update Jan 20 2020: Samaritan Institute is now called Solihten Institute. They are still not accountable.
When I was terminated from Samaritan Counseling Center in Scotia NY, I complained that the termination was apparently an act of religious discrimination by a counseling center that claimed to be sensitive to religious issues (They call it ‘faith-based counseling’, and Samaritan Institute who claims to privately fund 20,000 sessions per year accredits them). I had spent 9 months enjoying rehab requirements firsthand on the agreement that I’d be able to continue therapy if I did. I found that it was a form of emotional blackmail and financial extortion, and that they were not interested in hearing me sincerely about the harmful results of their suggestions. They alternately accused me of not following my side of the agreement, or refused to acknowledge any such agreement was ever made.
The ‘addiction specialist’ I was required to see, James Garrett, promotes this thing called ARISE intervention, which is an extended Johnson intervention, where the end-game is the same: “Serious consequences are put in place if the addicted individual does not enter treatment.” The word for this by addiction ‘specialists’ in addiction treatment is Contingency Management, and it is a demeaning behavioralist approach to training people to come to extol the virtues of 12-step programs as if their lives depend on it. In fact, contingency management puts a person’s life or livelihood into as much or more danger (or at least percieved danger) than any substance being used. This is the whole point of Contingency Management — We find something you personally need, or love, (like a professional license, a car, or a relationship) and we will take that from you if you do not pay these specific people and say you like it and would otherwise be ruined (notice this is not because of the drugs, but because of the extorted leverage. The effectiveness of this ‘treatment’ is unquestionable, even when it fails miserably, and therein lie the ethics and accountability issues).
I suspect he may get kickbacks for rehab referrals, which would be unethical and this should be investigated as well. The ‘treatment’ is 12-step religious indoctrination, including abandonment and shaming for not accepting what the client has been told is a ‘disease’ that he has no control over and no way to recover from without believing in a ‘higher power’ (which turns out to be the abusive and non-evidence-based rehab industry). It’s a deadly racket, and it landed me in a psychiatric ward twice, each time after firm denial by Samaritan Counseling to acknowledge the validity of my complaint.
My records show that I was repeatedly referred to Alcoholics Anonymous and that almost none of my questioning of the bad psychology of AA (telling people that they are insane, defective, and powerless) was noted, much less positively noted, in my records. The more I resisted the idea that I needed to see Bill Wilson as God’s prophet, the colder Samaritan Counseling became to me. Eventually they told me that I was not allowed to contact anyone at the center, after delivering my complaint letter to my therapist.
Executive Director David Olsen PhD, a 12-step advocate, told me on the phone after I complained, that it is a therapist’s right to her ‘preferred mode of treatment’. Here is a description of the therapist who according to David Olsen prefers 12-step religious coercion.
She is licensed by the State of New York to practice social work, and she engages in group and clinical supervision. She, according to David Olsen, believes that it is not only acceptable, but preferable to proselytize and even demand participation in the 12-step religion where people are encouraged to publicly label themselves in unsupervised meetings as ‘powerless over alcohol (or sex, or people, places and things in general)’, ‘selfish’, ‘dishonest’, and ‘insane’, and to do whatever they are told to do by whoever happens to want to ‘sponsor’ them, as part of her job licensed by the state of New York to work with emotionally troubled people.
I couldn’t tell, though, if it was really her preference or whether she was being forced to suggest Alcoholics Anonymous by her supervisor David Olsen. The first time she did it, she said “I’m required to suggest you to go to meetings, work the steps and get a sponsor”. I thought it was strange that she would tell me to do that when I had gone to therapy because AA had left me confused and depressed. And one time when I was really distressed about going to the meetings after I stopped drinking, she said “Keep going to those FUCKING meetings” as if she thought that was her job and didn’t really like having to say it. So I don’t really know if she was always a 12-stepper or became one during the time I was in therapy with her.
