Unlicensed Psychologists Play Mind Games

CBS2/May 15, 2003
By Paul Zekman

Chicago -- There are no laws that prevent anyone from claiming to be a therapist or a psychotherapist. The only thing that is clear is that you have to have a license to call yourself a psychologist.

A rocky economy, layoffs by the thousands& on top of that dealing with a mother's death, cancer and emergency heart surgery. Steve and Marlene Vogelfanger and her sister Elaine Wadler needed professional help.

They turned to Jennie Bernardi who told them she was a doctor...a psychologist.

"She made me feel like she could help us," Elaine told us.

But Bernardi wasn't licensed.

CBS 2 Investigative reporter, Pam Zekman asked, "Do you think she sized you up as..." "A sucker." Finishes Marlene.

We wanted to find if others are claiming to be psychologists when they're not. So we pulled out the yellow pages, flipped to Psychologists and found James Marque. A mistake he says, he's tried to get corrected for years.

And on a website Marque describes himself as a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist -- but he's not licensed as anything.

Marque denies that he tells patients that he's a psychologist, but when went under cover as potential patients, "He told us he was a mastered psychologist." Said Simone Thiessen, a CBS 2 Investigative Producer.

"In my opinion that's misleading." Says Dr. Ken Kessler who is on the state licensing board for psychologists and President of the Illinois Psychological Association. "Unless the person has a license they cannot use the word psychologist to describe what they do. "

Gerald Green was a licensed psychologist until 1988 when the state revoked his license. Why? Because Greene had a sexual relationship with a patient. Also, the University of Oklahoma had withdrawn his Ph.D. because Greene "plagiarized his dissertation."

Now Greene lists himself in the Yellow Pages under "Counseling," but when we visited Greene as possible patients he told us another story.

"I asked him if a psychologist like him would be able to help our brother who was severely depressed and he responded without hesitation - Absolutely. Then he gestured dramatically to all the certificates on his wall as evidence of his qualifications." Said Thiessen

We took a closer look and there was the PhD from Oklahoma along with certificates from organizations Greene no longer belongs to. Raising questions, Greene refused to answer. But experts say there's only one credential you should look for.

"The first thing you want to do is look at whether or not the person is licensed with the state," says Kessler

Obviously that's no guarantee there won't be problems, but having a license does guarantee that a psychologist has a PhD, passed a state exam and is required to follow ethical standards of practice.

That takes us back to Jennie Bernardi who's been criminally charged with practicing without a license.

"The potential exists for great harm to come to the people who seek out the services of individuals who aren't licensed and aren't qualified to practice," says Kessler.

Bernardi has also been charged with two counts of theft, for stealing from patients.

When Zekman questioned Bernardi to ask her about the charges, she said "I have no comment, you'll have to talk to my lawyer."

No comment about the patient who says she gave Bernardi a $10,000 check and $2,000 in cash and threatened to kill herself if Bernardi didn't pay her back.

"That's playing with fire?" asks Zekman

"That's playing with something far more volatile than fire, that's playing with dynamite," responds Kessler.

The Vogelfanger's lent Bernardi $20,000.

"She utilized her therapeutic relationship with us to take advantage of us, and ultimately take us for money" Steve said.

Money the couple had saved for their retirement, but never got back because the check Bernardi gave them bounced, leaving the couple looking for answers.

"How could you do this? You knew how vulnerable we were at the time. How could you take our money? How could you take our dream?" is what Marlene Vogelfanger wants to know.

"They believed that you were a Psychologist, you told them you had a Ph.D., and that you betrayed their trust, " asked Zekman.

"Please I have no comment" responds Bernardi.

Through her lawyer Bernardi says she denies telling patients she's a Psychologist only a psychotherapist that does not require a license. That Bernardi may have made some errors in judgment but had no criminal intent to steal money from patients and wants to pay it back. In total Bernardi now owes more than $100,000 to patients, acquaintances and an insurance company who's now investigating her bills.

