ideas of reference") Dr. Brown was duty bound by the APA's Code of Professional Conduct to refer me to a psychiatrist who could prescribe appropriate medication. In 1993 I filed a complaint against Dr. Brown with the APA for the very reason that Dr. Brown did not refer me to an M.D. The APA dismissed my complaint; the APA concluded that Dr. Brown's handling of my case did not exceed his competence. See APA Office of General Counsel.

See Letter dated September 23, 1993 from Betsy Ranslow (APA Director of Investigations--Ethics Office) to Gary Freedman: “I have now had the opportunity to carefully evaluate your complaint against William D. Brown of Washington, D.C. [based in part on Dr. Brown’s failure to make a referral for medical management to treat a delusional disorder]. Your complaint has been evaluated independently by the Chair of the APA Ethics Committee and by me. On the basis of a review of all of the information related to this matter, we have decided not to open this matter up for a formal ethics case and to close it under the provision of Part V, Section 5.4 of the 1992 Rules and Procedures.”