That time, (after I told her I didn’t think I wanted to go, and she said “Keep going to those FUCKING meetings”), I saw her sitting downstairs near the AA meeting after my session, and I told her my head was buzzing, then walked away. I was taken to the hospital for a panic attack by the AA members that night. They told the hospital that I was withdrawing from alcohol (I had not had a drink in three weeks), and I mentioned being upset that someone I knew in AA, a veteran two years younger than me, who didn’t fit in had jumped and killed himself.
“One poor chap committed suicide in my home. He could not, or would not, see our way of life.” – Bill Wilson, Chapter One of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
She seemed more and more genuinely frightened about what would happen if I continued to question Alcoholics Anonymous. One time after I was terminated and going through rehabs to get back into therapy, I saw her drive by while I was walking down the road and she hid her face with her hands and peeked at me through her fingers. She had told me she wasn’t afraid of me physically. I thought that was very odd that she hid her face. They claimed that I drank after therapy sessions, when in fact I had more and more been sobering up to go to them, especially after I started seriously questioning whether AA was a good thing for me. Records show that David Olsen even told her ‘seeing her would cause a relapse’ and that she was not qualified to talk to an ‘alcoholic’. This is how they isolate people who might question them. I was being forced to say that ‘addiction treatment’ was good for me, for the opportunity to tell her it wasn’t. By the end of my 15 month relationship with her (which David Olsen told me was not a relationship at all), she was adamant that she would never support me to seek any alternative mode of recovery.
“Jennifer from Saint Peters Addiction Recovery Center [12-step rehab] called to say that she had had a ‘frustrating session’ with client and requested a consultation with me. I returned call and left message” – LCSW Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region 2/7/14
“Client called and left message stating that he wished I would not recommend AA (as I had in my letter) as he felt it deeply contributed to his confusion. Message was cut off after two minutes. Did not return call” – LCSW, Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region 3/20/14
“Therapists have the right to their preferred mode of treatment” – David Olsen, Executive Director of Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region, May 2014
After this horrible experience, where James Garrett told me to write out my complaint and NOT SEND IT, and ‘trust my higher power’. I filed a complaint with Samaritan Counseling and the New York State Department of Education, including these documents:
As a supporting document for complaints sent on May 23 and June 10, 2014, please accept this document, which is a class action ethics complaint, as evidence that my dissatisfaction with the ’12-step treatment’ I received from Samaritan has precedent and that there are multiple ethical issues at stake.
Whether you are bound to the ethics code of the NASW or not, the complaints stand:
– Social workers’ primary responsibility is to promote the well-being of clients, not AA or the 12-step recovery industry.
– Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their own goals.
– Social workers should provide clients with an opportunity to ask questions.
– Social workers should not practice out of their area of expertise, in this case making very specific (or very vague) addiction treatment requirements based on their own 12-step affiliation.
– Social workers should not proselytize without regard for other systems of thought, values, ethics.
– 12-step referral is completely inappropriate for a client who claims to have been traumatized and crippled by 12-step ideology. If someone says that they are traumatized, they are; they are not ‘in denial’.
As my complaint stated, it was only after many runarounds, and then very adamantly resisting 12-step treatment that I got tokenized support for my actual experience, and that was evidence that Jim Garrett at least understands the ethics issues involved. I provide them for your information so that you, too, are aware of the ethics issues involved.”
Samaritan Counseling (David Olsen and Jenness Clairmont) sent me a letter in response telling me that ‘under no circumstances’ was I to have any further contact with anyone at Samaritan. Their reasoning being, apparently, that I didn’t use a postage stamp to drop off my letter to the therapist’s office which was closer than the post office. It seems David Olsen (who recently wrote a book about clergy sexual misconduct and boundary issues entitled “Saying No to Say Yes”) is sensitive to boundary issues such as people sending a complaint to his subordinate without using a stamp. I have to admit I sent her a copy of the complaint because he specifically told me to only send it to him, but my complaint was really about what I saw him doing in my records, and I didn’t trust him to care. I was kind of hoping my therapist would back me up. There was no response to my actual complaint.
