A 61-year-old Spokane psychologist has been charged with unprofessional conduct for having a sexual relationship with a client more than 12 years ago.
But Phyllis B. Mast maintains that the six-month relationship happened before she was a psychologist and after she stopped counseling the female client.
A hearing before the state Examining Board of Psychology is set for Oct. 10.
Mast’s lawyer, Jerome Leveque, said he and the board’s lawyer have hammered out a tentative agreement that the board will review in September.
“It’s inappropriate for me to make a comment on the matter that’s been alleged in this case, other than to say that Phyllis has cooperated with the investigation, and there’s a tentative agreement reached,” Leveque said.
The board could decide to drop the charge. Or it could punish Mast with anything from a reprimand to rescinding her license.
Attempts to reach Mast were unsuccessful Wednesday.
But she has filed a lawsuit asking the state to clarify statutes concerning applicants for psychology licenses. She argues that the state board had no jurisdiction over her behavior when she was not a licensed psychologist - even though she applied for a license before the relationship happened.
In a response filed March 11 with the psychology board, Mast said she worked as a counselor - not a psychologist - from 1983 to 1988. Counselors need less schooling, handle only certain kinds of patients and make less money than psychologists.
Mast said she didn’t begin practicing psychology until she was licensed in June 1988.
The state investigation started after the lawyer for Mast’s former client complained to the state board in February 1994. Last December, the state charged Mast with unprofessional conduct.
Mast, who finished her Ph.D. in 1979, started postdoctoral supervision in 1982 before applying for a psychology license.
In her response, Mast said she began counseling a female patient in fall 1983 for incest-related depression. Mast said the counseling relationship stopped after the patient was admitted to Deaconess Medical Center in October 1984 because of suicidal tendencies.
Mast said she didn’t treat clients at the time who had suicidal tendencies because she wasn’t adequately trained.
Mast didn’t challenge the state’s position “that there is the appearance that there was no clear end to the therapeutic relationship.”
The woman lived in Mast’s home from December 1984 until June 1987, according to the investigation.
Mast did not contest the charge but said the woman began sharing her home in January 1985.
That month, an intimate relationship started that ended six months later, Mast said. She admitted her conduct with the woman was inappropriate.
“There simply was no excuse for it, and I do not want to be perceived as justifying or excusing my behavior, but simply explaining it,” Mast wrote in a 1995 letter to the state.
“It was at that time that I embarked on an intensive and accelerated learning mission in order to understand and put the necessary protections in place to prevent any future disasters.”
Although Mast said she was no longer counseling the woman, she used the patient as her case study during her February 1985 oral test. At that time, she did not mention having any relationship with the woman other than a therapeutic one.
Since the incident, Mast said her continuing education has taught her how to screen for personality disorders and how to deal with blind spots she has with certain patients. She’s participated in a formal study group with colleagues since 1987.
She now has a “no touching” rule, other than a handshake, to prevent miscommunication.
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