What I learned from The Naked Therapist

Welcome to Format Free Fridays at AskDrDarcy.com, the one day a week when I break the format of answering your questions.

I was contacted earlier this week by a television network and asked to give my opinion of Sarah White, aka The Naked “Therapist.”

White is a 24 year-old woman who calls herself a therapist and who sees men, both in person ($800.00 per session) and via webcam ($150.00 per session), for “therapy.”  White claims to have studied psychology and biology as an undergraduate, though she does not state which university she graduated from which begs the question of whether she did indeed graduate, and unlike every other legally practicing therapist in America, White has never attended graduate school, holds no license in the field of mental health and is not affiliated with any accredited institution.

In preparing for my interview, I found myself pondering White’s audacity in representing herself as a healthcare provider.  That she disrobes during the course of her “sessions” is, for me, a distractive tactic, one that doesn’t warrant attention, despite her efforts to attract just that.  To me, her state of dress is irrelevant.  What is relevant and even compelling is how she gets away with this.

Imagine for a moment if White were a man who was seeing women for “therapy.”  Add to that the fact that most of White’s clients see her for sex related issues, and I think it’s fair to say that the media would assemble a lynch mob were she a he.

Instead, like many intellectually vapid attention-seekers who are willing to release a sex tape or the equivalent thereof, White has gotten a virtual tsunami of press, the likes of which even the most influential P.R. firm could not garner.  If she were in any other profession, I’d be laughing right along with the masses, but her choice to malign my own profession with her fraudulent affiliation pisses me off.

I won’t bore you with the gory details of what a major pain in the ass it was to get through graduate school, or how insanely complex it was to get my dissertation study approved, or how terrified I was the day I defended my dissertation as my mother and then girlfriend watched on.  Believe it or not, my greatest headache was contending with the licensing boards of the two states in which I’m licensed to practice.  How anyone ever gets past the bureaucracy of these consumer protection agencies to come out as a licensed professional is nothing short of a miracle.  And it got me thinking…

Since White works in Manhattan, I took the liberty of contacting the New York State Education Department’s Office of the Professions, which is the governing board for all professional service providers in New York.  My goal was to learn who is responsible for policing quacks in my field.  After being transferred to the Professional Misconduct Enforcement Department, I was told that complaints needed to be filed by mail using a form that I’ll link to here.  Essentially, I wanted to learn what the consequences are for misrepresenting oneself as a healthcare provider in the State of New York.

Like all government agencies, this one has specific procedures to follow.  After they’ve received the written complaint and assigned it to a state investigator, they begin confirming that the accusations in the report are correct.  This can take months.  If they find evidence that the person is in fact committing a crime (misrepresenting oneself as a healthcare provider is a felony in the state of New York), they refer the case to the district attorney’s office, at which point the ball is in the D.A.’s court to decide how they want to proceed.  If they have “bigger fish to fry,” the case could sit on a shelf indefinitely. White works in Manhattan.  What do you think the chances are that the Manhattan district has bigger fish to fry?

In the city of New York, you need a license to sell hot dogs out of a cart.  You need a license to paint someone’s nails.  Both of my dogs require licenses.  And the consequences for failing to have these licenses carry hefty fines.  And the fine for misrepresenting oneself as a healthcare provider?  Nothing.  The government will send her a Cease and Desist letter, which puts her on notice to stop her misrepresentation, but it will be months and maybe years before she’s slapped with any real consequences.  In the meantime, she’ll continue to see “clients,” she’ll get a book deal, then a movie deal and by the time it’s all over, it will have been well worth the risk she took, at least from a profits perspective.

I did not, for the record, report White.  Someone else can do it.  I’ve already given her too much of my time.  But hey, at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that every time someone Googles The Naked Therapist, I’ll now get a bit of free marketing.   And I managed to keep my clothes on.