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Friday, October 25, 2002
Volume 1, Issue 41

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Psychologist’s Scam Gets his Pet ‘Board-Certified’


Zoe D. Katze has an impressive-looking set of credentials–Ph.D., C.Ht., DAPA. She has been board-certified by three major hypnotherapy associations and holds diplomate status in the American Psychotherapy Association.

Not bad for a 6-year-old house cat. And not even a pedigreed one at that.

But Zoe’s not just any cat. She’s Philadelphia psychologist Steve K.D. Eichel’s cat. Eichel had a point he had been wanting to make about the proliferation of bogus credentialing organizations over the past 10 or 20 years.

So he decided to credential his cat.

Zoe D. KatzeTo do that, Eichel first had to get his cat some credit, which turned out to be the hardest part of the process. The credit card company’s agent initially asked for Zoe’s Social Security number, Eichel says, but cheerfully relented when Eichel told him it wasn’t readily available. Zoe was then added to Eichel’s account as an authorized user.

To get Zoe her first credential, Eichel says, he simply filled out an "application for certification" on a lay hypnosis association’s Web site and charged the fee to his credit card under Zoe’s name. Since most lay hypnosis associations have reciprocity agreements, he says, it was a snap getting Zoe board-certified by two other credentialing organizations.

Eichel then decided to go for the gold: diplomate status in the American Psychotherapy Association, which, according to its own promotional literature, "is limited to a select group of professionals who, by virtue of their extensive training and expertise, have demonstrated their outstanding abilities in regard to their specialty."

The American Psychotherapy Association is affiliated with the American College of Forensic Examiners, whose credentialing practices were critically examined in the February 2000 issue of the ABA Journal. Eichel admits that he served briefly on the APA’s executive advisory board, but says he quit in 1999 when he learned it was board-certifying people who did not have licenses or graduate degrees.

The APA, to its credit, requested a copy of Zoe’s resumé before it would issue her any credentials, Eichel says. So he made one up. And it’s a real doozy.

The name itself is the first clue as to Zoe’s true identity. In German, "Zoe Die Katze" translates to "Zoe the Cat." And Eichel didn’t stop there. He listed a previous job with the St. Felix (as in "Felix the Cat") Home for Children. And he gave her a consulting position with the Tacayllaermi Friends School, the first name of which is "I’m really a cat" spelled backwards.

That’s where it might have ended. Eichel says he had no intention of publicizing the matter further. But when his cat started getting a lot of e-mail, he felt obliged to answer. And when a reporter for a major magazine requested an interview with Zoe for a story she was doing on the use of hypnosis during childbirth, he decided it was time to let the cat out of the bag.

Rochester, N.Y., psychologist Michael A. Baer, chairman of the APA's executive advisory board, says the association has a system of checks and balances in place to prevent something like this from happening.

"I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but the truth is, this one just slipped right through the cracks," he says.

Baer says Zoe's credentials have since been revoked. And the association has taken steps to tighten its credentialing procedures.

"We don't want anything like this to ever happen again," he says.

Eichel says he suspects that Zoe’s unmasking will make some people very angry.

As a matter of fact, it already has. Eichel has just been informed that Capital One MasterCard, which issued him the credit card he used to get his cat’s credentials, is investigating a report of credit card fraud against him and Zoe. The report lists Jerome Beacham, training director of the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association, one of the three organizations that issued Zoe credentials, as the source of the complaint.

But Eichel also hopes the episode will inspire others to demand changes in the way some credentialing is done:

"Limiting a credential to Homo sapiens would be a good start."

©2002 ABA Journal



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