California psychologists guilty of "ethical violations" referred clients to psychic who practiced "quackery"

News Summary/August 13, 2016

By Rick Alan Ross

California psychologists and counseling professionals were referring clients to a psychic guru and encouraging them to depend upon him for advice and guidance. Eventually the "cult" like referral network became a public scandal.

One of the victims Claudia Parker spoke out publicly in November 1998 before the Sunset Review Committee of the California State Senate. She described herself as a "survivor/victim of a psychologist." Parker told the senate committee "I'm very unhappy with the Board of Psychology." She then explained how a network of at least five psychologists and four MFCCs in California were feeding clients to a self-proclaimed psychic and mystic.

Parker was a client of Ken Christian, a psychologist in Lafayette, California, who encouraged her to see David Rosenmann-Taub, a purported psychic, who lived in Berkeley.

Rosenmann-Taub reportedly offered her advice such as "listen to music with only one instrument in it, grow her hair longer, limit herself to two activities a day, bathe only at night, and make sure that she never got cold. Finally, she should take the tape recording she had made of the session, transcribe it, hide the tape in a secret place, and bring the transcript to [her psychologist] Christian."

Psychologist Ken Christian told Claudia Parker if she followed Rosenmann-Taub's instructions she would have "a wonderful life."

Parker told the East Bay Express, "I went through that for another three months, thinking I was crazy," Parker eventually told Christian, "How can we work together when you believe in David and I don't?' After Parker made that statement her psychologist Ken Christian reportedly replied "I don't need you in my practice. People come to me for a deeper meaning in their life.'"

Parker decided to report Ken Christian for unethical conduct. She went to the ethics committee of the California Psychological Association. After two years she was told "the appropriate action" had been taken. In 1994, Parker complained again to the Board of Psychology. She discovered that there were other complaints from Ken Christian's former clients, who had also been sent to Rosenmann-Taub. In August of 1997 the board agreed that Christian could keep his license to practice psychology if he took and passed the oral portion of his licensing examination, participated in an ethics class, and stayed out of trouble.

The board's action regarding Christian was linked to action taken against two other psychologists, Luc Brebion and Kathleen Speeth, who also referred clients to David Rosenmann-Taub. The board received complaints from seven patients. Some were involved in questionable therapy that involved David Rosenmann-Taub for many years. The board's investigation exposed that these psychologists were so personally committed to Rosenmann-Taub that they disregarded professional boundaries and acted unethically.

The East Bay Express interviewed clients directly affected by Rosenmann-Taub. Some were give aliases to protect their real identities. 

"Mary" and "Dianne" worked with psychologist Kathleen Speeth beginning in 1977. Speeth was known as a devoted proponent Russian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff.

Diane began working with Luc Brebion, who was Speeth's colleague and protégé.

The East Bay Express also interviewed "Max."

"It sounds odd, but people were not allowed to talk to each other," recalls Max, who also worked with Speeth until 1994. "At the very beginning Kathy said people were not capable enough to talk to each other without attacking each other. So we would write her letters about the work we were doing on ourselves. She would look at the letters at the beginning of the meeting and then run the group, interweaving all the things that were written to her."

Speeth garnered attention and status during the 1980s. She co-edited a book with Daniel Goleman titled "The Essential Psychotherapies." In 1988 she was one of 38 members of the human potential movement to be interviewed on the PBS series "Thinking Allowed: Conversations on the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery." Other guests that appeared in the series included Joseph Campbell and Ram Dass.

In the late 1970s and 1980s about fifty people worked with Speeth and her associates. One former client said, "They deliberately took a path called the via negativa. You work with the dark. You reduce, or in some cases decimate or explode the ego. Trusting and relating were never even talked about. It was about seeking the truth."

Speeth and Brebion's clients were expected to provide free labor. They would do "gardening, carpentry, cleaning, and other home improvements" at the psychologists' houses. They built walls, tore out brambles and painted as a practice of so-called "moving meditations," Mary said, "Yes we built things and did yard work." The Board of Psychology would later call this pattern of practice a "dishonest, corrupt" and "fraudulent."

