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A broken trust: Longtime psychotherapist gamed system

June 3, 2011
photo - Edwin Shockney in a photo from his website Photo by
Edwin Shockney in a photo from his website Photo by 

Edwin Shockney’s 2009 book “Delusional Entitlement Disorder” describes people who increasingly expect quick payoffs without hard work and “believe that standards, rules and laws do not apply to them.”

He could be describing himself.

Shockney says he has a master’s degree in counseling and a doctorate in psychology, which give him the expertise to diagnose patients, advise government agencies and testify in almost 150 local court cases.

In reality, the Colorado Springs man quit at least three colleges. He has no bachelor’s degree and no master’s. And his doctorate came from a defunct California seminary based in a strip mall.

But through an ever-evolving string of embellishments and outright lies, Shockney has hoodwinked the Colorado professional counselors oversight board, the Catholic Church, local lawyers, police, a large defense contractor and countless patients for more than a decade.

He has gotten away with it despite repeated complaints to authorities.

And his deceptions could have serious repercussions because his court testimony has influenced dozens of child custody and criminal cases that may now warrant new trials.

Of broader concern, Shockney’s years of practice call into question the effectiveness of the state system created to protect consumers from just this kind of abuse.

The state has investigated Shockney repeatedly but always found that he qualifies for a license. The apparent lack of effective oversight means there is no way to know how many other counselors like Shockney are practicing.

State rules supposed to ‘give consumers peace of mind’

Shockney, 60, is a licensed professional counselor, or LPC, and has practiced psychotherapy for more than 15 years, treating everything from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder to what he calls “premature aging.”

Colorado requires LPCs to have a master’s or doctorate degree in counseling or psychology from an accredited school. Or credentials that the state finds equivalent.

“The whole idea,” said Amos Martinez, former head of the Colorado Mental Health Grievance Board, which oversees LPCs, “is to give consumers peace of mind that we have checked that people are qualified.”

In practice, though, counselors with dubious credentials can slip past safeguards in Colorado because the state does little to verify their claims, Martinez said. “There is no proactive investigation. Anyone could do what Shockney did and get away with it.”

In an 80-minute interview with The Gazette in April, at which he insisted his lawyer be present, Shockney said accusations that he is a fraud are “groundless and without merit,” adding, “I consider it a dead point to question whether I am qualified as a psychotherapist.”

Shockney said the state has reviewed his education and found it to be sufficient. The state says its oversight system works well.

But a Gazette investigation was unable to verify any degree Shockney said he earned.

Instead, the investigation found that Shockney lied to regulators, the police and the courts; duped colleagues; solicited money from an intern; and was sanctioned by the state after allegedly offering to pay a patient for sex.

Misleading claims of education

Only a fraction Shockney’s claims can be confirmed.

In Colorado, counselors are required by law to disclose their education to patients. On disclosure forms and résumés from 1994, 2002 and 2007 obtained by The Gazette, Shockney claims to have earned an undergraduate degree, but it’s not clear from where. Sometimes he said it’s from one school or another, other times it’s a mix of multiple schools.  

He names a total of three schools: Indiana Tech, Indiana University and Crossroads College.

(See the forms: 1994, 2002, 2007)

None has any record of him graduating.

He claims to have earned a master’s from two graduate schools. State University of New York at Albany said he never attended. Crossroads Bible College, a small seminary in Indianapolis, said he never attended, and it doesn’t offer a master’s degree.

Crossroads Bible College
Here is what school officials could confirm: Shockney graduated from a small-town Indiana high school in 1968, then attended Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., for less than a year. He enrolled in a two-year medical laboratory assistant program at Indiana Vocational Technical College in 1971 and finished one year. He attended Indiana University part time, off and on, from 1973 to 1978 but received no degree.

In 1979, he got a degree from Excelsior College, a correspondence school in Albany, N.Y., then called Regents College. It is the only degree The Gazette could confirm. Shockney claimed it was a four-year bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine; Excelsior said it was a two-year associate degree in liberal arts.

