Psychotherapist sexual exploitation: A survivor takes her case to court

Sex is never part of professional treatment—but it is the basis for a malpractice lawsuit.

In mid-2003, Julie*, a 33-year-old Louisiana woman, was seeking a divorce from her husband, whom she described as abusive.  In an effort to try and understand why she was attracted to “the abusive type,” she sought the help of a psychiatrist.  Because she had also been experiencing panic attacks, she sought out psychiatrist Gregg S. Hunter because of an article he’d written about the treatment of panic attacks that she had seen in the local newspaper.

Julie saw Hunter for counseling at Houma Wellness Center in Houma, Louisiana from October 2003 to March 2004.

Julie stated, “On my first visit, Dr. Hunter made me feel comfortable and relaxed.  He took my medical history and we discussed the problems I was having in my marriage, which were sexual in nature whereas my husband did not make an effort to show romance prior to our sexual relations and would become violent toward me when refusing him sex.  Dr. Hunter suggested that my husband might not be the man that I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with.  He suggested I find a man who would respect me, somebody probably a little older…and who was a professional.”  “When I returned to see Dr. Hunter, he commented on how beautiful he thought I was….  It made me feel wonderful.  I had not received this kind of attention from my husband and I felt that Dr. Hunter might see the true me.  I was excited that he was a doctor and that he showed an interest in me.”

This scenario is typical of the way a psychiatrist will manipulate the patient, laying the groundwork for eventual sexual conquest by zeroing in on the patient’s vulnerability (in this case, a need for romance and her husband’s lack of respect and appreciation of her) and using it to get what they want.

In “The Seduction of the Female Patient,” Sydney Smith, Ph.D. stated, “…abusing therapists demonstrate a great need for control.  The patient becomes the object first of a psychological subjugation that may…become a form of physical subjugation.  Such therapists enjoy a sense of triumph as they take custody of the patient’s body as well as her mind.  There are those who blame such circumstances on the fact that the therapist may be suffering a lack of comfort in his private life…[however] most cases that have come to light and have been studied are not an instance of a genuine “falling in love,” but are instead reflection of the psychopathological, egotistical needs of the therapist who abandons the well-being of the patient for his own crass self-indulgence.” [1]

And that is exactly what Julie asserts occurred in her case.  She stated:

“We again discussed problems in my marriage and he made comments as to how beautiful he thought I was and my husband must not realize what he had,” she said.  “I figured at one point that it would be great to be in a relationship with him because he was trained in psychology and would be able to understand all of my problems without judgment.  I asked if he was married and he told me ‘no’.  I asked if he was engaged and he also told me ‘no’.”

On a subsequent visit, she told Hunter that she’d left her husband.  “He again complimented me on my looks, how beautiful I was and how he just could not resist me.  He then asked if he could call me outside of office so we could discuss our feelings for one another.  I agreed.”

“When he showed up [at her apartment]…he told me he could just not resist and asked if I felt the same way and I did.  He was charming and made me feel good.  We went from kissing lightly to passionately and then I pushed away.  I wanted to confirm he was not married or engaged and how this just could not be happening to me…that he was interested in me.  He said he felt the same way.”

During this visit, Julie alleges that Hunter initiated sexual acts, including intercourse.  She stated, “Afterward…in my bed…I was really feeling like this could finally be the one.  His phone rang and so did his beeper and he informed me that it was a woman he had been seeing and how he was not sure if this relationship would last.  I was almost devastated.  But felt some hope, they were not engaged and on the rocks.  I still felt I might have a chance.”

“I believe it was the next day when he told me they lived together and I began to cry, asking him how he could do this to me.  Especially since he knew [from the content of therapy sessions] that I desired more than just sex with anyone!  He informed me a month later that ‘he found out that he was getting engaged.’  I again became very upset and depressed.”

Psychiatric drugs to assist continued sexual exploitation   

Early in therapy Hunter prescribed Julie several psychiatric drugs.  “He diagnosed me as ‘bipolar,’” she said.  “He had a piece of paper and read off some symptoms and then said, ‘Yep, you’re bipolar.’  I just couldn’t believe that was the only way they diagnosed me.  I was going through a divorce with an abusive husband.  I was experiencing normal feelings regarding that.”

With the diagnosis came the inevitable prescriptions for dangerous and unnecessary mind-altering drugs.  She stated, “He had me on quite a number of prescriptions all of which were supposed to help me with anxiety, sleep disorders, and my bipolar disorder.  I was a zombie, unable to think and function normally.  [The drugs] absolutely had an effect on me with regards to causing/or my allowing the sexual abuse.  I was in bed nearly comatose for over a year from the drugs.”

Julie asserted, that Hunter continued to visit her outside of therapy and to call her and tell her how much he missed her and wished they could run off together, how his heart was breaking just as much as hers and how his relationship with his fiancée was not as passionate as his with Julie.

She stated, “My divorce proceedings went on and he told me he would do anything to help me through the divorce.  He advised that it was in my best interest not to return to work until the divorce was over….  What he didn’t realize was that I could not even get out of bed much less work!  He at this point became very nervous about my health because he thought I would tell someone about him and me.  [In actuality] my health was not a concern to him.  At this point he needed to protect himself.  So since he knew my mental health and what it took to control me or make me happy, he used every bit of his education and training to see that he made me happy and feel better by telling me he still cared for me deeply.  He made it seem he was calling out of concern and I believed every word.”

Julie alleges that Hunter carried on a sexual relationship with her for approximately five more months, compromising her will with powerful and debilitating psychiatric drugs and stringing her along by telling her he was going to leave his fiancée.

