Panel Seeks to Revoke Psychologist’s License : Ethics: Cerritos man is accused by state Board of Psychology of unprofessional conduct in his relations with a woman patient.
State health officials are seeking revocation of the license of a Cerritos psychologist accused of having sexual relations with one of his patients. The patient was also one of the psychologist’s students at Cerritos College.
Todd W. Gaffaney has been accused by the state Board of Psychology of unprofessional conduct for allegedly engaging in sex with the woman patient. The board is a division of the Medical Board of California.
Gaffaney referred all questions to his attorney, Pamela Ann Kuehn, who said she would have no comment.
Health officials have requested a hearing before a state administrative law judge to determine whether Gaffaney’s license should be suspended or revoked, or whether some other disciplinary action should be taken. No hearing date has been scheduled.
The state medical code specifically prevents psychologists and physicians from having sex with their patients.
“There is no way to predict what will happen,” said Thomas O’Connor, executive director of the psychology board, “but generally speaking, if you have sex with a patient, your license will be revoked.”
Board officials, in a complaint filed in March, said Gaffaney, 44, allegedly had intercourse with the woman during individual therapy sessions and after group sessions from about April 19, 1985, to about November, 1986. The woman was not identified.
The complaint also said Gaffaney allegedly began treating the woman in a Downey clinic months before he had obtained a clinical license in July, 1986, to operate a private practice.
Officials have also accused Gaffaney of gross negligence, which O’Connor described as “anything that is an extreme departure from standard practice.”
The complaint, for example, said Gaffaney allegedly told the woman that he intended to leave his wife and marry her and recommended an attorney for the woman to use to file for divorce from her husband.
Gaffaney also allegedly received a $250 loan from the woman and persuaded her to buy a new $11,000 car, according to the complaint.
When the woman sought to pay for her therapy, Gaffaney told her that she could pay him by helping him conduct his class in human sexuality and psychology at Cerritos College, the complaint said. During the summer of 1985 the woman acted as a group leader for Gaffaney’s class, according to the complaint.
State law prevents psychologists from receiving non-monetary reimbursement for services, health officials said.
The psychologist may continue to practice while the case is pending, said Vern Leeper, chief of the medical board’s enforcement program. A hearing is expected to be scheduled within a year.
“Unless you can show that there’s actual or imminent patient harm, restraining orders are hard to come by,” Leeper said.
The law judge’s decision will be reviewed by the Board of Psychology, which can either accept or reject it.
Cerritos College officials were notified of the state board’s action and referred the matter to the college’s attorney, Public Affairs Director Mark Wallace said. Gaffaney has taught psychology courses full time at the college since 1975.
The school allows an instructor under most circumstances to continue teaching until such actions are resolved, said Kenneth Lorenzen, director of personnel.
Wallace added: “We wouldn’t be doing anything until he has had his day in court. Unless someone makes a direct complaint to the college, we have no reason to act.”
The state started its investigation in August, 1988, after receiving a complaint from the woman.
The woman and her husband also filed a civil suit in October, 1988, against Gaffaney, three psychologists and the Cerritos Psychological Center, the clinic where he works. The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Norwalk, alleges fraud, malpractice, negligence, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, contended that the psychologists were aware that Gaffaney had engaged in sexual activity with the woman but made no attempt to stop him.