Those celebratory sounds you hear – the fireworks going off, the champagne corks popping – greet the news that Dr. Marsha Kleinman has lost her license to practice psychology in the state of New Jersey. For more years than I can count, Kleinman has been the bane of fathers in the Garden State and the go-to shrink for every mother who wanted to cut the dad out of their children’s lives. Put simply, Kleinman has apparently never seen a child who hasn’t been sexually abused by its father. And if there’s no evidence of abuse, Kleinman could be relied on to manufacture some.
This ruling of Administrative Law Judge Edith Klinger shows how she did it. Klinger heard the evidence against Kleinman and ruled that her license to practice must be revoked. The opinion is long, but well worth the read because it shows just how ruthless some parts of the anti-father crowd can be. According to the judge, Kleinman lied to the family court, committed gross malpractice and frankly endangered the emotional health of a three year old girl, and all to get her away from her father whom Kleinman had never met. Klinger’s opinion tracks the increasing intensity of Kleinman’s holy war against the father and the amazing resilience of a little girl in the face of it.
Klinger actually deals with two complaints against Kleinman, but my guess is that the New Jersey Board of Psychological Examiners had many, many more. If disciplining psychologists is anything like disciplining lawyers, usually one complaint doesn’t result in license revocation. But when the licensing body receives complaint after complaint, it often selects one or two noteworthy ones to use to revoke the person’s license. The lesson is that, when you read the cases against Marsha Kleinman, it’s a safe bet they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
Kleinman was originally appointed by Judge Nancy Sivilli to do a forensic examination of a three year old girl (S.R.) whose parents, (D.R., the father and P.R., the mother) were getting divorced. Sure enough, P.R. claimed D.R. had sexually molested S.R. so the court asked Kleinman to assess the girl.
What followed was a relentless campaign by Kleinman, carried out over almost two years to find some indication that D.R. had sexually molested his daughter. As Klinger found as a matter of fact, Kleinman never entertained the possibility that D.R. was innocent; she assumed from the start that he had abused S.R., and saw it as her job to get the child to corroborate her assumptions. So she asked her the type of leading questions that are expressly forbidden by every protocol for questioning children in this sort of case. When the little girl didn’t give Kleinman the answer she desired, she continued probing until the child gave her something she thought she could use. When Kleinman got an answer that satisfied her, she rewarded the girl with candy and other gifts. If the girl arrived for a session and didn’t want to talk about her father, Kleinman forced her to. If the child changed the subject, Kleinman doggedly returned to the issue of sexual abuse. If S.R. expressed a desire to see her father or talk to him, Kleinman diverted her attention.
During all those two years, D.R. rarely saw his daughter. That was because Kleinman was sending ex parte letters to the judge informing her, not of all the facts of her sessions with S.R., but only those that tended to incriminate D.R. There were many things the girl said that frankly contradicted any sexual molestation, but Kleinman refused to tell the court. Nor did she mention the fact that, on at least two occasions the child alluded to coaching by her mother. Time and again, S.R. made patently impossible claims that an expert witness at Kleinman’s trial described as her “struggling” to provide the answer Kleinman wanted. Kleinman told the judge none of the good news, only the bad. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Judge Sivilli sharply restricted, and at times prohibited altogether, visitation between father and daughter.
On at least two occasions, another therapist appeared on the scene, either to perform another evaluation or to facilitate supervised father/daughter visits. In both instances, Kleinman did everything in her power to prevent the intervention of the other doctor for the apparent reason that she knew that a reputable professional might well put a stop to her indoctrination of S.R.
Oddly, Kleinman made videotapes of some of her sessions with S.R. but not others. For those, she made notes, but they were so sparse and shoddy that they provided essentially no evidence for what had occurred in the session. But strikingly, when the videotape of a session was compared with the notes for the same session, Kleinman’s description bore little or no resemblance to what had actually occurred.
Likewise, unbeknownst to Kleinman, D.R., doubtless at the instruction of his attorney, tape recorded every one of his phone calls to her. (In New Jersey, it was legal to tape record calls as long as one party was aware of the fact.) And, just like her own videotapes, Kleinman’s descriptions of the calls bore little resemblance to the recorded reality. Basically, in order to support her claim that D.R. was a dangerous dad, Kleinman time and again told Judge Sivilli that he was verbally abusive to her and that S.R. didn’t want to talk to him. Nothing was further from the truth.