Given copies of the contradictory disclosure forms and résumés, some with his signature, Shockney said, “I care not to look at them.”

He said the inconsistencies are typos caused by careless assistants or unfinished drafts dug out of his trash to smear him.

“Someone helped me build those, there were errors, and those errors have haunted me,” he said. In any case, he added, they are irrelevant because the state board reviewed his education and deemed it adequate.

When told that none of the schools could be independently verified, he said, “So that’s stronger than the board?”

Pressed about where he got a diploma, Shockney said, “Call Ivy Tech in Richmond, Indiana. Ask if I graduated in ’72.”

The Gazette did. The college registrar said Shockney did not graduate.

Shockney makes one somewhat consistent educational claim: He got his doctorate in psychology from a school he calls Berean College and Graduate School, though on some forms he calls it Berean College of California and on others Berean Christian College.

The name on incorporation documents is Berean Church of the Scriptures. It was a tiny Christian correspondence school registered to a strip mall in Long Beach, Calif. Founded by a Kansas woman named Adelia Bachman in 1984, Berean lasted about 10 years. Shockney said he earned his doctorate in 1991, 1992 or 1993, depending on the version of the résumé.

A newspaper obituary shows that Adelia Bachman died in Kansas in 2009. Her family did not respond to requests for information about Berean. The Gazette couldn’t find other Berean graduates, course descriptions or former faculty.

The Gazette also couldn’t find records that Shockney submitted a dissertation or completed the clinical hours typically required for a doctorate in psychology.

“Clinical hours … clinical hours?” Shockney said when asked where he completed his. “A Ph.D. in counseling psychology can come from a lot of different venues, especially coming out of the seminary. The whole idea is, and I know I sound like a broken record, but it has met the criteria for different review groups, the Department of Defense … See, I didn’t take the degree to get licensed, I took the degree because I wanted to learn more about that.”

Shockney claimed on his application for licensure that he completed 700 clinical hours while in the Navy. Shockney was in the Navy Reserve from 1983 to 1993, according to a Navy spokesman. But Navy records indicate he was an advanced lab tech, a job Navy documents describe as: “Collects and processes biological specimen for analysis.”

In 1996, a short time after Berean folded, Shockney started a new Berean with the original president, Bachman, in Colorado Springs, according to incorporation documents. Shockney listed the address on West Colorado Avenue as “Suite 221,” but it was actually a post office box.

The Berean College

Shockney told The Gazette he had no real involvement, but incorporation records list him as a director and his father as the recipient of all remaining assets.

Duane Smith, a local chiropractor who was also on the Berean board of directors, said Shockney started Berean to “offer people counseling degrees, but it never really got off the ground.”

Shockney later used his coursework from Berean to apply to become an LPC. As director, he would have had the ability to issue his own transcripts, though it’s unknown whether he did.

The state does not disclose transcripts submitted as part of an LPC application. Shockney did not respond to a request via email for a copy.

Shockney had a ‘tendency to overstate’

A former colleague said Shockney’s credentials are “a joke.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, Shockney worked as a hospital lab technician, first in rural Indiana, then in Colorado Springs, then in Tampa, Fla., according to Gazette research.

In 1988, Shockney moved back to Colorado Springs.

The same year, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill to bring order and accountability to the growing field of psychotherapy. The new law required all mental health professionals to register with the state and created a grievance board to police them.

“It was a way to protect the public. People come to therapists in very vulnerable states, and we were seeing a lot of problems with therapists having sexual contact with patients or getting into business deals with them, things like that,” said Martinez, who ran the program from its inception in 1988 until 2005.

Under state law, anyone with a master’s degree in counseling from an accredited institution or the equivalent counseling education can become a licensed professional counselor.

Anyone practicing psychotherapy who falls below those standards must register as an unlicensed psychotherapist, take an ethics test and pay a fee of $160.

In 1992, Shockney paid the fee, took the test and started offering psychotherapy.
“I was good at it, I did well at it. And I didn’t want to go back into lab medicine,” he told The Gazette.

By 1995, he had teamed up with another unlicensed psychotherapist named Ray Panetto.

