Monday, May 26, 2008

Baffa: How to Know if Your Therapist is Legit

It is amazing to me how few questions some people ask of their therapist. You wouldn't see an unlicensed physician. You wouldn't take your dog to an unlicensed vet, yet people seeking mental health care often don't even ask if their therapist holds a valid license. People who seek mental health care for themselves or their children are most often at very vulnerable points in their life. They are looking for help-looking for answers and, unfortunately, some people are more than happy to take advantage of them. It seems that this was the case with Carmine Baffa, the Atlanta-area sometimes "life coach," other times "therapist," and now criminal defendant.

Andria Simmons wrote about Baffa in yesterday's AJC. He faces at least twenty-two charges, including charges of sexual assault of clients. Though much of this piece is disturbing, the portion that stopped me cold was the statement that licensed therapists sometimes referred patients to Baffa. I find that alarming. In Georgia, a license is required to practice therapy, and it is the least you should require of your therapist, not the most. Anyone-including the professionals who referred to Baffa-can check here on the Secretary of State's website-to see if an individual is licensed, or has ever been licensed in the State of Georgia. The website also provides information about whether the licensee has ever been disciplined by the board. Ironically, the Simmons article has this to say about one of the counselors who referred to Baffa:

Allan Allard, a counselor in Lawrenceville who referred clients to Baffa, said he was once impressed by Baffa's "charismatic personality" and communication skills. However, Allard has since come to regret his association with the man."I'm glad he's been arrested and the media is paying attention," Allard said, "because he needs to be held accountable."

I checked the Secretary of State's website for Allard. Maybe there is some sort of error in the database, but I can't find him. I checked his website, and can't find that he refers to himself as a therapist, but instead he emphasizes his "coaching" experience. "Life coaches" do not have to be licensed to practice in Georgia-unless they practice therapy. Perhaps the article mis-characterized his profession. Interesting, though. I sent the author an email about it; maybe she will follow up with Allard.

Regardless, there are somethings you can do to protect yourself from someone like Baffa. First, you should check out your therapist before seeing him or her. Check the web, google the therapist, check the SOS database, and consider these steps:

1) If the therapist's license is not on display, ask to see it. If the therapist refuses or gives you some song and dance about why it's not required, it's time to find the door. The only exception is for church or faith-based counselors and certain state agencies. If you choose to see an unlicensed counselor, however they are titled, you take a risk akin to seeing an unlicensed physician. It might work out well; then again, it might not.

2) Any therapist who suggests a "cuddle session" as Baffa allegedly did, is out of bounds. Again, find the door.

3) If your child is in counseling, the therapist should be very forthcoming with you about what happens in the sessions. Your child should feel that they are free to share with you what happens in those sessions as well. If they don't feel free to tell you about the session, that's a red flag. Confidentiality is one thing; secrecy is quite another.

4) Your therapist should discuss a treatment plan with you and should be open to discussing the risks and benefits of the plan. If they are adverse to doing this, again, find the door.

5) If a therapist suggests your child move into their home-run the other direction.

1 comment:

suezq57 said...

In regard to your question about Alan Allard's qualifications as a therapist, no, he is not technically licensed. He did however attend a reputable college, graduated and received his master's degree in counseling. I was a client of his for 9 years and found him to be professional, moral, and devoted to his family. There was never a hint of any impropriety. He explained to me once why he never went the whole way and took the licensing exam, but that was a long time ago so I no longer remember. I think it had something to do with insurance or certain kinds of reporting. He was just as qualified as any licensed therapist, he just didn't have a piece of paper saying he passed a test of his knowledge. A license does not prevent poor judgement and harmful behavior on the part of the therapist. He helped many people.

He has always had a plan to get more into the coach/seminar area. He wanted to help people learn how to achieve their goals, rather than listen to problems all day long from people who may or may not really want to change. Honing his communication/public speaking abilities, as well as the business end of things is what led him to Carmine. Yes, he did refer clients to Carmine, and at that time Carmine did help many people. But Alan was just as duped as the rest of us. He would never have knowing led the sheep right into the wolf's den.