Brebion and Speeth both faithfully referred their clients to David Rosenmann-Taub, who supposedly had "extraordinary powers." Mary said, "He had such a huge build-up. You were in awe."

Diane recalls Brebion saying (1981), "There's this person coming that does hand readings, not palm readings, he reads your life." Diane explained that Rosenmann-Taub told her "he was so much of the light that evil and darkness were always pursuing him, and that fires would break out spontaneously where the evil was trying to come in," she recalled.

In 1983, Speeth and Rosenmann-Taub were married, they divorced five years later. Rosenmann-Taub, a Chilean national, may have married to secure citizenship status in the US.

Speeth and Brebion's patients were told to give $200 in cash monthly to Rosenmann-Taub, whether they saw him or not. They were instructed to keep journals of their thoughts and actions, and drop them off to him as well. 40 to 50 people did this on a regular basis according to Max.

Rosenmann-Taub told them about the "state of their souls" and performed "magical exercises."

The clients involved trusted their psychologists and counselors. "I really trusted Kathy," Max told East Bay Express. "I believed in what she was doing. I would actually have given my life for her. But she said, 'You know, I only teach kindergarten. David's the real teacher.' So there was this sort of slide from Kathy to David." Max recalls Speeth telling him, "You know, David's Jesus Christ."

Rosenmann-Taub reportedly created fear. He reportedly told his followers that the world was "an evil place." And that "the only people who could be trusted were the ones in the group, because they were the only ones aware enough to keep their dark sides in check."

Max explained, "There is a feeling of being superior. We're in this secret group, we have this secret knowledge, we do all these secret things -- incantations and spells and meetings. These are fifty chosen people working with this avatar of knowledge and he's got these special powers. Man, you're going straight to the top, and the top is enlightenment."

Rosenmann-Taub could be very controlling. He told Max to break up with his girlfriend. The psychic wanted her matched with someone else in the group. "I tried to talk to her, she didn't want to talk about it," Max said. "Nobody wanted to talk about it. There was no recourse. So I was quiet about it, but deep down in my gut it felt wrong."

It was said that even a whispered word of criticism could harm Rosenmann-Taub. "The fear was so much part of it, it was like a fish swimming in water," one former member said. "And the problem with fear is that it can only be passed on."

Rosenmann-Taub reportedly told his devotees what books to read, what music to listen to, what food to eat, and how to behave in bed. He told some to have affairs, others to be celibate. And some of the male members of the group say that he performed a sexual ceremony with them that he said would teach him their "true vocation."

The East Bay Express reported that Max was "told to come to Rosenmann-Taub's house freshly showered and carrying a white handkerchief. He stripped down to his shorts, lay down, and shut his eyes. The next thing he knew, Rosenmann-Taub's hand was on his penis, masturbating him. When he came, Rosenmann-Taub caught the ejaculate in the handkerchief and examined it carefully--'like reading tea leaves,' Max recalls. Then he was told to hide the handkerchief in a place where it would never be moved or touched, otherwise the information in it would be lost."

Max, Diane and Mary explained that they had reportedly "lost, or at least submerged, their ability to sort out what was acceptable and what wasn't." "One of the things you have to remember is that this is not just a random group of people,'' Diane told East Bay Express, "Almost everyone got into it because they sought out counseling, and most of the people sought counseling because their families were dysfunctional. These were not people whose lives had been great and then suddenly they lost their job. The self-esteem has been eroded, belief systems were always a little bit shaky, norms are a little bit shaky. For me, I always had feelings of needing a family, wanting a family. So you find your way into counseling and what seems like a family, a wonderful family."

Experts say that this vulnerability makes people in such therapeutic communities are prime targets for what has been called thought reform" a process of coercive persuasion used to gain undue influence.

John Winer, a malpractice lawyer told the East Bay Express, "If the patient is being encouraged to act like a child, they really are like a child -- a child with an abusive parent. Most of the patients that have been abused by therapists had been abused as children. They've lost the ability to recognize abusive situations. They're sitting ducks."