Both were active in local courts as evaluators for divorce cases.

“It was a great time, you could make good money, and there was very little accountability. Unlicensed therapists could even bill insurance back then. You can’t anymore because there were a lot of abuses,” Panetto said when reached by phone in Florida, where he now lives.

The two sent a mass mailing to local attorneys that year saying they had “30 years of combined health care experience” and could provide counseling for “trauma as a result of assault, divorce, parenting issues and custody,” as well as court-ordered parenting classes, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Gazette.

In the letter, “Dr. Shockney” claimed to be a member of the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors. Contacted this spring by The Gazette, the association said it had no record of him. Nor do other professional organizations to which he has claimed membership.

“Shockney was pretty good at bringing in business,” Panetto said. “The only thing I saw about him was he had a tendency to overstate who he was. He was always trying to aggrandize himself.”

Panetto was sanctioned by the Colorado regulatory board in 1997 for falsely claiming to have a doctorate in psychology. The board ordered him to stop practicing, and he left the state.

When told by The Gazette that Shockney had since become a licensed professional counselor, Panetto laughed and said, “That’s a joke, right? That man should never have been licensed. He does not have the credentials.”

A former local psychologist named Elizabeth Paterson said she had doubts about Shockney’s credentials, too, when she encountered him in a divorce case in 1995. She started trying to confirm the schools on his résumé. None of them had ever heard of him, she said.

“All his schools were totally bogus,” she told The Gazette earlier this year. She alerted the state board of his lack of relevant education in August 1995 but said her complaint was dismissed. She said she also filed complaints in 2004 and 2008. She said they also were dismissed. A local lawyer and former patient said they also have filed complaints, for a total of at least five.

The state does not keep records of dismissed grievances, and staff members cannot discuss the basis on which those grievances were dismissed.

“Once a case is dismissed, no one will talk about it,” said Bryan Thomas, a complaint-processing specialist for the Department of Regulatory Agencies, which oversees the board. “It’s gone, it never existed.”

Shockney said Paterson should not be believed.

He said she has made complaints about the qualifications of a number of local counselors, including Marlene Bizup, who won a $1.5 million defamation suit against Paterson in 2008. At that time, the state board found Paterson mentally unfit to practice psychology, and she voluntarily surrendered her license.

Shockney said Paterson is “mentally disturbed, a risk to self and others.”

Paterson said her accusations about Shockney are supported by documents.

Charged in sex case,
then sanctioned by state

Credentials aside, Shockney’s behavior as a psychotherapist fell below standards set by the state.

After Shockney incorporated Berean, he recruited a colleague and at least one patient to enroll. He promised that students could get advanced degrees through correspondence courses, Panetto said.

Shockney denies this.

“It sounded great to me,” said Panetto, who said he did not know at the time that Shockney was one of Berean’s directors. “I signed up and paid my tuition.”

But, he said, for the $500 tuition, the coursework covered material he had learned as an undergraduate, and the books he received were stapled photocopies. He said he wrote to the school asking for his money back.

Instead of refunding his money, he said, Berean sent his doctorate certificate.
“I couldn’t believe it. I had been scammed. It was almost comical,” he said.

Shockney had a heart attack late in 2010. At the start of the April interview, he said he was “having a bad cardio day” and would have to keep the interview short.

When told that Panetto said Berean was a scam, Shockney grumbled, then said, “Now this is the guy who was run out of town … And the thing is … We need to move on because I’m not feeling well.”

Shockney also talked at least one patient into attending Berean, telling her she could become a counselor like him.

She later told police that Shockney became her instructor and that there was at least one other student. The patient told police she got almost all A’s, but that Shockney often lost her papers and asked her to rewrite them.

Shockney said he never recruited students because there was no Berean College. Shown the incorporation documents he signed, he said, “I don’t even remember. I don’t know. I don’t know.” Since his heart attack, he said, “I have issues with amnesia.”

Recruiting a patient to join a college goes against ethics rules set by the state board. So did what allegedly happened next.

