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Sex Therapist Sued by Male Ex-Patient

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A male former patient is suing the medical director of the San Diego County Psychiatric Hospital, alleging that Dr. David McWhirter took advantage of his emotional problems to seduce him, and another former patient has filed notice that he intends to sue on similar grounds.

McWhirter, an expert in human sexuality and head of the county’s mental health facility for five years, invited the first patient to his home for dinner, where the patient said he was “forcibly dragged across the floor” and rolled on his back, according to a sworn deposition. He then engaged in oral sex with McWhirter and another male therapist, also a dinner guest, according to the deposition.

The second patient alleged in an interview that, when he called McWhirter because he was suicidal, the psychiatrist came to his home and seduced him. Last month, this patient filed notice of his intention to sue McWhirter for sexual misconduct and medical negligence.

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McWhirter “said I needed sex, and that I should get used to having sex with people more easily,” the patient said.

McWhirter’s lawyer, Jeffrey Barton, said the “allegations are not true and Dr. McWhirter categorically denies them. If necessary, and, if the plaintiff persists, Dr. McWhirter will go to trial to refute these allegations.”

McWhirter declined to return repeated phone calls.

Barton said he has advised McWhirter not to speak to The Times about the case. “We will try this case in court, not in the press,” he said. A trial date has been set for September.

McWhirter, author of “The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop,” has presided over the county’s 109-bed mental health facility since 1987, after he tired of running his private practice.

McWhirter, 60, a graduate of the USC School of Medicine, has run an Air Force base hospital, a university health service and the adult inpatient service at Los Angeles County Medical Center.

Barton said the pending litigation is the first of its kind involving McWhirter.

The patients’ attorney, David Miller, said the therapy his clients sought worsened their emotional troubles.

“We have two very credible individuals who report sexual misconduct against Dr. McWhirter,” Miller said.

Every major medical and psychological organization forbids therapists to have sex with their patients, saying the involvement can be emotionally devastating for patients. In eight states, including California, it is illegal for therapists to have sex with their patients.

The lawsuit alleges that McWhirter “carelessly and negligently examined, diagnosed, treated and cared for” his patient.

Fearful of how the allegations of homosexual seduction would be perceived, the two former patients requested anonymity, and the lawsuit is filed using pseudonyms. Both men say the alleged sexual involvement with McWhirter has left deep emotional scars and depression, aggravating the problems that brought them to McWhirter in the first place.

“I used to lead the world around by a string, I had a lot of fun, people couldn’t keep up with me,” but then needed antidepressants after the alleged sexual encounter, the first patient said. The patient, who retired as a master chief petty officer from the Navy after more than 20 years, is married and has two grown sons. He now is a therapist himself and has had no homosexual encounters except that evening with McWhirter, Miller said.

Sometime between April and early June, 1977, after about ten months of therapy with McWhirter, the patient was invited to McWhirter’s home for dinner with another therapist, according to the deposition.

“I remember being kind of nervous and awe-struck, and I felt good that these two ‘learned’ men had me there to dinner. I felt cared for by (McWhirter),” the patient said in a deposition.

But the evening evolved into a sexual encounter, according to the deposition. The other therapist has filed a deposition in the lawsuit saying he cannot remember the evening.

The patient remained in therapy with McWhirter for six more years, according to the deposition and Miller.

The second man to allege misconduct said that he had seen McWhirter as a therapist from 1982 until they had sex about five years later. This patient, a 38-year-old painter, said that, after the night McWhirter came to his house, sexual encounters continued during the next couple of weeks. Then McWhirter abruptly cut him off, refusing to take his calls, the patient said.

The sexual involvement with McWhirter sent the patient spinning in a downward emotional spiral, said Chris Beletsis, a licensed San Diego psychologist who said he saw the same patient from January, 1986, to the fall of 1988.

“This came at a time when he was very vulnerable,” Beletsis said. “The experience he had with Dr. McWhirter led to a lot of depression, anxiety, irritability and outbursts of anger.”


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