Anaheim : Counselors Discuss How to Stem Sex Misconduct

Psychotherapists and counselors, who recently have come under court and public scrutiny because of lawsuits against colleagues alleging sexual misconduct, need to consult with each other to avoid unethical situations, a Cal State Fullerton professor said Sunday.

Dr. Patricia S. Hannigan, one of the keynote speakers at a symposium titled "Laws and Ethics for Therapists" at the Anaheim Sheraton Hotel, said the "increase of sexual misconduct is a problem. We need more colleagues listening to other colleagues professionally about this and other problems. It is important that we are open as we can be with each other as colleagues."

About 180 therapists and counselors attended Sunday's symposium sponsored by the department of counseling at Cal State Fullerton, which Hannigan heads. One of the coordinators of the event said the symposium could become an annual event to help educate therapists and counselors about laws and ethics regarding their profession.

"This should be a pause . . . to take a second look at therapists not only as clinicians but also as persons who must have a knowledge of the law and how it affects the profession," Mark Iwanicki said.

He said the psychology profession is undergoing a "transitional period" in which legal and ethical questions are becoming more important since "there seems to be an open season on therapists because of all the lawsuits."

About 17% of license revocations of therapists are due to sexual misconduct, Hannigan said. "That is a very high increase from a few years ago, when it was probably about 2%," she said.

Part of the problem is that "there is no clear definition of what sexual misconduct is," she said. "It can be merely a verbal suggestion. The ethical consideration here is very important," she said.

But therapists who have sex with patients, Hannigan said, are "opportunists taking advantage of a vulnerable person who is not really a consenting adult."

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