You can look up any professional license on the website for the state Department of Professional Regulation.

Hypnotism is popular as entertainment, but now mainstream dentists, doctors and mental health professionals use it in addition to traditional treatments.

But the power of hypnosis in the wrong hands can be devastating to vulnerable patients.

The mind games in this case are played by a man who claims to be a psychologist, but he's not.

He charges $250 for a three hour session of past life regression therapy-- claiming he can help people with phobias, anxieties and other conditions, much faster than traditional therapy.

How? Under hypnosis he supposedly takes them back to past lives. And he introduced us to some clients who say it helped them.

"I was a musician by the name of Lucious Gray in 1593" says one client.

"I was a French king," says another.

"I was an Eskimo," says a third.

"I went back to living on another planet" says a fourth.

They time traveled here in Des Plaines during a past life regression treatment like the one we were invited to videotape. Terry Taylor-- the operator of the so-called spiritual awakening center starts by hypnotizing his clients.

"Let yourself go all the way back in time. You're going faster and faster and faster all the way back," says Taylor.

To a past life where John Matz sees himself as a victim of religious persecution who watched a captor&

"Putting the knife to my throat" says Matz under hypnosis.

Then Matz forgives the killer-- part of the process Taylor claims will help him.

"If you can find a problem in a past lifetime and resolve it, they disappear in this lifetime" says Taylor.

Matz, for example says his claustrophobia disappeared after discovering he was buried alive in another life, "and everyday my life is happier and I enjoy everything I do."

"Its a fantasy, it's a nice fantasy but it doesn't help resolve the problem" says Stephen Kahn who uses hypnosis in his practice as a licensed psychologist, and teaches it at the university of Chicago.

"This is part of the power of hypnosis. If you have a highly charged emotional experience, you tend to believe it." Kahn says.

Taylor believes that through regression therapy a woman's breast cancer went in to remission "We went inside and we talked to the cells of cancer" and a man's blood condition improved. "We did a transfusion under hypnosis and now he has more energy," says Taylor.

"That's preposterous. That is impossible to have happen. It violates all of the laws of our universe as we know it," says Kahn.

Taylor responds, "I can't prove it or disprove it nobody can."

Critics also worry that Taylor's technique could result in false memories being implanted in the minds of his clients -- like those who now believe they had relatives in a past life who sexually abused them.

"The danger is that they believe these things and they may carry some of these feelings into the current life," says Stephen Kahn.

Taylor says he's qualified to handle possible dangers telling potential clients, "You have to make sure you are with a hypnotist who knows how to work with that. Remember I am also a psychologist too."

But he's not. Taylor only has a Master's degree in psychology -- but no Doctorate degree and no state license. Both are required for Taylor to legally call himself a psychologist.

"I'm told you can't say that," Zekman says.

"No probably not," he replies.

In brochures, Taylor calls himself a transformational psychotherapist.

"Is that a name you made up?" asks Zekman.

"Yes, yes. That's the name I put out there to show what I'm doing," says Taylor.

Taylor also claims he's a qualified hypnotist because he's certified by the National guild of hypnotists but in an experiment Steve Eichel, a psychologist, used his cat to prove that some certifications are easy to get. Zoe was certified as a hypnotherapist by several associations including the National Guild of Hypnotists.

"They did not request transcripts, they did not request any copies of degrees. They just took my word for it," says Eichel.

"Some people will look at this story and say this guy is a complete quack," says Zekman.

"I'm sure they will," says Taylor. "I don't really care what society says out there whether this is right or wrong. I know I'm helping people and

A lot of people could say this is on the fringes or this is crazy. So be it."

Taylor denies that he implants false memories in any of his clients saying they simply tell him what they see.

As for his practice, state officials say he may be in violation of an Illinois law that says only licensed health professionals can use hypnosis for therapeutic purposes.

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