Psychologist Accused Of Sexual Misconduct -- State Board To Review Complaints From 6 Patients
A prominent Pierce County psychologist has been charged by the state with violating his code of ethics by allegedly having sex with his clients, engaging in nude therapy and violating their confidences.
It is one of the most egregious cases ever taken to the board, say officials with the state Examining Board of Psychology, where the charges were filed last month. The board continues to receive complaints about the psychologist, who has been licensed in the state since 1965.
The charges, based on claims by six patients, say Gig Harbor therapist John Finch violated his code of ethics by having sex with clients, shared their private conversations with others and fostered their dependence on him.
Sex between patients and therapists is forbidden under state ethics law but is not a criminal offense.
Contacted at his home, Finch refused to comment on the charges or talk about his therapy methods. In a letter sent last month through his attorney to the state board, Finch said he will not participate in the June disciplinary hearing because of his age and his health. "This decision is not to be deemed an admission as to the truth of the allegations," said his attorney, Charlotte Chalker.
However, Finch, 78, has admitted he breached his ethics in at least one case, has acknowledged using nude therapy and did not renew his state psychology license last year.
But state officials say they still intend to hold a hearing on the charges because, unless it was revoked by the board, Finch could simply reinstate his license by paying the licensing fee. "The public could be justifiably a tad cynical when a licensee can evade sanctions by simply turning in his license," said Jerald Anderson, an assistant state attorney general who is representing the psychology board in the case.
PATIENTS ANGRY AT FINCH, THEMSELVES
Those who say they were his victims express anger and shame at Finch, themselves and a system they say allowed Finch to continue to practice therapy despite suspicions of misconduct. They say they are stepping forward to protect others from Finch and other therapists who might misuse their power.
Complaints were made against Finch 10 years ago, but were dropped by the state Department of Licensing - which at the time had jurisdiction over the licensing of psychologists - because the complainants were not deemed credible. But investigators remained suspicious.
"I believe Dr. Finch practices in a questionable and controversial manner," said Ruth Palnick, who investigated the charges for the Department of Licensing in 1982, in documents filed at the time. "John Finch bears watching, but I really don't feel we would get far with these witnesses."
The psychology board has received 11 complaints against Finch, beginning in 1990, six of which are included in the statement of charges. They paint a portrait of a man who promoted himself as a Christian therapist and fostered such dependence by his patients that he persuaded them to remove their clothes and engage in sex with him.
It is only today that some of the women feel strong enough to talk about their experiences with Finch.
"The hardest thing is I've lived with this secret for 26 years, more than half of my life," said Ineke Rouw, who met Finch in 1964 at a Bible conference in Bellingham. Active in a Christian church, Rouw began therapy with him soon thereafter and continued until 1987. She began to see Finch because of concerns about her inability to become pregnant.
Rouw said the contact with Finch began as hugs, stroking and fondling. "It was exciting and thrilling to be wanted by this very important man," she said in the complaint she filed with the state. "I dealt with apprehension and guilty feelings by assuring myself this Christian man loved me, would never do anything that would hurt me."
So when Finch asked her to have sex with him beginning in 1965, she said she felt so dominated by him that she agreed. Rouw said she had sex with Finch hundreds of times, almost always in his office during hours when he was billing her for therapy. She estimates during the 23 years she saw Finch, he was paid $20,000 to $30,000 in therapy fees.
Rouw said she ended her therapy with Finch when she confided in another therapist and was awakened to the abuses that had gone on for so many years.
"I realized the only thing I'd done wrong was trust the wrong person," said Rouw, who has difficulty explaining why she kept the secret so long. "It's a terrible thing living with this secret. I didn't know what he did to me as a person, I kept it so compartmentalized. It's hard to imagine I could do it so well for so long."
`I ADMIT I WAS WRONG'
In 1990, Rouw filed notice of her intent to sue for $300,000, charging that Finch misused his position in her therapy. But before a formal complaint was filed, said Rouw, Finch paid her the $300,000 she was seeking and wrote a letter acknowledging his misconduct.
