by Kali Miller | Written August 28, 2017
As a young psychologist my first professional priority was that I was not just “booksmart” but that I would be able to provide support and wise guidance for each client’s healing journey. Though I had completed my internship and could have begun private practice, I sought a position with a nationally recognized community mental health agency. In my contract, I requested that I would have two hours per week of continued supervision/consultation with seasoned professionals who had varied theoretical orientations. In graduate school I was impressed by the notion that if all you have is a hammer everything begins to look like a nail and wanted to ensure that I was well versed in a variety of therapeutic approaches and techniques. One size fits all may work for clothing but not when it comes to therapy I wanted to be able to tailor my approach to each individuals needs and issues.
When it came time to choose my forever home where I would base my practice for what I believed would be the next 50 years, my careful research led me to Oregon. A temperate climate, friendly people and a culture where thinking outside the box is not only accepted, but applauded led me to Portland. The fact that Oregon and Wyoming had reciprocal licensure so transitioning my license should be as simple as filling out a form felt like the frosting on the cake. Again, I sought a position that would include weekly consultation and made it a personal goal to do double the continuing education required by the Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners (OBPE).
Just one fly in the ointment. After months of increasingly frantic calls to OBPE requesting the necessary forms to exercise my reciprocal licensure I had received no response. With my new employers blessing, I finally decided to make the move to Oregon and handle the details in person. When my local calls continued to be ignored I called the chair of the board hoping to discern how I could facilitate my transition. My first shock was when after apologizing for bothering her and explaining my desperation after my months of leaving messages Dr. Rachelle Silver stated, “That did not happen.” Perplexed, I offered to send her copies of my out of state phone bills which listed dozens of calls. She declined my offer and when I asked what my next step should be said, “Well Dr. Miller, if you don’t like how we do things here you can just go back to Wy-Oming”. Her words and tone made it abundantly clear I was not welcome. I did not know at this point that OBPE was blocking the entry of out of state psychologists by several means so I was confused and frightened. My future was on the line.
I decided to travel and pick up the forms in person. I was then told that OBPE only reviews requests for reciprocal licensure twice a year and the next meeting was in 4 days. I was also informed that I would need all of my supervisors from my California internship to fill out forms to be considered. This seemed strange since my internship was years prior but I called all of my supervisors from my internship and asked if they would be willing to make a marathon attempt to meet the deadline. Going above and beyond, each of them agreed. By overnighting the packets to them and them overnighting it back I was able to hand deliver the materials to the OBPE office at five minutes to 5:00 the day it was due. With this hurdle completed I began to settle into my new office.
Until OBPE called and said that since I had been exempted from Wyoming orals they would not be honoring my request for reciprocity. I explained that I had been exempted because I had scored in the top 5% of psychologists taking the licensing exam. I also said that since the orals are unique to each state and address knowledge specific to that state’s laws I didn’t understand how my not taking the Wyoming orals was relevant to being licensed in Oregon. I was told my only hope was to sign up for the Oregon orals. For those of you who have studied and prepared for state orals you know how stressful and time consuming this is. Not wanting to argue the point, I asked when the next orals would be. Six months. As a young professional who had just moved to a new state with no income it is difficult to convey my horror. Then I was told that I could not advertise myself or in any way convey that I was a psychologist. I said I understood that I couldn’t practice with my Wyoming license in Oregon but wasn’t sure how to respond if someone asked for example, what I did for a living. I asked if I could work as an unlicensed therapist and how I might explain my situation to potential clients. OBPE’s response was concise, “It’s not our job to tell you how to do it right but we sure will tell you if you do it wrong.” The phone call ended with the warning that if I erred I would never be allowed to practice psychology in Oregon.
It was in taking my orals that it became clear that OBPE’s animosity wasn’t personal. Every in state applicant that I knew had passed the orals but every out of stater had failed. The explanations were varied and included that one psychologist did not list as a weakness she was so beautiful it could impact her work with men. Several were failed because Brad Avakian, a non-psychologist inexplicably sitting on the panel of three conducting the orals stated he didn’t like the applicants “theoretical orientation”. This despite the fact that in all cases where Mr. Avakian failed the applicant, both actual psychologists on the panels had passed them. During my orals I became aware that one of my examiners kept circling back to the law regarding psychologists and their duty to report child abuse. No matter how I explained my ethical and legal duties she continued to question me though I could see the other two psychologists were nodding, satisfied with my answer. I began to feel that something was amiss and rather than continue to explain, I closed my eyes and quoted the law verbatim. Abruptly, this individual terminated the orals and I was the only out of state person I know of that passed the orals during that period.