Cult specialists and authors Margaret Singer and Janya Lalich were cited by the East Bay Express for their study of "psychotherapy cults." They concluded that patients in such groups have been re controlled and exploited through secrecy and strict authoritarian control. Singer and Lalich noted that Gurdjieffian groups are frequently engaged in cult-like abuse. Ironically, Speeth admitted that certain Gurdjieffian groups "have not been above the cult phenomena of rationalized violence, coercion, and sexual exploitation."

Mary introduced her daughter Terri to the group. Terri became a client of Speeth. She had two young sons from a previous marriage. Terri later married a member of the group named Lyle.

Terri reportedly "followed all of Rosenmann-Taub's instructions. She wrote him letters, telling him not only about herself, but also about her husband, her sons, and her parents. She sent him money, $250 each month, took five-minute baths, stayed out of the sun and drank orange juice only in the morning before peeing. She did exercises with her arms and legs, read 'one thin book' simultaneously with her husband (Rosenmann-Taub suggested a novel by Sigrid Undset), had acupuncture treatments for her anger, even modified the way she and her husband made love. Still, there was always more to do."

Rosenmann-Taub became interested in Terri's sons. He asked Terri to bring her son Michael to meet with him.  "He told me," she says. "That he was going to try and jack him off. I was just not thinking about what that really meant. I'm real ashamed to say this. I allowed it," Terri told the East Bay Express.

Rosenmann-Taub told Terri that the masturbation ritual hadn't happened with Michael because he was too young. But her son Joey told her, "David did circles around his body with his fingers," she says. "And then he did it also on his penis. And from what he wrote in the letter, he did it more on that spot."

Terri became angry when she learned about the sexual abuse of her son. But she was told by Rosenmann-Taub that anger would destroy her and that she must suppress her anger. Terri told her mother and a friend what happened and they were outraged. Meanwhile Lyle her husband dismissed her concerns and called Speeth. Terri sensed that the psychologist was more concerned about scandal and exposure than her children.

Mary left the group when Speeth asked her to give her a real estate agent commission on a house the psychologist wanted to buy. Speeth and Rosenmann-Taub frequently pressured Mary to give them money. Mary concluded that Speeth used her role as a psychologist for financial gain.  The Board of Psychology would later agree with Mary's assessment.

Mary's daughter Terri also left the group, which led to a divorce, since her husband Lyle remained a true believer. After the divorce Lyle cut off Terri and her two sons off completely.

Terri told the East Bay Express, "I lost a belief system, a husband, a home. I lost my best friend."

Terri said, "I was so ashamed of it for a long time. I felt that I really betrayed my sons. I thought I was helping them, and what I discovered was that I was really hurting them."

Max left the group after nineteen years. He told the East Bay Express, "When I left it was as if I was dead. I was totally cut off. Which is part of what had kept me in -- I had seen it happen before with other people. People had come and gone and we never talked about them, they were like the disappeared. So I realized that was going to happen if I left the group, but I didn't know how it was going to affect me. And how it affected me, I have to say, is that it felt like I was having a nervous breakdown. I felt absolutely isolated and alone. People I had known since the '70s, people I had been a therapist to, not only did I not see them, but nobody called me, nobody talked to me."

The Board of Psychology charged all three psychologists with "gross negligence in the practice of psychology," citing a variety of ethical violations including labor extracted unethically from their clients, which blurred the boundaries between psychologist and patient. The board also was critical of referrals to Rosenmann-Taub. The board's attorneys called Rosenmann-Taub's practices "quackery," and noted that the psychologists had given "an unwarranted patina of authority and validity to Rosenmann's nonsensical incantations."

However, two of the three psychologists were still practicing psychologists in California during1998. 

Speeth voluntarily surrendered her license. But in 1998 Brebion and Christian were placed on probation pending retaking the state licensing exam and completing a class in psychological ethics.

Note: This news summary is based upon an article titled "The Group" written by Dashka Slater and published by the East Bay Express February 20, 1998.

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