Shockney learned through conversations with the patient that she had worked for an escort service, according to a Colorado Springs police report. In August 1996, after learning this, he allegedly offered to pay her for sex, the report said.

She went to the police, and a detective had her make a taped phone call to Shockney to gather evidence, the report said.

In the call, according to the report, Shockney acknowledged the offer for sex and apologized for making the patient uncomfortable. “While it would be very nice,” he told the patient, he had become uncomfortable with the proposition, too.

When police confronted Shockney, he denied any such offer. According to the report, he said the patient was mentally unstable, and he offered to turn over part of her confidential file — another violation of state ethics rules.

When police told him about the taped conversation, the report said, he “expressed concern about what this would do with his career.”

Shockney was charged on Dec. 13, 1996, with soliciting prostitution.

Told by The Gazette in April that he had been charged, Shockney said, “Was I?”

When shown the paperwork, he said “Time out for a minute. I don’t remember that.”

He asked The Gazette reporter to leave the room so he could confer with his attorney.

Afterward, he said the patient had a history of making false claims, and the case was dismissed and sealed.

Then he grabbed his chest, complained of heart pain and asked to end the interview.

Because the case was sealed, there is no way to verify the outcome. The charge could have been dismissed, or Shockney could have reached a deal with prosecutors that left no record of guilt.

He has no record of a conviction. But in January 1997, police sent the report to the state regulatory board, and a few weeks later the board sanctioned Shockney, saying his practice “fell below generally accepted standards.”

The board required him to undergo three years of probation, during which time he was required to be monitored weekly by a licensed professional counselor.

It may have been the best thing to happen to Shockney’s career.

Used punishment to his advantage

The licensed professional counselor Shockney hired to monitor him, Susan Garcia, showed him how to clean up his practice, he said, and encouraged him to apply to become an LPC.

Garcia refused to comment, citing confidentiality rules.

As an LPC, he could bill insurance and, therefore, get more business.

To become an LPC, a therapist is required to complete 100 hours of supervised clinical time. Shockney used his probation hours toward his license.

“That’s highly inappropriate,” Martinez said. If a monitor, paid to make sure the practice is not a danger to patients, is also the supervisor, paid to vouch that the therapist is qualified, he said, “there is a monetary incentive to look the other way.”

The current director of the board, Ronne Hines, said using hours of supervised clinical time toward both purposes does not violate board rules.

Colorado LPCs are also required to take the 200-question multiple-choice National Counselor Examination. Shockney told The Gazette he scored in the top 15 percent.

In August 2001, a month after Shockney finished his probation, he sent in his application to become an LPC.

On his application he swore under penalty of perjury that his graduate schools —  what he called Crossroads Graduate School and Berean C. College and Graduate School — were accredited by North Central Accrediting.

North Central Accrediting said they are not.

“I was told they were,” Shockney told The Gazette.

He said, again, that it does not matter, because the board reviewed and approved his credentials.

Warnings from former patient, former intern

A patient referred to Shockney in 2002, shortly after he got his license, said she found his practice disorganized and ineffective.

Lee, who withheld her last name to protect her privacy as a patient, was referred to see a psychologist after an injury at work left her depressed.

“I thought at first he knew what he was doing. His office looked very nice, lots of wood and books. He had ‘Ph.D.’ on the door. I thought he was a psychologist,” she said.

Then she started to notice little oddities. The assessment tests he gave were photocopies, even though the pages said “do not photocopy,” she said. He lost her paperwork three times and, she said, she had to fill it out again each visit. And of most concern, Shockney talked at length about himself but asked little about her, she said.

Most sessions consisted mostly of listening to him tell stories or listening to self-hypnosis tapes while he was in another room, she said. She dropped him as her therapist after four sessions.

“It was bizarre. He just confused me and made me question my own sanity,” Lee said. “I was in a bad spot in my life, and he made it worse.”

A former University of Colorado at Colorado Springs graduate student who was Shockney’s intern in 2005 said his lack of education showed. She said she did not want her name used because she now works as an LPC.

