Local, married therapist may return to work after having sex, oral sex with patients

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) - The 7 Action News Investigators are exposing a local therapist who was supposed to help make his patients' lives better, but instead put the make on them. Michael Alfred Hayes is a licensed psychologist who slept with one patient and had oral sex with another.

Years earlier, Hayes had committed other misdeeds. The state punished him back then, but he was able to slip through the cracks, lie his way into a new job and prey on female patients, according to state records and court documents.

When Investigator Bill Proctor tracked down Hayes to get answers from him, the therapist told 7 Action News he was still practicing.  But by the time Hayes recognized Bill Proctor and the 7 Action News Team the mental health professional changed his story and said he was not practicing.

A former patient said she has come forward to expose Hayes so he can't prey on others.

"The first time I saw him, he got to see everything he needed, all my weaknesses, every way to manipulate me," said the former patient, who asked not to be identified.

She told 7 Action News that in 2008, she and her husband saw two different psychologists in separate sessions at Pioneer Counseling Centers. She said they were working on marital problems.

The woman said she was very optimistic after her first meeting with Hayes, but in the next session she became very emotional.

"I was emotional, and he said that my husband didn't love me and probably never did, and that I needed to know what it was like to have a real man love me," she said.

Hayes ended the session, asking permission to give the woman a hug. Two months into their weekly therapy sessions, she said they had sex in the office and at hotels.

The former patient also told the 7 Actions News that Hayes ordered wine and strawberries. Hayes, she said, gave her alcohol though he knew she was also in therapy for a drinking problem.

"He said we were meant to be together," the woman said. "He said it was over with [his and his wife] and that they were going to get a divorce."

As the meetings progressed, Hayes would make her his last appointment of the day so they could have sex in his office. But the courtship came to abrupt end one day when Hayes told her to come to the office for an appointment.

"He just looked at me and said it's done. It's over, and I started crying, and he opened the door and said, 'pretty harsh huh?'" she recalled.

She would later find out that a month after dumping her, Hayes started putting the moves on another patient.  She also discovered Hayes should never have been working at Pioneer, treating her or anyone.

Attorney Robert Garvey represents Hayes former patient. He said Hayes was fired from his immediate prior employer for falsifying patient charts and fraudulent billing.

The former patient has sued Hayes and Pioneer Counseling Center for the breakdown she suffered after the affair, and the $86,000 inpatient treatment she needed to recover her life. The case settled for an undisclosed amount.

Garvey also said Pioneer could have found out about his previous termination, but failed to follow its own policies and thoroughly check on Hayes' state license, which showed he was under investigation.

"He lies to them, and tells them it was something that occurred a year ago, it was an accounting error and that it had been taken care of," said Garvey.

Had Pioneer bothered to find out the results of the state's investigation, the counseling center would have learned that Hayes admitted to the state that he charged insurance companies for treating patients he never saw; and the state had limited his license for two years. The state required, and Hayes agreed in a state consent order, that if he practiced again he would have a supervisor watch his every move and report what they saw to the state.

"Had they done that, he would have never been hired," said Garvey.

But of course Pioneer did hire Hayes. And just months into his new job he committed a major violation--Hayes slept with one patient and had oral sex with another. Both eventually complained to the state licensing board.

But at the time it took some coaxing to get Hayes's former patient to come forward because she blamed herself.

"I was a horrible person. I shouldn't have let that happen," said Hayes's former patient.

"Your good judgment is undermined when you're in therapy, and you believe this is the only person in the world who can save you," said Janet Wohlberg, a patient advocate with Therapy Exploitation Link Line (TELL) in Boston. 

TELL was started in 1989 after some prominent therapists were exposed for sleeping with patients. Wohlberg was a victim herself and has since counseled thousands of others. She says patients often blame themselves--but it is the therapist's duty to not cross the line.

"So the patient can be begging for sex, it's always the responsibility of therapists to set and maintain those safe and therapeutic boundaries," said Wohlberg.

The American Psychological Association's

code of ethics is also very clear: "Psychologists do not engage in sexual intimacies with current therapy clients/patients."

Experts say that code is in place because sleeping with a patient can cause profound damage. That's what Hayes's patient said happened to her.

"I fell apart," said the former patient.

Wohlberg said if somebody has done this to their patients I don't think they should ever be allowed to practice again.

So is Hayes still practicing? Pioneer fired Hayes and the counseling center has since been sold to another company. The new company would not go on camera but in this statement says that since Hayes worked for Pioneer four years ago, there has been a nearly 100 percent turnover in management. It also says new policies are in place, including required screening of potential and current staff, as well as a "zero tolerance" policy regarding sexual molestation and abuse, and that the company ensures all staff complies.

As for the state investigation into patient complaints, instead of revoking Hayes's license-- like Wohlberg believes they should--the state suspended it for a minimum of six-months.

Hayes would not talk about the details of the complaints and said to talk to is attorney, but would not provide the name or contact information.

When asked about his license, Hayes told 7 Actions News that he can work in the future as long as he goes in front of a review board.

Hayes would not talk about the details of the complaints and said to talk to is attorney, but would not provide the name or contact information.

To get his license back, Hayes would have to present convincing evidence to a review board that he is worthy of getting his license back. And considering these review boards revoked only four licenses in four years--out of 940 complaints against therapists, psychologists and social workers -- he could again be behind doors treating patients.

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