The NYS investigator, Michael Kinley told me that there was nothing wrong with Samaritan Counseling referring me to AA (disregarding the fact that I had gone to therapy after a year of daily AA meetings, and that I was terminated after a year and a half of therapy for not continuing to go, and also disregarding the NASW class action complaint I included detailing the violations).
“The response that ‘you could and should have gone elsewhere’ is correct. I wish AA taught me to believe in myself and trust my own thoughts, but they did the opposite. This kind of response that a client simply could have recognized a bad treatment recommended by paid experts again places all the blame on the client instead of using the feedback to improve the quality of services.
I’m giving you valuable information here. The current policies allowing this behavior almost killed me.
It’s not the client’s fault for failing to recognize that AA is the only right answer in certain professional circles, when a client SHOULD reasonably assume and trust that professionals are there to help clarify the client’s own goals and don’t have a religious agenda.
It’s important to understand the kind of psychological coercion that happens in Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12-step books say that the alternative is ‘jails, institutions, and death’ and tell you over and over again that if you don’t get it, you’re dishonest or mentally ill.
I was led to believe that I would be able to get back into therapy (where I thought I’d be free to question AA again after giving treatment yet another failed try and realizing it’s all 12-step based) if I kept doing what they told me to do, so I continued the ‘treatments’ for 5 more months just to be allowed the opportunity to tell them how it went.
I incorrectly assumed they would care about the outcome of their recommendations. I was never given this opportunity, and was instead shamed and terminated.
That NYS can find no wrong with licensed professionals so obsessed with reserving the right to push religion on their clients that they are willing to leave patients crippled and traumatized, is very sad to me.”
I told him about the emotional blackmail, the use of attachment and transference issues in therapy to force me into religious meetings and 12-step rehab. I explained to him that David Olsen is a sex therapist/pastor who uses 12-step shaming to degrade clients with legitimate complaints. The investigator from NYS told me “Nothing you are saying now makes any sense…I will not be responding to any more of your emails”.
I recently found out that Jenness Clairmont, the former Clinical Director (now in private practice as Forest Clinical Services), is on the NYS DoE Office of Professions, the licensing board that I complained to. When I reviewed my records with her, she simply told me that it was ‘a bad relationship’, and informed me that I had been accused of harassment. This was devastating to me, because I was proud of what I had figured out and thought my therapist would be happy that I had learned I don’t need to be in a weird cult to survive. I did not expect to be accused of harassment and portrayed by David Olsen as someone who was dangerous to be alone with.
I made a cartoon about my experience
and many people on YouTube commented on it, affirming that their experience was similar and that it is a disgusting malpractice. I commented on Yelp, and Samaritan Counseling has repeatedly had my reviews removed (for reasons ranging from ‘abusive or inappropriate’, ‘not your actual experience’, ‘not substantive’, ‘privacy concerns’, to unspecified ‘TOS violations’) and now just has Yelp close my account when I try to post a review of Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region.
He could have simply and properly addressed religious boundary violations and the mishandling of transference issues (by admitting that refusal to accept 12-step coercion was not a valid reason for termination or refusal to address any therapeutic relationship issue), but instead chose to blame the client and accuse me of boundary issues for requesting humane treatment repeatedly over several months.
In summary, David Olsen is the Executive Director of Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region, a sex therapist, and an advocate of 12-step coercion which comes in handy when you need to throw people under the bus and avoid legitimate complaints about suppression of informed consent, professional conflict of interest, and mishandled transference. He exhibited highly unethical and unprofessional behavior throughout and after the course of my treatment, and has been held accountable for nothing by New York State.
The way I was treated through his influence was extremely traumatizing, degrading, and completely unnecessary, and nearly led me to commit suicide. It’s very disturbing that someone claiming to be a relationship expert, training and holding the power to require others to treat clients this way, does not even have a mark on his license for this. He really shouldn’t even have a license, based on existing ethics codes such as the NASW ethics code. I demand investigation by the state into religious boundary violations and discrimination, and would be interested in talking to any lawyer who might be able to file a civil suit on my behalf.