Home free? Of course not. Rather than receiving my license I was told that I had received an ethical complaint in Wyoming so I could not be licensed in Oregon. Frantic I contacted Wyoming’s board only to be told that I did not and had never had a complaint. I immediately called OBPE to convey there must have been a misunderstanding. I was told OBPE believed there was a complaint and I therefore I could not be licensed. I requested the Wyoming board send a letter stating that I had no complaint but was told after their monthly meeting that there was no need of such a letter as anyone could check and see I had no complaint. I called and pleaded with the Wyoming chair and he agreed to write a letter. I contacted OBPE and asked how best to convey the letter but was told they had not interest in it. This is the first time, but unfortunately not close to the last, I had to hire an attorney to assist me in communicating with OBPE.
My employer, my attorney and I met with the entire board. When I attempted to hand the letter from the chair of the Wyoming board of Psychology to Dr. Silver she didn’t move. Uncertainly, I tried to hand it to a board member on my left and when she refused to take it I tried the one on my right. She too sat stony faced, refusing to take the letter. My attorney appeared speechless so I carefully scooted the letter across the table to Dr. Silver who lept up, snatched the letter from the table, rolled it into a ball and hurled it at my head. This was my first fact to face meeting with Dr. Silver. She remained standing and apropos of nothing asked what my relationship with my employer was. My attorney had already introduced him but voice shaking I reiterated that he was my employer. She leaned across the table and said, “I mean your PERSONAL relationship.” As I stammered out that while he was my employer we didn’t have a personal relationship as such, my attorney took my arm and led me from the room with my employer following. We stood in silence waiting for the elevator and once inside my attorney said in all his years he had never witnessed anything remotely like this. In hindsight I can only presume this means it was his first time to deal with OBPE.
I’m not sure if it was during this meeting that things became personal with OBPE or when I was requested to testify in front of a house subcommittee about my experiences with the board and it’s members. Others declined this request but please recal I was young, naive and above all else, wanted to spare others what I had endured. I’m sure the animosity was cemented when a friend’s husband and I worked to create a bill which would force OBPE to tape its orals, thus providing evidence in case of an appeal. Governor Kitzhaber signed this bill into law stating it was a clear “grassroots effort to address an out of control board.”
And with the passing of this board and this bill I thought it was over. Two years of being harassed and degraded, spending money I didn’t have. But call after call, year after year OBPE proved me wrong. Even after prevailing in the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2004 the board’s bizarre behavior continued. On that occasion alone I spent over $30,000 of my own money rather than pay OBPE’s proposed sanction of $1,000 because I knew the precedent they were setting was at the expense of abused children. On another occasion I was called in by the entire board to discuss my views about husbands and wives working together. Completely at a loss, I answered to the best of my ability. After a torturous hour I finally realizing they believed I was married to my office manager and explained I was single. They immediately adjourned. My faith has been referenced and questioned, I have been forced to be photographed by board examiner Karen Berry who slammed her files down onto my glass table, called my client’s mother a “manipulative liar”, questioned my decision to report suspected child abuse and so much more. All this cost me was time, many sleepless nights and lost and lots of money until 2014. At this juncture, with no complaint filed, OBPE decided that I was a threat to the public, immoral, negligent… I countered every allegation with evidence from my charts, the research, professional literature and the testimony of world renowned experts. My license, my livelihood, my reputation and my ability to do good in the world was terminated.
The very essence of who I am was rocked to the core. My attorney warned me that OBPE alone is the arbiter of what is ethical in Oregon. They can and do over rule the courts at will. They alone determine if someone is practicing psychology without a license and can fine even those with no training as a psychologist $10,000 a day. He said if I so much as answered a phone and said, “How are you?”, spoke to someone having a panic attack on an airplane or gave my sister parenting advice and the board found out there would be no appeal, just an added debt of $10,000. Then in case I wasn’t taking this seriously enough he told me a multitude of horror stories of actions OBPE has taken.
Would I do anything different? I’d like to believe I wouldn’t. I’d like to believe that even knowing the outcome I would always with respect for all, do what was right moment by moment. But the cost has been so great. It reminds me of a horrible thing someone said once. They said they shot an animal and it kept running because it didn’t know it was dead yet. For twenty years I kept working with traumatized adults and neglected, abused, foster and adopted children. I gave them my time, my money through reduced fees and pro bono work. I gave them my heart and my soul because I didn’t know I was dead yet.
If it is in the power of any reader to safely speak up or remedy our current system please do so because some of us can’t do any more.
Kali Miller, Ph.D.