KENT D. JOHNSON/kdjohnson@ajc.com

Programs aim to turn around doctors accused of sexual misconduct

Treatment and training programs for those accused of sexual misconduct have sprung up across the country, many of them in the past 20 years. Most offer their services to physicians as well as other professionals. Some offer both treatment and training.

Boundary training classes cost $1,000 or more, and often occur at hotel locations around the country. They may be considered continuing medical education.

Treatment programs likely include psychiatric care and may run in the tens of thousands. They are usually held at centers that also address drug and alcohol rehabilitation; they can include a spa-like environment with yoga, outdoor teamwork and even animal therapy. The doctor pays.

Training

Professional Boundaries Inc. holds three-day classes on medical ethics, boundaries, prescribing and other subjects. A former psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Schenthal, started the company after losing his license for sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old patient, a former victim of child sex abuse. The company presents its courses in hotel conference rooms across the country. PBI vendor booth representatives at a regulatory conference this spring described an emotional transformation by some student-doctors over just the three-day course.

Vanderbilt University’s Center for Professional Health offers courses on boundaries and prescribing, and a “Program for Distressed Physicians” on disruptive behavior. The center’s co-director, Bill Swiggart, says the courses are not for deep transformation but education, and that some physicians really don’t know the rules and where to draw the line. The course “Hazardous Affairs” offers a self-test on risky behaviors and teaches doctors how to identify behaviors on the slippery slope toward sexual misconduct.

ProBE director Catherine Caldicott describes its 2.5-day course as intense, but not therapy, and not for doctors with serious violations. On day one, 14 physicians arrive primed with an assignment they wrote evoking the professional virtues of medicine like helping people. On day two, they explain what brought them there. They try to explore the real reasons why, such as pretending they were helping a patient when they were really satisfying their self-interest. “I have witnessed people who have come in looking sort of angry and put upon and very defensive, and I’ve witnessed the lightbulb go on over somebody’s head,” Caldicott said. However, about 7 percent of students fail the course. One student who recently failed turned out later to have “misbehaved” again between the end of the course and getting his grade.

Treatment

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Acumen, in Lawrence, Kansas, offers training as well as intensive treatment. Its treatment program starts with three weeks of five-day-a-week immersion, then two separate follow-up weeks, then conclusion. Its aims include mindfulness training, teaching self-regulation and “Identifying and ameliorating personality/character attributes that previously led to self-defeating outcomes.”

Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, Mississippi reportedly treated the golfer Tiger Woods after his sex scandal. It offers a range of services from evaluation to outpatient care to residential treatment for what it calls sexual addiction. The genders are separated, with men receiving treatment at its Gratitude program. Pine Grove patients’ experiences range from identifying and processing their personal traumas to “experiential therapy” in art, music or drama.

The Sante Center for Healing in Argyle, Texas has no set length of stay for its residential treatment. Its methods include traditional counseling and group therapy, as well as a type of therapy that uses eye movements to desensitize patients to traumatic memories. It also offers therapy with horses.

The Keystone Center extended-care unit, housed in a Victorian mansion outside Philadelphia, has a minimum stay of 30 days. Keystone was developed by Patrick Carnes, a leader in the movement to define compulsive sexual behavior as an addiction. It advertises treatment for multiple specific behaviors, including compulsive phone sex or sexting, voyeurism and self-destructive sexual practices.

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