Misconduct pervades the mental health marketplace and psychotherapists who eschew the financial rewards of dishonest practices ranging from pure quackery to deceitful marketing methods, are steadily being squeezed out of the profession. Psychotherapy is fast becoming a shady business, rather than a profession.
In my opinion, one trend that has had a deleterious effect on the field is the explosive growth in the number of highly dubious psychotherapy training programs and the proliferation of degrees, licenses and credentials that have little or no meaning. The number of poorly trained therapists and outright quacks passing themselves off as psychotherapists has grown substantially in the past 20 years, aided by the easy availability of licenses and credentials that are a boon to people without training who fancy themselves therapists that are only lacking a ‘shingle’ to complete the illusion.
In an insurance environment that has increasingly squeezed providers, competition for dollars has given rise to brazen fraud, misrepresentation and deceptive marketing by unqualified and under-qualified ‘therapists’ who have no investment in the welfare of patients or the integrity of the profession.
A Pennsylvania psychologist, Dr. Steve Eichel, has written thoughtfully on this subject. Fed up with rampant marketplace deception and credentialing fraud, Dr. Eichel came up with an ingenious way to illustrate the seriousness of the problem of bogus and questionable credentials. Dr. Eichel obtained impressive-sounding credentials for his cat, Zoe.
The ease with which Eichel was able get Zoe credentialed as a therapist is shocking. Zoe’s credentials were so convincing that Eichel actually received a phone call from a reporter who wished to consult with Zoe as an expert for an article the reporter was preparing. Throughout the entire affair, nary an eyebrow was raised as Eichel transformed Zoe the cat, into the respected hypnotherapist, Dr. Zoe D. Katz, PhD.
Eichel’s example shows us just how easy it is to obtain phony degrees and questionable credentials, but an even greater problem, in my opinion, is the proliferation of ‘real’ degrees from training programs that offer an inferior product.
Administrators of both freestanding psychotherapy training programs and university-based programs have discovered that one way to survive in a consumer-driven educational market is to open the doors to as many students as possible, often without regard to their intellectual or emotional fitness to ever engage in the practice of psychotherapy. Abbreviated training programs with fewer requirements, online training programs and programs that are less demanding and rigorous overall, have great appeal to the individual who is more interested in a quick, relatively painless route to ‘hanging out a shingle.’ Schools competing for limited tuition dollars are fully aware of this.
Administrators and graduates of grossly inferior training programs have a powerful financial interest in blurring the distinctions between the graduates of these programs and the graduates of far more rigorous traditional programs. It has been my experience that many students who enter these programs have little interest in challenging themselves intellectually or emotionally, while having even less interest in or curiosity about psychology as a serious discipline. I must add that I didn’t quite know the meaning of professional insult until I first had the experience of a graduate of a three-year, online doctoral program in psychology, dismiss as invalid, the assessment work I do based upon 10 years of rigorous undergraduate and graduate education and clinical training I received in bricks and mortar institutions. Talk about nerve!