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Women Accuse Therapist of Sex Abuse : Medicine: San Diego psychologist Charles Hansen agrees to surrender license to practice in light of allegations that he had sex with woman patients during therapy.

March 06, 1992|NORA ZAMICHOW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Accused of sexual misconduct and gross negligence in the treatment of eight female patients, San Diego psychologist Charles Hansen has agreed to surrender his license to practice in California.

In graphic detail, eight women described alleged abuses that included having sex with Hansen during therapy, as well as being drugged and forced to have sex, according to court documents.

"I feel his misguided and exploitative behavior has left me with bad scars," one woman said during an interview. "All I can say is that I believe this was staged, deliberate, and that he knew exactly what he was doing."

Five of the women say they had sought treatment with Hansen because of marital problems, according to an accusation filed by the attorney general's office. Several of the women also acknowledge that they had been sexually or physically abused as children--an experience that would make them "the most vulnerable of prey," said one source familiar with the case.

"He'd say sex with therapists is OK in a lot of situations," one former patient said. "He was really interested in my sexual abuse history. At the time, I assumed he needed the information to help me. But now I realize that he was getting kicks out of it. In retrospect, he spent months trying to seduce me. I didn't see that then.

"He tried to tell me it was normal for a therapist to have a relationship with a patient. I was abused, and my self esteem was really low--I accepted what he said."

Deputy Atty. Gen. Sanford Feldman said he could not discuss the case until the medical board approves a formal agreement with Hansen. But, he added, "We've entered into an agreement to resolve this case."

Hansen agreed last Friday to surrender his license, canceling a hearing scheduled March 4, said his lawyer, Pamela Ann Thatcher. Thatcher added that Hansen admitted gross negligence in treatment of his patients but did not address the question of sexual misconduct.

"There was no admission as to any sexual misconduct by way of surrender (of the license)--the admission was to gross negligence in treatment of clients," said Thatcher. "The only thing we admitted to was gross negligence in treatment of patients."

Thatcher added that Hansen decided to give up his license because "he did not want to put the claimants through the trauma of a hearing."

Thatcher also criticized the state for having no substance abuse program available to psychologists who, like Hansen, develop a drug problem.

Hansen did not return phone calls.

Experts say that a therapist having sex or sexual contact with a patient can be devastating for the patient.

"Therapist-patient sex has always been considered unethical and clinically damaging. It's a tremendous abuse of trust, " said Ken Pope, former chairman of the American Psychological Assn.'s ethics committee and co-author of "Sexual Intimacy Between Therapists and Patients."

Pope and a colleague surveyed 1,300 psychologists nationwide to assess the effects of therapist-patient sex. According to that 1991 study, one of every 100 victims of therapist-patient sex commits suicide. But, they found, only 15% of victims ever report the offense. And the impact can be debilitating--14% of all such victims require hospitalization, Pope said.

"Under no circumstances is a woman patient responsible for abuse any more than a child is for child abuse or a rape victim is for rape," Pope said. "This has to do with the power of a therapist and the way therapy works: clients tell therapists their deepest secrets, they let themselves become completely vulnerable and begin experiencing the therapist as a parent, for whom they'd do anything to gain approval."

Across California, half of all complaints about psychologists involve claims that they had sex with patients, said Janie Cordray, spokeswoman for the Medical Board of California.

Since August, eight decisions and seven accusations have been filed by the Medical Board's Board of Psychology against therapists statewide for sexual misconduct. The medical board conducts investigations for the Board of Psychology.

Since 1990, sexual exploitation by a psychotherapist has been considered a misdemeanor.

In Hansen's case, six women sued for medical malpractice and reached out-of-court settlements that stipulated that they cannot discuss their cases.

But many who are familiar with such cases believe that because women tend to shy away from reporting such abuses, there could be others who have not yet come forward.

"There is a strong likelihood that there are other cases," said attorney Dave Miller, who represented the six women. "This is a particularly insidious type of problem because the more injured the victim, the more likely they are to subliminate and bury the injury."

The complaints against Hansen, filed starting last year and as recently as two weeks ago, all spring from incidents that allegedly occurred from 1977 to 1984.

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