When Mental Health Professionals Cover for Each Other

Two weeks after well documented facts were published indicating unethical behaviour by an ISMHO founder, the mental health organization’s board of directors has formally expelled the whistleblower for activities contrary to the best interests of ISMHO — i.e., for telling the truth. The result of the board’s secret deliberations comes just days after board members misled the ISMHO membership, claiming the APA had found that no unethical behaviour had ever occurred.

Summary Justice — Again — While Refusing to Engage With Actual Facts

Shortly after I published evidence of unethical behaviour at ISMHO (“Online Therapist Avoids Censure Over Breach of Client Confidentiality”), the organization’s board took the unusual step — apparently in violation of the organization’s own guidelines — of expelling me from the ISMHO members’ discussion list (“Online Mental Health Group Expels Whistleblower”). Although nothing remotely resembling due process ever took place, the board did at least put on a brief appearance of negotiating with me in good faith regarding my actions, with the organization’s secretary Adrian Skinner acting as a conduit for these communications.

But suddenly and without warning, on 1 December 2005 — a full two days before the board had the courtesy even to inform me of their decision — the following message was posted to the ISMHO members’ list, indicating their decision to expel me from the organization altogether:

The Board voted and expelled Greg Mulhauser for unprofessional activities contrary to the best interests of ISMHO: (1) circulating a complaint that had been rejected by two responsible bodies and (2) abusing the privilege of possessing member e-mail addresses.

Now, with regard to number 2 above, I am guilty as charged: I did send one single email to each ISMHO member about the evidence I published, and even though this is not prohibited by the ISMHO list guidelines, I personally believe that I did abuse the privilege. What I also did was make an immediate public apology regarding my action and further indicated to the ISMHO board that I would appreciate an opportunity to apologize directly to the ISMHO membership. While I was initially led to believe that my apology had been accepted — with Adrian Skinner stating that "the apology…went down well and I would think that is that on that matter" — apparently making a public apology for my mistake was not good enough for the ISMHO board.

With regard to number 1, it appears that ISMHO board members still have not taken the time to inform themselves about the facts of the situation — since I have in actuality done nothing of the sort they suggest.

What I have done is report the facts of what actually happened, out here in the real world.

I have made no new "complaint" of any kind, nor have I ever sought even to involve the ISMHO board in the matter, although they have taken it upon themselves — not just once, but now twice — to insert themselves into the situation without invitation and without bothering to inform themselves about it. Their lack of even a basic grasp of the evidence seems to be clear from the fact that board members DeeAnna Merz Nagel and Jason Zack (for whom I otherwise continue to feel a great deal of respect) stated on the ISMHO discussion list that the APA found that no ethical violations had occurred. This is just patently false, as anyone who has bothered to read the original article or the APA’s own website would know: the APA may dismiss a complaint simply because they believe a situation either has already been rectified, or is likely to be rectified.

Therefore I can only conclude that either the ISMHO board actively lied to the ISMHO membership, or they simply were ignorant of the facts.

Given the board’s initial refusal even to consider evidence regarding the matter (“Online Therapist Avoids Censure Over Breach of Client Confidentiality”), I believe it is more charitable to infer deliberate ignorance than deliberate lying. (To summarize the relevant content from the link above, the organization’s President DeeAnna Merz Nagel stated on the members’ list that the ISMHO board fully discussed the situation many months ago and concluded that no ethical violations occurred. What DeeAnna neglected to tell her members is that the board handed out this judgement without considering the actual evidence which has now been made public; on the contrary, DeeAnna communicated to me that she and the board did not want to hear anything from me and then came back to tell me that she and the board had decided no confidentiality breach had ever occurred.)

What the ISMHO board has refused to admit to their members is that those professionals who have bothered to take the time to understand the facts — including the APA and New York OPD — have not disputed my account of what actually happened in any way, shape, or form. The board now expels me for publishing those facts.

Protecting ISMHO Interests, Not Public Interest

Finally, it is very telling that the board chose to expel me for activities "contrary to the best interests of ISMHO". I would have hoped the ISMHO board might act to promote the best interests of the field itself, or even the best interests of those members of the public we call clients. But if they are actually interested strictly in protecting their own interests on this occasion, then perhaps they have done exactly the right thing: expel a fellow professional who is willing to tell the truth about making mistakes, rather than doing everything possible to convince others that no mistakes have ever occurred.

Good for them.

Ruthlessly Protecting Personal Influence

So, an ISMHO co-founder apparently publishes confidential client material on a publicly available website and refuses to admit he made a mistake. Meanwhile, another co-founder John Grohol grabs the opportunity to post a factually erroneous message on the ISMHO members’ discussion list, calling into question my own professionalism. (Originally, I also provided a link to a post on John Grohol’s personal blog, brought to my attention by a dismayed colleague, in which he makes further ad hominem attacks against my integrity and offers his sarcastic and patronizing ‘pity’, but then I thought better of it — why link to someone who has nothing more substantial to contribute than verbal abuse?) Representing the dwindling corner of honesty and openness, this member has been expelled for telling the truth.

I think it’s a pity that so many people with a personal influence base founded upon their ISMHO roles appear to be so threatened by the truth that they will actually resort to insinuation, innuendo, prolonged verbal abuse, and outright misrepresentation of fact in order to convince their peers that no mistakes were ever made (except, of course, by Greg Mulhauser). I do retain some faith that at least a few of those members with less of an interest in protecting personal positions will think for themselves and take the time to inform themselves about the facts. I don’t expect them all to agree with me, by any means, but at least I will respect them for engaging with the real world. Unfortunately, the ISMHO board has ensured that from here on out, ISMHO members will hear only their version of the truth.

Personal Values and the Value of Truth

In this case, it all looks pretty straightforward to me. Tell the truth, get kicked out. Engage in insinuation and verbal abuse, and disengage from fact, and get ahead.

Personally, I choose to continue living as if truth and honesty will always prevail in the end — even though I know from actual experience that all too often, they do not.

Although the ISMHO board seems bent on preventing anyone from learning anything from this whole episode, if you’d like to see what I’ve learned, see my “Suggested Principles for the Reform of ISMHO: Ethical and Competent Management”.

Editor’s Note

The original version of this article reported the statement by an unnamed candidate for the presidency of ISMHO that she had withdrawn her nomination for that office. In accordance with that individual’s wishes, I would like to post the following correction (with her explicit permission): This editor unwittingly made unauthorized statements about the candidacy and intentions of Michelle Drew within the ISMHO organization. The questionable material has since been removed from this web site. No harm was intended and I apologize for any misunderstanding that has occurred.

 

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was last reviewed or updated by on .

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