“He did not use any technique I recognized,” she said. “He was not performing therapy as a trained therapist.”

Her internship ended early, she said, after Shockney tried to get her to invest money in a bigger office to which he was moving. Shortly after she refused, she said, Shockney terminated her.

In a program evaluation she provided to The Gazette, she warned the university that future interns should avoid Shockney, saying an internship with him could be “harmful” and one day might “involve the university in legal problems.”

Another intern and a counselor who worked for him refused to comment when contacted by The Gazette.

Shockney did not respond to questions about the intern.

Shockney said despite what he calls “mistakes” on old résumés, he is a well-meaning counselor who donates one-tenth of his services to charity, has saved patients from suicide and has been active in local charitable organizations.

“I have been practicing successfully, within the law, to the best of my knowledge, the entire time, and now all I am trying to do is retire before I friggin’ die,” he said, grabbing his chest. “With no malice did I ever intend to do anything, and I didn’t do anything. What I did was fill out the stuff to the best of my ability; I had guidance in doing it. I practiced successfully. I have 39 years of health care experience. I help people.”

Called as an expert for church, courts

As an LPC, Shockney began to practice in increasingly influential venues.

He was hired as the behavioral health consultant for the police departments in Manitou Springs in 2000 and Woodland Park in 2003, where he screened prospective cops for signs of mental health problems.

He did similar work for local defense contractor ITT Systems.

Shockney has worked for years as the psychological adviser to the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, providing testimony in marriage tribunals — the church’s equivalent of divorce hearings — on whether a marriage should be annulled because of psychological issues.

Often, the evaluations involved giving tests that only psychologists or psychiatrists, who have more stringent education requirements, are qualified to give, the former intern said.

Shockney said he has always worked with psychologists and psychiatrists to do the more-advanced screening, and has done nothing wrong. But two such “associates” Shockney listed on his website in 2008 said they have never had a partnership with him.  One, Cecil Deckard, was a small-town doctor in Indiana who hired Shockney as a lab tech in the 1970s, who said, “I have long since retired and have not seen him in years.”

Shockney did not respond to questions about people listed as associates.

Shockney also has performed psychological evaluations for court cases.

According to a list Shockney submitted in court in 2007, he has been called as an expert in 145 cases ranging from minor personal injuries to murders, including cases in federal and military courts.

Sometimes, he said, he was hired by the state to evaluate a defendant’s mental competency to stand trial. Other times he was paid by defense attorneys to see if defendants had the mental capacity to understand their rights. He said he also evaluated a number of families in divorce and custody cases.

“Experts play a critical role,” said local attorney Pat Marrison, who has worked on cases when Shockney was employed by another attorney. “They are the eyes and ears of the judge. If they are not accurate, if they don’t know what they are doing, they can ruin lives.”

The full effect of Shockney’s actions — whether his testimony decided a parent’s custody or whether his therapy made a troubled patient worse, for example — is impossible to measure because patient records are confidential and divorce-court records are sealed.

Shockney was hired as an expert by public defender Sheilagh McAteer in a 2007 rape case in which the defendant confessed.

“I hired Shockney to look at the issues of competency and whether (the defendant) understood his Miranda rights when they were given,” McAteer said. “Shockney was a big talker but never came through with anything he said he would.”

Other attorneys in the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender, which paid $100 per hour for Shockney’s services, said they had similar experiences.

Every time Shockney went to court, he had to lay the foundation for his expertise by stating his credentials for the record. In a 2008 federal court transcript, he said he earned “a B.A. in humanities, pre-medicine, an M.A. in counseling psychology, (and) a Ph.D. in counseling psychology with a political emphasis.” None of his claims could be verified.

“Each time, if he lied, is likely a case of perjury,” said professor Patrick Furman, a criminal law expert at the University of Colorado Law School.

Shockney’s actions could also open up each case to a new trial, said 4th Judicial Court Chief Judge Kirk Samelson. “I don’t know what the full impact will be because I’m not aware of a similar situation, but every case could potentially be looked at. It would be up to the people involved in the case to bring it back to the judge.”

