ISSTD Members Struggle with Boundaries

Sep 24, 2018: In our research into licensure complaints against members of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) — the organization which acts as a hub for the continuing Satanic Panic in the mental health field — the most common violation of ethical standards, by far, is a lack of boundaries with clients. Beyond the obvious point that not maintaining a professional therapeutic relationship is harmful for both client and licensee, it raises an interesting question: Why is it that those who espouse conspiratorial delusions of Satanic Ritual Abuse, or who at least belong to an organization whose members openly discuss as much, find themselves stepping over the line from professional to personal?

Boundaries in mental health exist for a reason. Conversations that take place during therapy should not leave the room unless and until the client gives express written consent for others to be included. Despite the fact that all competent therapists often offer the same support as a good friend might, the therapeutic relationship is not a friendship. In fact, there is a good chance that the therapeutic relationship will suffer if a friendship forms. The clients most likely to befriend their therapist are the most likely to be damaged by it. Competent mental health practitioners set firm boundaries.

The ethical violations among ISSTD members goes beyond boundary violations between client and therapist. They also seem to have a habit of introducing individuals diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder — the mental illness formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder which many believe is iatrogenically induced — to each other.

Other common accusations include the non-consensual sharing of client information with third parties.

And it’s not that there’s a lack of educational resources about ethics. Just about every state requires that all licensed mental health providers complete training on ethics every couple of years. Such classes always include extensive discussions of maintaining boundaries with clients, dual relationships, obtaining consent, and confidentiality.

Nevertheless, the ethical violations among ISSTD members appear to be commonplace and far more frequent than among mental health professionals who are not ISSTD members. Here is a sample of some of the ethical no-no’s we’ve uncovered thus far:

  • Bessel van der Kolk introduced a client to two others — one then-current and one former client — for assistance with investigating a “repressed memory” of extreme abuse that van der Kolk allegedly helped the client to “uncover” through questionable recovered memory therapy techniques.
  • Jean Penczar introduced two clients diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder to each other. One client, who was living in Penczar’s second home (rent-free for a period of time), complained of the other client’s stalking and harassment to Penczar before being raped by the other client. Penczar failed to report the incident to the police.
  • Teal Swan’s former therapist Barbara Snow was found to have violated ethical standards by treating family members.
  • ISSTD superstar Paul F. Dell once laid on top of a restrained patient in order to produce an “abreaction.”

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface; there is a lot more to come, even though mountains of additional violations of professional misconduct by ISSTD members are undoubtedly embargoed by restrictive state public records laws that prevent the disclosure of complaints.

One possible explanation for why these practitioners on the fringe of the mental health field apparently feel no need to follow ethical standards is because they have no respect for the institutions that set the rules. Or perhaps they believe the standards don’t apply to them: their clients, having suffered immense trauma “recovered” only with the assistance of the therapist’s unorthodox methods, require extra “support.” Operating outside of the mainstream as they frequently are — what with their use of hypnosis, regression therapy, dream interpretation, heavy sedatives, and other methods not accepted by the mainstream of their field — they may genuinely feel that they are pioneers who need not follow the rules that govern their practice.

They may even feel that the institutions overseeing their practice are themselves in on the grand Satanic conspiracy, if they believe in one, as many associated with the ISSTD do.

Whatever the reasons may be for ISSTD members’ habit of running afoul of basic ethical standards, one thing is clear: it severely undercuts their self-concept of heroes and heroines of victims of unspeakable abuse. Instead they far too often do some victimizing of their own.