Five current and former clinicians filed formal complaints this fall against the former director of GW’s counseling center for practicing without a D.C. license.
The complaints alleged former Mental Health Services Director Silvio Weisner practiced without a license for almost two years, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Weisner – who resigned in September – has since informed the University that his license was reinstated in November.
The complaints were filed with the D.C. Department of Health between Aug. 21 and Sept. 8, including three on Sept. 4, according to the documents. The complaints allege that Weisner was leading the center and seeing clients without a valid D.C. psychology license, including during a time period when several students died by suicide on campus. The former and current clinicians’ complaints said Weisner repeatedly presented himself as a licensed psychologist in the District. Weisner had an active Virginia license while he worked at GW.
The documents reveal for the first time the level of stress clinicians were under in the center during that time period.
“During the period of time that he was unlicensed, he saw clients at our center, including assessing clients that were at high risk. He has also served as the primary consultant for all the center staff regarding decisions on clients in crisis,” one complaint read.
One complaint alleged that Weisner may have assessed one of GW’s “suicided students” on April 1, 2014. Three students died by suicide on campus in the spring semester of 2014.
Amber Cargill, the assistant director for training and education in the center, said in her complaint that a D.C. Department of Health employee told her that she was “legally obligated” to report Weisner’s lack of a license. Cargill is still employed at GW.
Weisner was placed on paid administrative leave when supervisors learned of his unlicensed status, according to the documents, and he resigned from his post in September.
Candace Smith, a University spokeswoman, said GW has adopted “enhanced procedures” to ensure clinicians have the appropriate licenses. She declined to comment on what exactly those procedures include. Mark Levine, the senior associate dean of students, declined to comment on when Weisner notified his supervisors that he was unlicensed.
A plea to the Department of Health
Weisner had told clinicians he was in touch with the Department of Health about his unlicensed status, according to the documents.
Two days before Weisner met with the D.C. Board of Psychology on Sept. 10 about his license status, he sent a letter to the Department of Health to explain he had the necessary qualifications to be licensed. He explained he had forgotten to pay the mandatory fee to renew the license, according to a copy of the letter.
A psychologist in D.C. is required to have received a doctoral degree from an accredited institution, have completed 4,000 hours of psychological practice experience as a pre-doctoral or post-doctoral intern and have taken the national and D.C. jurisprudence examinations, according to the D.C. Board of Psychology’s regulations. Psychologists are also expected to keep up with continuing education requirements. Weisner was first issued a D.C. license in 2012, which expired at the end of 2013.
Weisner graduated from Gallaudet University with a ph.D. degree in psychology and was the head of counseling at Marymount University before he came to GW in 2012.
Weisner also wrote in the letter that the board did not have his current legal name or new home address, and he never received a reminder to renew the license.
“During my entire professional career, I have obtained the necessary continuing education requirements to remain in compliance with licensure standards in D.C. and Virginia,” he wrote.
Alex Siegel, the director of professional affairs for the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, said the decision to reinstate a license is up to the licensing boards in each jurisdiction. Weisner currently has active license in D.C. that will expire at the end of 2017, according to the D.C. Department of Health website.
“The authority rests completely with the licensing board to grant or remove licenses,” Siegel said. “Once there is a hearing on the facts, the licensing board has the right to adjudicate.”
Siegel added that licensure is based on where psychologists are practicing, even if they are licensed in another jurisdiction. Weisner maintained his Virginia license even while he practiced without a D.C. license for a time while at GW.
“Licensure is jurisdictional-specific and a psychologist needs to be licensed in the jurisdiction where they are providing services,” Siegel said.
In his letter to the Department of Health, Weisner also said he was distracted from renewing his license. He said he was “still attempting to adjust to the stress of having two small children under age two.” He also said GW experienced the first of several student deaths in January 2014, which “commandeered” his “cognitive and emotional space,” according to a copy of the letter.
“These personal and professional stressors may well have distracted me from remembering to renew my license,” the letter reads.
Three students died by suicide in the spring semester of 2014, leading to an increased focus on mental health on campus. The family of one of the students sued the University last month for negligence after the student had visited the counseling center in the days before his death. The lawsuit also noted that Weisner was unlicensed at the time the student was seeking treatment, although the student did not meet with Weisner at the time.
Questions for a future license
One complaint came from Sarah Skelton, a post-doctoral clinician named who studied under Weisner’s supervision from September 2014 to August 2015. Skelton is no longer employed at GW.
She was issued a California license to practice psychology on Jan. 4, 2016, according to the California Board of Psychology website. Skelton did not return multiple requests for comment.
Psychologists are required to complete 4,000 hours of observed clinical training in D.C. and 3,000 hours in California, according to the American Psychological Association.
Skelton said she received notice from the national registry on Aug. 19, 2015 that she could not receive a license because Weisner was not licensed during her training, according to her complaint.
Skelton said her “entire year of post-graduate hours may be irrelevant” because she had trained under Weisner, according to the complaint. Skelton, who is in the military, said she would lose out on a military commission, a “significant” monthly pay increase and a $15,000 student debt repayment option if she could not obtain her license, according to the complaint.
She also said in her complaint that she was worried she would not be accepted at her next job because she needed to be license-eligible within the next six months to work there.
In her complaint, Skelton said she met with Weisner for two hours per week, he co-signed her clinical notes and regularly consulted with her on “clinical issues.”
“He stated that he did have a lapse in licensure, apologized and stated he would be advocating for backdating his license with hopes that it could mitigate any negative consequences for me,” Skelton’s complaint reads.