Complaints to state receive no follow-up

Shockney’s story suggests that the system designed to catch unqualified counselors has failed.

Legal authorities have known about Shockney’s dubious credentials for years, but none has acted.

After the state board did not act on her complaints, Paterson, the psychologist, sent a letter and a sheaf of documents detailing Shockney’s false claims to the head of the Department of Regulatory Agencies in 2005.

She sent the same letter to the state attorney general, the governor, the speaker of the state House of Representatives and the president of the state Senate. None acted, she said.

She then sent documents detailing his false claims in court testimony to the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. In 2007, Randy Stevenson, deputy chief investigator for the office, wrote in a letter obtained by The Gazette that he had verified Shockney’s degrees with the state board and therefore, “We have closed our investigation.”

A short time later, attorneys from the D.A.’s office used the same documents they had just dismissed to discredit Shockney as an expert in an armed-robbery case.

Shockney was hired by the public defender’s office to evaluate the defendant’s ability to understand his rights. He testified in a pretrial hearing that the client was not competent to stand trial, according to public defender Deana Feist. “It did not go well,” she said.
The prosecutor attacked Shockney’s education on the stand.

“We did not feel he was qualified,” said Deputy D.A. Joe LeDonne, who tried the case.
The judge sided with the prosecutor discounting Shockney’s testimony.

Paterson also passed along many of the Shockney résumés she had collected to a court watchdog blogger in Denver named Sean Harrington, who posted them.

The local Catholic diocese was aware of the online documents, said Ricardo Coronado-Arrascue, the judicial vicar in Colorado Springs. The church conducted what he called “a small investigation,” but church lawyers “did not have too many concerns” and continued to rely on Shockney, who is active in the church.

A backdoor in the law

The state board typically does a good job of enforcing complaints against LPCs, said Martinez, its former director.

The board receives an average of 76 complaints about LPCs per year. Of those, about nine typically have sufficient grounds to result in disciplinary actions. Two are usually serious enough to warrant revoking a license. Over the years, the board has revoked the licenses of a few counselors who lied about their credentials, Martinez said.

The problem, he said, is not enforcement of the law. It is the law itself.

When the state passed the law creating a board to license and police LPCs, it built in a statutory back door called “equivalency.”

Therapists who do not have an accredited education can qualify if they show they have an equivalent education covering eight core areas, including subjects such as human development and ethics. The classes must be taken at a school with an identifiable student body, regular testing and a faculty with the education required to teach high-level courses.

“The Legislature did not want to shut out anyone just because someone did not go to an accredited school,” said Martinez, who oversaw thousands of applications. “But they effectively left the door wide open. We have this morass of colleges and universities, some new, some online, and every year it gets worse. Who knows what those programs are really like?

“The board didn’t have the resources to properly review each application. So they just accepted them.”

Shockney applied under equivalency in 2001, using his transcripts from Berean to claim that he studied all eight required core areas.

At that time, the board staff usually took applicants at their word, Martinez said. So it is unlikely anyone ever checked Shockney’s claims.

“If he sent transcripts, that was probably enough,” Martinez said. “And every time he was grieved, the staff probably just checked the transcripts.”

Rosemary McCool, director of the state’s Division of Registrations, a unit of the Department of Regulatory Agencies, disagrees with Martinez’s criticism of the system.

“I’m very confident in our procedures,” she said. “We process 30,000 mental health licensees every year, so anything is possible. We are human, we make mistakes, but the system in place is very strong.”Assessing the growing number of unaccredited colleges has become increasingly difficult and time-consuming, she said.

So in 2007 the state began using a private company called The Center for Credentialing and Education to investigate claims of equivalency in order to “take the burden off the staff.”

Since then, the state has denied equivalency to at least 10 applicants, according to board documents.

But the state has no record of how many licenses it has granted by equivalency. So it is virtually impossible to know who qualifies and who merely slipped past an overwhelmed staff.

Asked if the state plans to change its review process or review licenses already granted, McCool said, “No.”

Contact the writer
at 636-0223.

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