"One of my former clients . . . and I came to an out-of-court compromise of a disputed claim for what she experienced as damage done to her because of a long-standing intimate relationship with me which ended several years ago," Finch said in the letter, which he reportedly sent to other clients and has become part of the psychology board's file. "Frankly and with deep sorrow, I admit I was wrong and in violation of my professional ethics."
Since then, two other civil lawsuits have been filed in Pierce County Superior Court against Finch, charging him with professional misconduct. One is scheduled to go to trial in September.
Finch, an ordained Methodist minister, was a founder of the prestigious school of psychology at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., and was internationally known for his "intensive" therapy, where patients would spend three weeks in remote cabins he owned, writing in journals and trying to gain insight into their personal problems. In several cases, say former patients, it was during these sessions he began having sex and nude therapy with his patients.
Finch, who has been married and has children, has acknowledged using nude therapy. In a response to the psychology board inquiry, he wrote, "Intensive therapy per se does not place its emphasis on nude therapy nor touching in sexual areas of the body. However, I have used nude therapy with a few clients . . . who overly identified with their bodies and sexuality. I did not touch people in the nude."
Among the other charges in the state complaint:
-- A woman who began therapy with Finch in 1971, because she felt alone and unable to develop an intimate relationship with men, complained that after months of therapy she was asked to remove her clothes. Later the two had sex as a way, as Finch is alleged to have said, for the woman to overcome her sexual inhibitions. She developed a psychological dependence on Finch, state investigators found. The woman discontinued therapy in 1991.
-- A woman who went to Finch because of personal problems says she was fondled by Finch during intensive therapy, and had sex with Finch on eight occasions in 1976. Finch's actions contributed to the breakup of her marriage, the charges allege.
-- A woman who went to Finch for therapy between 1974 and 1976 says that after several months, Finch told her the therapy would be helped if she removed her clothes. She was nude during several sessions in which Finch hugged her and caressed her buttocks, the state alleges.
-- A woman who had weekly sessions with Finch in the mid-1970s says he asked her to remove her clothes and ran his hands down her body and kissed her as she was leaving the sessions.
-- A woman who saw Finch from 1978 to 1990 says he fostered such a psychological dependence on him that she allowed him to give her away at her wedding, causing the woman and her family to sever their relationship.
The women are not identified by name, only as clients A through F, in the state complaint. However, two agreed to allow The Times to use their names.
Sexual relationships between clients and therapists have gone on for years, but recent stories have vaulted the issue into the national spotlight. In Boston, the family of a Harvard medical student who committed suicide by injecting himself with cocaine has sued a psychiatrist, alleging that a bizarre sexual relationship with the therapist contributed to his death.
Last August, the psychology board revoked the license of a Spokane therapist accused of having improper sexual relations with teenage clients. The license of Edward L. Deatherage was suspended for 10 years, the stiffest penalty ever assessed by the board, which has had disciplinary powers since 1984.
Since then, the board has taken disciplinary action against 38 licensed therapists - in many cases simply getting assurances that violations would stop. Of those cases, seven involved sexual misconduct.
Terry West, a program manager with the psychology board, which is under the Department of Health, said the board receives about 60 complaints a year. About 30 are investigated. She said 6 percent to 11 percent involve sexual misconduct. By one estimate, according to The New York Times, 7 percent to 12 percent of male therapists sexually abuse patients.
A RELATIONSHIP OF TRUST
Psychologists say it is not unusual for a patient to develop a binding relationship with the therapist. They call it "transference," where patients become so dependent on a therapist they develop an abiding trust - almost love - in the person.
That explains why a patient might stay in an abusive relationship with a therapist, said David Summers, a local attorney who specializes in representing clients who have been injured by an abuse of trust.
"After a few months, or a few years, in therapy, it's not an easy matter to reach the conclusion that your therapist is not actually working for you, that the person in whose hands you've placed your well-being is not trustworthy," Summers said.
Often, he said, it takes years to come to the realization that their trust has been abused. And when the therapist is also a spiritual presence, it can exaggerate the trust and dependence.
