Friday January 4, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A former Brattleboro Retreat therapist will lose her license for one year after state regulators determined that she had sexual relations with one of her patients.

Stephanie Keep, a licensed clinical social worker and nonlicensed psychotherapist who worked at the Retreat through July 2011, was sanctioned by the Vermont Office of Professional Regulation after a hearing officer determined that Keep had the inappropriate relationship with her patient.

Keep’s clinical social worker license will be suspended for one year from Nov. 30 2012.

She also will have to submit two independent mental health evaluations before reapplying for her license, as well as completing a three credit graduate level course in ethics and boundaries.

If she gets her license reinstated, the license will have conditions on it for three years.

Retreat Senior Vice President of Government Relations Peter Albert said the Retreat took action as soon as administration there heard about the allegations.

"We reported this when we heard about it, as we are required to do," said Albert. "We then left it to the Professional Board to do a review and take action."

Albert said the Retreat also did an internal review to make sure it was an isolated event, and to make sure no one else at the hospital knew about it or supported the behavior.

Keep was terminated from the Retreat after the allegations surfaced.

According to the decision by Administrative Law Officer Michael Lipson, Keep participated in group therapy sessions with her patient at the Retreat. The patient was in the partial hospitalization program beginning in July 2009.

In November 2009, Keep provided individual psychotherapy to the unnamed patient at her private practice.

Their therapeutic relationship ended in mid-May 2010, according to the hearing record, and they began a romantic and sexual relationship in June 2010 which lasted the rest of the year.

The records show that Keep knew that her patient suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and depression. After the relationship ended the patient was upset, the records show, and the patient threatened to harm herself.

Keep submitted a self report to the Office of Professional Regulation on Aug. 3, 2011 after the patient threatened to go to the media in Brattleboro.

"There can be no question that (Keep) committed unprofessional conduct," Lipson wrote in his conclusion, adding that she engaged in "sexual conduct with a client, or with the immediate family member of a client, with whom the licensee has had a professional relationship within the previous two years."

Lipson wrote that Keep was sanctioned to protect the public from conduct by a licensed professional that may be harmful, and to assist the professional in rehabilitating herself so as to be capable in the future of engaging in her desired occupation."

According to the records Keep wanted her license to be suspended for only 45 days, arguing that she engaged in productive efforts to understand that what she did was improper.

But Lipson wrote that Keep’s testimony "at times verged on non-recognition of the severity of what she had done."

Keep can appeal the decision to the Superior Court within 30 days of the decision.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.