If the Spotlight 2015 movie made anything clear, it is that sexual misconduct by clergy is a very real and systemic problem. Part of the problem is the power and secrecy that these priests hold over others, but another part of the problem is the same religious treatment system that constantly fails for drug treatment. Both of these facts being clear, it is amazing that pastoral trainers like Clergy and Congregation Consulting of Samaritan Counseling would 1) advocate more secrecy and diversion when sexual misconduct occurs, and 2). advocate 12-step treatment for sexual misconduct.
“Such treatment is typically paid for by the diocese, and has cost the church at least $50 million over the last 25 years [as of 2002], estimated A. W. Richard Sipe, a psychologist and ex-priest who treated clergy for 40 years.”
I blogged about this problem since Feb 2015. Here’s what I’ve learned:
– Samaritan Counseling Center will not formally acknowledge any problem with or complaint about 12-step referrals made directly after complaints about 12-step coercion.
– Therapists at Samaritan, other than the Executive Director, will privately acknowledge the problem, but records show that the official position is not what either the therapist or client would reasonably conclude.
This was after my therapist refused to speak to me because I was not engaged with the 12-step program recommended by Samaritan Counseling, and after my complaint which was followed up by ‘under no circumstances’ was I to have any further personal contact with anyone at Samaritan Counseling.
“Prominent Groupers who have heard of my intention to write this book have alternately attempted to bully or bribe me into relinquishing the idea. On the one hand, I have been told that “it will not be a seller”—that “it will be damned at the outset” and “that it will make dull reading”; and on the other hand I have been urged with promises of commercial success to write in favour of the Movement, apparently regardless of whether I am convinced or not. The “wide field” for such a book has been spread temptingly before my eyes. Although the present book has been condemned unread as “dull”, the other has been praised unwritten as a “best seller”. I have been obliged to reply that in all honesty I must associate myself with the large and growing body of thoughtful people who are seriously alarmed at certain aspects of the Group teaching and practice. I have begged my Grouper friends to believe that the critics are not unsympathetic. They would be only too glad to welcome the Group if certain teachings were explained so that they were acceptable to conscience and to intellectual honesty. I hope, but hardly expect, that such an answer will be made. In the absence of any such assurance the grave doubts and misgivings that now obtain must continue and increase.”
I like this essay because it explains a lot of the strange dynamics of AA that destroy relationships, in particular the shunning dynamic which I find personally very odd and hurtful and seems to be more common, than in secular life, when religious cults like AA get involved. It is inevitable when you have a closed belief system that cannot accept the value of others, which is why you see it a lot where cults are involved: disowning, excommunication, disconnection, disfellowshipping are the kinds of words used to disrespect people who do not have the same beliefs or act the way you want, and in AA it happens all the time.
It is justified by saying that it preserves the integrity of the organization or relationship, but on closer examination it is often those cutting off that are being abusive, or being abused. Think of what it means to get 13th stepped: Once you’ve served your purpose, you can be called an alcoholic who’s putting others’ ‘sobriety in jeopardy’. That’s a really unhealthy way to end a relationship with someone they felt the need to bang. It leaves the person feeling sexually toxic, when in reality the 13th stepper is just moving on to a new victim.
It’s also a way that cult leaders and narcissists use to cut others out of the lives they wish to control. It is not uncommon for an abusive guru to tell someone to give up family and friends.
Shunning almost always comes from an attitude of superiority and a deep need for control: “If you don’t live your life the way we say, you’re dead to us”. There are healthy adult ways to communicate and have boundaries, and then there are the fearful and coercive ways of destructive cults.
I was repeatedly and more and more coercively referred to AA the more I complained about it.
In January we made an agreement that if I went to rehab, I could continue sessions with my ‘non-addictions’ therapist as long as she was in contact with the providers. I was hoping that I’d be able to show to her that rehab was all Alcoholics Anonymous indoctrination, and that the requirements would stop. AA was something I had already decided to quit after a year and a half of daily meetings, and I had already been paying the rehab referral specialist and outpatient rehab for about half a year. The bills were rolling in. It was depressing.
Imagine my surprise after six months of jumping through hoops, when I was not only not allowed to tell her what really happened in a session, but was BANNED from all communications with Samaritan Counseling!
It seems they expected me to surrender to AA if they just kept manipulating me into ‘treatment’. How infuriating is that? And what is the relationship between these state licensed social workers and the 12-step industry? Why did James Garrett say he was ‘encouraged’ that I had an attachment to my therapist, if he was going to discourage her from having a session with me unless I paid him first, indefinitely? Why did David Olsen suggest I need 6-8 months of ‘sobriety’ before I could speak to my therapist?
“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” – Oona Edmands, LCSW Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region 2/7/14
On 2/7 I was given a Step One worksheet after asking for non 12-step alternatives at SPARC (worksheet made me list my faults and told me that “I’m strong enough to quit” was a bad thought that would lead to relapse)
A couple of weeks later I was terminated from the outpatient rehab due to “unethical costs” for the recommended groups. Most people in SPARC are on Medicaid; it cost over $265 dollars to go to a single group per week and get the required drug test. I had complained to the counselor that I was only doing this so I could get back into therapy, and the $100 drug tests were pointless.
On 2/28 I informed Oona Edmands in a phone message about frustration with addiction treatment and was ignored. Also found that none of the rehab treatment was covered by insurance.
