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Sunday, February 05, 2006

ARE YOU WHO YOU SAY YOU ARE?

About 25 years ago I went on a double date with a stripper. The stripper wasn't my date -- she was the across-the-hall neighbor of a female friend whom I was taking to see a play called "The Shadow Box." The stripper and her date joined us.

The stripper went by the stage name of Princess Cheyenne and, at the time, was a fairly well-known personality in Boston. I occasionally would read about her in the newspaper thereafter, but sometime around the mid-1980s she seemed to disappear from the scene.

Now she is back in the news. In October The Boston Globe reported that Lucy Wightman, the former Princess Cheyenne, had been "indicted on 26 counts of felony larceny, six counts of filing false health-care claims, six counts of insurance fraud and one count of practicing psychology without a license."

Wightman allegedly had passed herself off as a licensed psychologist, when in reality she had only a master's degree in counseling psychology and had never earned a Ph.D in psychology from any accredited institution, though she had purchased a Ph.D online.

Genuine psychologists, believing Wightman to be licensed, had referred patients to her. Some parents had taken their children to her for neuropsychological evaluations that Wightman was neither trained nor licensed to administer.

The Wightman incident -- her indictment, not my double-date with her -- created quite a stir in my household. My wife, a licensed therapist who earned the same master's degree that Wightman did, wondered what responsibility lay with the professionals who had referred patients to Wightman. Weren't they obligated to make sure that she had the credentials that she said or implied that she had?

Presumably the referrers didn't knowingly recommend an unlicensed practitioner -- if they had, they too would be in a heap of trouble -- but, even if they had no legal requirement to check out Wightman's credentials, didn't they have an ethical responsibility to make sure that she was on the up and up before sending patients to her? It's a question that reaches beyond the medical arena. Do we have an obligation to make sure that people are not faking their credentials when we're involved in recommending them or hiring them to do a job? If you're leading a search for a new employee, for example, and if no one else has verified the information on a promising candidate's resume, should you place a few calls to former employers or educators to confirm the information?

I would argue that, because of your responsibility to the company and to other employees, you should make those calls. It's not that I'm cynical and believe that most people provide false information, it's simply that checking out a candidate as thoroughly as possible should be a routine part of screening him or her for a job. If you're accepting anything he or she says at face value, you're failing to fulfill the basic idea of a screening.

In the Wightman case, the right thing would have been for the referrers to make sure that she -- and any other professional they recommended -- was qualified and licensed to do the work. While it might take extra work to check someone's credentials, mental health is too critical an issue to take anybody's expertise for granted.

There are times when, regardless of our efforts to check out someone's credentials, we are going to be duped by a clever hoaxster. Nonetheless we owe it to the people who might fall prey to such posers to make every effort to make it as difficult as possible for any deception to succeed.


c.2006 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

The lead of course - is THE STRIPPER as if a product or object (and like so many the titallation factor even a "journalist" finds hard to resist) and the assumptions made and stated arise from the bias in the lead and the conclusion. Clean it up and think about what you put into words first - you sound condescending and plebian.

JB said...

I want to share with people my experience with Lucy (Louise)Wightman. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. During a period of great difficulty in my life I was hospitalized and was in a trauma program. Lucy was doing an internship at the hospital. She was of great help to me and one of the people that I remain grateful to to this day and always will. I found her to be a special woman. I was in need of caring and kindness and she was there to give it. One of my memories of her was on a day where I experienced a painful flashback. I sought out Lucy for help. She knew that with what I was experiencing it would not be good to physically touch me. She got a towel. She held onto one end of it and gave the other end to me. She tugged on it to help me feel the connection to another without touching me. Tugging on that towel she talked with me and brought me back to the present. I kept that towel for many years. She has been an immense part of my being where I am today. I tried for years to find her to no avail. I tried to get in touch with her because I never forgot her or all that she did for me. I wanted to let her know how well I was doing now and find out how things were going for her. I also hoped to do further work with her actually. By that I mean further counseling with her because she had been so helpful to my getting better. I know many people who feel the same way about Lucy. We all have done things in our past. What I have learned and Lucy was one of the people to help me learn this, is: "We cannot change our pasts, we can only learn from them and make a better future." I believe that's what she was doing. I support Lucy and will do anything that I can to help her and support her. Peace Lucy.

JB said...

I need to add something. Was I surprised to learn of Lucy's past? Honestly, yes I was. But as I stated the past is the past. It in no way changes all that she has done for me and so many others. Lucy has been helping many people. Affecting people in positive ways to help them improve and to live better lives. She had done this for herself as well. Look at the success she has been. Honestly, should I have ever learned of her past, NO. It is personal and should only be known by people she so chooses to share it with. Lucy was there to support me and now it is my turn to give back to her. If you share my experiences with Lucy, if she has helped you- give back to her and share your story with the people. Support Lucy. Blog, send letters, give back to Lucy! Peace.

Anonymous said...

The possibilities are endless. Fact is - Ms. WIghtman testified on her own behalf, under oath. She was the only witness for her defense to speak of. The prosecution did not allow for much else. Not once was she tripped up on cross - she was telling the truth which was obvious to us and to the jury. This is why she was found not guilty on the weightiest charges. I should re-write this as she was NOT GUILTY on the WEIGHTIEST CHARGES. The coloring from her past colors how we fill in the gaps to the story. Her testimony was not found to be in contempt. You must let it stand on its own. Ms. Wightman stated she was working in a small private practice under the supervision of several licensed individuals to include Robert Fox LICSW and Karen Beason Patrick, a licensed psychologist with whom she formed a business, who was also a graduate of MSPP. Ms. Wightman further states that she was trying to finish her dissertation, had collected ALL of the data and had completed ALL of her coursework (yes it was admitted into evidence), and was railroaded, caught off guard, when she was confronted with being in private practice and as having been a stripper - the conclusion was made that she was therefore being sexually inappropriate with patients! She had to sit in a room with seven "psychologists" or people in the "helping profession" who were nothing short of humiliating. She was not the only person in the school to have a private practice. In fact, she mentioned a Danielle Detorra from Stow, Massachusetts, who was also being supervised by Karen Patrick, and who was STILL working as a stripper in Providence. Wightman had allegedly guided her so she could pay her tuition bills. She was not harassed. In listening to Norbett Mintz, Wightman's advisor, on the stand, he contradicted himself blatantly! Maybe if Wightman had a more experienced attorney the Commonwealth's witnesses could have been shown more obviously to not be telling the truth. The story is far from over, and is less about one woman than it is about human behavior, scapegoating and cultural norms and assumptions, not to mention the politcal process.

Anonymous said...

This is not a normal person, I know her there is always an agenda.

Anonymous said...

Only Lucy has to face herself in the mirror. REGARDLESS of who she has convinced of her miracle-work, patients included, it is none other than fact that she misrepresented herself as a psychologist to a Massachusetts court, knowingly. no matter how her case went, she knows the truth, and has harmed people's families by her lack of professionalism and knowledge during her appointment while she faked her way thru it, at $150. an hour.... maybe lucy herself, would like to give me a refund???