Hunter’s alleged use of drugs to bring this about is another common tactic.  Often a psychiatrist will use drugs to create an altered state of mind in the patient, which makes it easier to commit what truly amounts to nothing less than rape.  In many cases, to cover his tracks, the patient will be "accidentally" over-prescribed or over-dosed, causing the "need" for hospitalization, or even worse, brutal electric shock "treatment."  (Perhaps significantly, of the estimated 110,000 people who are given electric shock "treatment" each year, two-thirds are women.) [2]

If a patient complains, offending psychiatrists often first blame the patient's "mental illness," then the patient's inability to "come to terms" with their earlier traumatic experience.  Finally, psychiatrists frequently argue that the patient consented to the "relationship," despite the obvious abuse.  Some have even been known to take drastic and illegal steps to prevent the sexually abused patient from exposing them.  For example, California psychiatrist Thomas Brod treated a female patient with whom he attempted to initiate a romantic relationship, hugging and kissing her during therapy sessions.  He later convinced her to have sex with him because “it would be good for her therapy.”  Several years later when the patient wanted to end their relationship, Brod had her committed to a psychiatric facility.  The California Medical Board placed him on two years probation. [3]

Historical perspective

In his 2001 report, "Sex Between Therapists and Clients,” Kenneth Pope, the former head of the Ethics Committee of the American Psychological Association, wrote: “The health care professions at their earliest beginnings recognized the harm that could result from sexual involvement with patients.  The Hippocratic Oath, named after a physician who practiced around the fifth century B.C. prohibits sex with patients….  The historical consensus among health care professionals that sex with patients is prohibited as destructive has continued into the modern age.” [4]

The ultimate toll of that harm is too often patient suicide.  About 14% of those who have been sexually involved with a therapist will make at least one attempt at suicide.  One in every hundred patients succeeds. [5]  Factoring in the fearful silence of most victims—only an estimated 1% actually report the abuse—tens of thousands of patients of psychiatric therapists have committed suicide, and thousands more have been hospitalized because of the harm caused to them.

Doing something about it

Julie ultimately did some research on psychiatrists engaging in sex with patients and discovered just how badly she had been exploited.  She stated, “I am still struggling with how he could do such a terrible thing to anyone.  It’s like he ripped my heart out and kicked me while I was at my lowest point.  I trusted this man with my deepest innermost secrets and he used them against me by using his knowledge to manipulate me to have sex with him.”

She contacted an attorney and gathered evidence to support her allegations that Hunter had engaged in a personal and sexual relationship with her, including cell phone records, recording conversations with him in which he acknowledged that there was a sexual relationship and even a hidden camera to videotape him in her apartment (potential plaintiffs should consult with an attorney in their own states to determine the legality of these methods of gathering evidence and their admissibility in a court of law). 

In late October 2004, Julie filed a lawsuit against Hunter for damages.  The case was settled in March 2005.  The terms of the settlement required Hunter to pay her attorneys $30,000 up front and $1,000 per month for 85 months (a portion of which was paid to Julie).  While it would have been preferable to bring the case before a jury, this settlement was not a bad end result.  Psychiatric rape cases such as this are not usually covered by a practitioner’s professional liability (malpractice) insurance, as the act of engaging in sex with a patient is an intentional act.  Malpractice insurance is for unintentional acts.  So, $115,000 out of the psychiatrist’s own pocket is considerable financial damage. [6]

On December 12, 2008, Hunter was arrested in Houma for “unauthorized entry of a business, violation of a protective order.” [7]   

Earlier, on December 2nd, his medical license was suspended.  The Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners has not yet issued a statement of charges or other information on the reason for the suspension. [8]

The moral of the story is that if you enter psychotherapy, there is a 25% percent chance that your therapist (psychiatrist, psychologist, etc.) will attempt to manipulate your emotional vulnerability (possibly by doping you up with mind-altering drugs) in order to engage you in sex.  Should you decide to enter into therapy, be attentive for any inappropriate comments or behavior on the part of your therapist that would be indicative of a “romantic” or sexual intention. 

Should your therapist make such comments or act in an inappropriate way, it is advisable to save any evidence such as e-mails, voicemails, text messages, notes and even biological evidence. [9]

Then contact a medical/psychiatric malpractice attorney right away. 

Several states and countries also have laws making such sexual exploitation a crime. 

For more information or to file a report of psychiatric sexual abuse and find out how CCHR may be able to assist you, please go to our reporting page.


*The name "Julie" is a pseudonym for the plaintiff in this case, who requested that her identity be protected.


[1] Sydney Smith, Ph.D., “The Seduction of the Female Patient,” Sexual Exploitation in Professional Relationships, American Psychiatric Press, 1989, p 6.

[2] "Electroshock Therapy for Depression Makes a Discreet Comeback", by Lisa W. Foderaero, International Herald Tribune, July 20, 1993; Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Report, "A Report to the Legislature in Response to Chapter 1252, Statutes of 1977", California Department of Mental Health, 1989, 1990; Quarterly Report on the Use of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) in Texas, June-August 1993, September-November 1993, Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.

[3] Stipulated Settlement and Disciplinary Order in the Matter of the Accusation Against Thomas M. Brod, M.D., No. D-5408, OAH No. L-61681, 22 November 1994.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] While settlements of this kind come with a confidentiality clause applicable to both sides, "Julie" is no longer bound by the clause in her settlement, as Hunter defaulted on the agreement by failing to keep up with the monthly payments.

[7] Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office police report, as published in The Daily Comet, December 12, 2008.

[8] Notice of Summary Suspension of Medical License, In the Matter of Gregg Spaulding Hunter, M.D., Certificate No. 14239R, Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, December 2, 2008.

[9] In the event of sexual contact or intercourse, it may be possible in some cases to retain residue of semen on garments and one can even go immediately to the hospital—before bathing or changing clothes—and request a “rape kit,” which medical personnel use to collect evidence of a sexual assault.

Go to Articles