The only problem was that I have caller I.D. Dick Gottlieb did not try to call me on Monday. In fact, I now believe that his surprise phone call from the hospital on Friday was because he was terminating me. Whatever our relationship had been—friend, colleague, patient or lover—it was now over. Thereafter, there were only brief, awkward conversations, usually initiated by me.
Then I started getting cryptic messages from one of the complainants in the lawsuit against Dick. Slowly and carefully, the person—call him Bob—began to tell me a story about how Dick used and abused him. They were patient-and-therapist, then they were social friends, then they were patient-and-therapist again. Bob was unsophisticated in the ways of psychotherapy and lived well out of the arena of psychology and social services, and Dick assured him that it was all right to cross the boundaries. It is never all right.
Responsible professional therapists do not do therapy with their friends. That boundary line is absolute and never to be violated. After therapy has been terminated, a therapist may become friends with a former patient but the therapist must never take a person back into therapy once a social relationship has been established. The proper thing for a therapist to do then is to refer the former patient to a new therapist. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Bob’s wife also was a patient of Dick Gottlieb’s. Then Dick made her his sexual partner. Not once or twice, but for two separate periods of time. It wasn’t until she and Bob started divorce proceedings that she finally was able to tell him what Dick had done to her.
Bob called Dick and Dick admitted it. Then Bob asked around and got a lawyer and he and his wife filed suit against Dick. The lawyers took the case on a contingency basis, meaning they only will get paid if they win. The most important thing in a lawyer’s life is money. The fact that they took the case without up-front payment went a long way in convincing me that the case is valid and substantial.
Then I heard that the same lawyer had previously taken a case against Dick. Another female patient had accused Dick of having sex with her. The case was settled before the lawsuit was filed.
And several other women have come forward with similar stories.
I began to check, to try to verify or discount what I was being told. Supposedly, there were two outstanding complaints against Dick Gottlieb with LARA, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The LARA phone answerer would neither confirm nor deny the presence of complaints, nor let me talk to any investigator who could. Apparently LARA thinks that their job is to protect health care providers, not to protect patients.
In Michigan, a health care provider does not have to tell his employer that he is being sued unless there is a settlement. If the settlement occurs without a lawsuit being filed, is the health care provider required to tell his employer about it? When I talked to an administrator at Holland Hospital, he was not aware that his clinical social worker, Richard F. Gottlieb, MSW, was being sued.
And what was Holland Hospital’s role and responsibility in all this? I knew of no instance in which Dick had abused any patient of the hospital’s but all his phone calls with me had taken place from his hospital office. Likewise, before Dick and I began our year of frequent phone calls, Dick and Bob had daily phone calls that all were from Dick’s hospital office. Dick was using the hospital as his base of operations. Bob and I wonder who is now being made dependent on Dick.
There is one thing that needs to be made absolutely clear: there are no circumstances in which it is all right for a therapist to have sex with a patient. Even if the patient takes off her clothes, dances naked around the room, stuffs hundred-dollar bills in the therapist’s pockets and begs him to have sex, the therapist must always refuse. No matter what the patient’s behavior, it is the therapist’s job to remain detached and help the patient to understand why she is doing what she is doing. The therapist must never, at any time, for any reason, in any place, in any way, cross the boundaries of ethical behavior with a patient. That certainly includes saying “I love you” to a patient.
If you are not sure what are correct professional boundaries, or if you have been in any kind of relationship with Richard Gottlieb that has resulted in you being hurt, here are some of the things you can do about it:
- Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will help you decide what action you want to take and get you hooked up with the right person.
- File a complaint with Michigan’s Licensing and Regulatory Agency in the Allegation Section at (517) 373-9196.
- Hire a private attorney.
- Call Dick’s boss at Holland Hospital, Director of Rehabilitation Ken Puruleski, at (616) 394-3470.
- Write to Dick’s wife, Mary Ann, at 7100 Hidden Ridge Dr., S.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546.
As the Jerry Sandusky trial has been played out on the national stage, Bob and I have watched and commented on the similarities between what we know about Dick Gottlieb’s behavior, and Jerry Sandusky’s case. A professional, commenting on sexual predators, said they rationalize their behavior and never admit to consciousness that they are doing wrong. Bob kept repeating, “Nobody could make up this stuff.”
In particular, we resonate to the pain of the victims—how they have been disbelieved, the courage it’s taken to stand up and testify, the powerful relief of finally having their stories validated, and the healing joy of having justice done.
In conversation with me, Dick Gottlieb has never denied any of the allegations. His modus operandi is to challenge the questioner instead of answering the question. At one point he said that he had expected me to be loyal.
I replied that I am loyal—to the truth.
Bob has made up bumper stickers that say “Don’t be a Dick/Stop Sexual Abuse.”