3 /4 asked directly whether I would actually be able to get back into therapy, as it seemed impossible to get better in the 12-step trap I was referred to. Therapist said “The answer is yes.”
“Case discussion with Oona Edmands: agreed that Tom will need to have two months of sobriety and weekly sessions with me before he could see Oona Edmands.” – James Garrett 3/17/14
“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” – Oona Edmands, LCSW Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region 3/20/14
“Tom Gleason called – ‘I was only doing this so I could get back to see Oona Edmands’” – James Garrett 3/20/14
“See me once a month for ‘trust building’ sessions and get approval to have appointment with Oona Edmands after two months” – James Garrett 3/26/14
After two more months, I got, basically, ‘you didn’t follow the recommendations‘ and all the rehab I claimed to have done was somehow ‘contradictory’, and my request to speak with her was some kind of ‘boundary issue':
“Sober. Debriefing the ‘betrayal’ from [his therapist] and his emotional response to not being able to meet with her. wrote complaint to David Olsen; has meeting on Monday with Dr. Olsen and clinical supervisor [NOTE: David Olsen did not attend]; looking at how his drinking damaged the relationship with [his therapist] and how he may never get the opportunity to resolve/bring closure to that relationship; angry that he feels like Oona Edmands is pushing ‘religion’ on him by ‘making’ [NOTE: scare quotes] him go to AA meetings instead of allowing other alternatives” – James Garrett 5/30/14
“Therapists have the right to their preferred mode of treatment” – David Olsen, Executive Director of Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region, May 2014 in the phone call when I asked about how to complain.
Yeah, and in that last session with James Garrett I told him I didn’t trust any of them anymore, and he told me ‘Maybe you can trust your higher power’.
“Lastly, it has come to our attention that multiple copies of your letters were received by the center. One of which was not by the use of the US Postal Service or any other third party delivery system. It was apparent that the letter had been hand-delivered to our satellite office in Delmar, NY. As a result, this letter is also being written to inform you that under no circumstances will any further personal contact with the center, its satellites or its personnel be allowable.” – David Olsen and Jenness Clairmont
It took me a while to figure out who to complain to, but in the meantime I was so confused by being terminated and banned from any further contact for a letter I thought was very insightful and empowering for me. I was so confused by this in fact, that I checked myself into a psychiatric ward thinking I might be crazy. There, I was prescribed anti-psychotic drugs (by the doctor who told me I’m “fucked and need AA”) to ‘help me stop obsessing about it’.
I eventually found the NYS Department of Education is the licensing board. But that didn’t go so well either…I didn’t realize at the time that Jenness Clairmont is on that board.
I tried to explain to the investigator the ethics issues, and that ended with:
“Nothing you are saying now makes any sense If you have anything further to say please address to:
Office of Professional Discipline
80 Wolf Road-suite 204
Albany, New York 12205
I will not be responding to anymore of your emails.
Michael A. Kinley
I tried filing another complaint to NYS DoE and got a letter from the Director of Investigations at N.Y.S. Education Department, Donald B. Dawson, saying the case was closed.
I tried to get a second copy of my records, and David Olsen made it very difficult:
All correspondance must be by mail. I will not be responding to any further emails. – David Olsen July 2,2015
When I got my records, after consulting with a lawyer about how to make a proper request and having my mother call the office manager Debbie to figure out how I could get my damn records, I found that all my complaint letters had been removed from my records.
After many emails, I finally received a letter from David Olsen. David Olsen said I could buy my complaints (that they never even bothered to address with me) for $.75 per page and they weren’t ‘technically’ a part of my medical record. Here he says that he enclosed additional correspondence previously sent, but that only included the original letter saying I could get back into therapy if I went to 12-steps, and the termination letter referring me to 12-steps.
Then I made a Freedom of Information Law request to try to figure out how this ‘investigation’ went down in such a way that the investigator told me the exact same thing David Olsen told me in the same words (“There is nothing wrong with them using this as their preferred therapy.”)
I made a video while going over my first copy of records:
That connected me with a lot of like-minded people. One of them made an attempt to have a discussion with Samaritan Counseling about this by writing a letter including my signature, but this letter was completely ignored by Samaritan Counseling:
The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights responded:
So, still banging my head against the wall.
We are doing these letter campaigns for people in other states too, and will continue to gather more information and pass it along to the government agencies, health workers, and licensing boards whose proper course of action would have/could have been to address the problem, while documenting and archiving all the complete non-response online so everyone can see “How it Works”.
My third attempt to complain to the NYS Office of Professions was also closed in Fall 2016, due to Oona Edmands denying everything (which of course doesn’t make any sense, considering what is written in her own signed session notes). The investigator also said that they ‘don’t look into the AA thing’.
I reported this willful negligence to the NYS Justice Center as well as the NYS Attorney General and the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights and am awaiting further investigation.
Why is the New York State Office of Professions not acknowledging any problem with the 12-step programs and 12-step referrals? I think not wanting to be involved with two-hatters is more than just a personal matter between therapist and client, as NYS Office of Professions Supervising Investigator Michael Kinley tried to tell me. I think it’s a big systemic problem and a lot of people are flat out lying about what they do and censoring the truth.
I should have sent these letters to the supervising investigator. I can only do so much.