Kleinman testified under oath that she was an expert in a psychotherapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (E.M.D.R.) and that she had been trained and supervised by Dr. Robert Tinker. But at the hearing on her license revocation, Dr. Tinker testified that he had never supervised Kleinman. In fact, Kleinman had only taken two introductory courses in EMDR and her attempts to use the therapy on S.R. showed conclusively that she had little idea of what the therapy is, how to use it or when.
In the same vein, Kleinman diagnosed S.R. with post-traumatic stress disorder, but apparently knew only one of the eight symptoms of PTSD. In fact, her diagnosis was entirely based on the assumption that the child had been traumatized, for which Kleinman had no evidence but P.R.’s word.
And therein lay another problem. When acting in a forensic capacity, a psychologist is ethically required to seek information from all relevant sources. Kleinman never discussed the matter with D.R. or any of the mental health professionals who had seen the girl.
Then there’s the fact that Judge Sivilli had assigned her to act both as a treating and a forensic psychologist in the case. A treating psychologist receives all information from the client in strictest confidence and therefore will not be able to divulge same in court absent a waiver by the client. By contrast, for a forensic psychologist, the opposite is true. He/she is employed for the purpose of testifying in court and therefore communications with the client are not privileged, a fact the psychologist is ethically bound to divulge to the client at the outset. Needless to say, Kleinman did nothing of the sort and, by accepting the two roles she had a conflict of interest. That too constituted malpractice.
That scarcely does justice to the full outrage of Kleinman’s treatment of the little girl that can only be called abuse. But reading Judge Klinger’s summary of what went on in Kleinman’s office, it’s hard not to come away with admiration for little S.R. After all, this was a three year old child who was subjected to almost two years of harassment and intimidation by an adult, but, from start to finish, she clearly did all she could to hew to the truth as she understood it. The entire charade must have been terribly confusing and disorienting to the child, but she persisted, often simply refusing to answer Kleinman’s absurdly leading questions or devoting her attention to the toys in the office rather than being drawn in to yet another session that would make Torquemada blush.
As usual, the enthusiasm with which anti-father zealots ply their trade ends up hurting the father, who spent large sums of money and basically didn’t see his child for two years. To people like Kleinman, that’s a good thing. But her disgraceful methods, based on no real evidence of abuse, potentially hurt S.R. far more and for that, the mere loss of a professional license isn’t punishment enough. One expert witness testified that Kleinman’s relentless pursuit of evidence of abuse risked implanting the concept in the girl’s mind. At that age, children truly do not distinguish between fantasy and reality and when an adult constantly harps on a subject like sexual abuse, the child may well develop a “memory” of that abuse that she carries with her for the rest of her life, damaging her own self-esteem and ability to form healthy relationships.
Finally, Judge Klinger reviewed one other complaint against Kleinman. There, a court had sent a woman to Kleinman to be evaluated for Battered Woman Syndrome, but Kleinman wasn’t interested in that. She was interested in the possibility that the woman’s husband, whom she was divorcing, might have sexually abused their 14 year old daughter. The woman paid Kleinman large sums of money for the evaluation, which she never performed because she was only interested in sexual abuse. The woman told Kleinman over and over that no abuse had occurred, that she had thought carefully about that and looked for signs, but there were none. Undeterred, Kleinman urged the woman several times to allege sexual abuse against her husband.
Judge Klinger was none too impressed with Kleinman’s avid support for perjury and that too made up part of her decision to revoke Marsha Kleinman’s license to practice psychology in New Jersey.
Read the judge’s ruling. Nothing I can say truly does it justice. As you do, be aware that these type of tactics, this type of zealotry is what fathers face in court every day. Yes, Kleinman is probably worse than most and certainly, most mental health professionals are more honest, more balanced and more ethical than she. But here was a woman on a mission; it was a mission to find sexual abuse where there was none for the sole purpose of separating a child from her father, possibly forever. It’s a mission that far too many family court judges and the “experts” they employ have embraced. Marsha Kleinman had done it before. Fortunately, she’ll never do it again.
Thanks to David for the heads-up.