This was the case of Joan Waldron, one of the six women included in the complaint against Finch. She began seeing Finch in 1972, drawn to him because of his involvement in the Christian community. "I would not have gone to someone who didn't have a Christian background," she said.
In 1975, she participated in one of Finch's "intensive therapy" sessions, which, she said, he persuaded her to do in the nude.
"I had to trust that Finch knew what he was doing and knew what I was doing," said Waldron, 56. "I was in therapy because I was hurting. I thought that Finch was the avenue through which the help would come."
She said the two began having sex during therapy sessions in 1976 and continued for five months before it stopped. Waldron said she continued to see Finch until 1979, when she contacted another therapist and realized the harm Finch was causing. Eventually, said Waldron, it contributed to the breakup of her marriage.
Waldron knows it may seem incomprehensible to some why she would continue therapy with Finch for so many years. "I was very vulnerable, very needy, dependent on him for my life. I tried to believe he had my best interests at heart," said Waldron, who is now working on a graduate degree in psychology.
"It's a puzzling, puzzling thing," she added. "It's like he's a flawed Moses. There's a part of him who really wanted to lead people to the promised land."
Waldron said she finally had the courage to make a formal complaint against Finch. "I realized Dr. Finch would haunt me the rest of my life unless I took action against it," she said.
FINCH FRIENDS DEFEND HIM
Finch has his defenders, many of whom have written supporting letters to the board. One of his key backers is Annette Weyerhaeuser, who practices with Finch and has known him since he moved to Washington in the late 1950s.
It was a $1 million grant from Annette and C. Davis Weyerhaeuser that helped start the Fuller School of Psychology in the early 1960s. C. Davis Weyerhaeuser, Annette Weyerhaeuser's husband, is a retired Weyerhaeuser Co. officer and philanthropist.
The school was founded after Finch delivered a series of lectures, according to the school catalog. A building there bears his name and the school sponsors a John G. Finch symposium on psychology and religion, named for Finch, "whose inspiration and efforts led to the establishment of the school of psychology . . . and who is making an ongoing contribution to our understanding of the relationships between psychology and the Christian faith," the catalog reports.
Annette Weyerhaeuser won't comment on Finch or the charges but acknowledges that she and her husband remain close friends with him. In a letter she wrote last May to friends and clients - many of whom had heard about his admission in the Rouw case - she asked that they forgive Finch.
"Our idol has fallen," she wrote, in an eight-page letter that has become part of the state file. "Admittedly John has sinned mightily. He sinned against his patients, against his profession, against his family, and, most seriously, against himself and God. Being a Christian, it was a most unforgivable, hurtful move on his part. We have trusted him with our inmost problems and sins, and he has broken our trust. We are confused, bewildered, hurt and angry."
But she urged they forgive Finch because "he is truly penitent and feels deeply responsible for the hurts which we are all suffering."
If the psychology board finds that Finch violated the code of ethics, he could be fined and his license suspended. He wouldn't face criminal charges because therapists having sex with clients is not a criminal violation in Washington state.
In only a handful of states is sex between patients and therapists a crime. Complaining to a licensing board and filing lawsuits are victims' only recourse.
LICENSE WAS NOT RENEWED
While Finch has not renewed his license, he reportedly is still working under the umbrella of education. Annette Weyerhaeuser said Finch is working with Journey Inward, a Christian-based education course.
While Finch won't talk about his current practice, in a letter written last April he said he will focus his energies on "spiritual educational experiences" and conducting conferences.
That may be perfectly legal, said West, with the psychology board. If he doesn't call it psychology, it's not a violation of the psychology board licensing law, she said.
Meanwhile, the women who have come forward say it is cathartic to talk openly about something they had kept secret for years.
"I said there's no way I'd die with it," said Rouw, who learned to keep secrets as a child in Holland, when her family hid three men in their home during World War II.
"As I tell the truth, find and use my own voice, my hope is that the many silent victims, some unaware of the destructive power living with a terrible secret brings, will find their voice and tell someone who is trustworthy."
Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.