Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ronald Federici Writes to My University and Makes False Allegations about Me

Even though I am not in any kind of trouble with my university, I wanted to make it known that Ronald Federici has written to the Dean of my college, making a number of false allegations about me. He is also threatening to sue me even though he has no grounds to do so. The reason I want to make this known is that this sort of bullying could potentially have a chilling effect on people who wish to challenge and criticize various therapies being promoted on the internet. See my link on the first page of this blog, for information about the lawsuit in the UK against Simon Singh, for an example. These kinds of intimidation tactics could result in people being afraid to post their opinions and evidence about people who make unsupported claims about various therapies and alternative medicine practices, resulting in therapy, self-help or other gurus who have essentially abused the legal system to silence any criticism.

As a brief aside to all this, Social Work Professor Eileen Gambrill has written that Social Work is an authority-based profession and proposed evidence-based practice as an alternative. What this means is not blindly accepting people just because they are able to produce credentials, such as licensure. Licensure is no guarantee that the therapies being practiced will be effective or even safe. All licensure tells you is that the person has completed the requisite education, testing and supervision requirements for licensure and it gives the consumer a mechanism for filing complaints. It does not mean that the licencee is above criticism and questioning and one need not be licensed to criticize. What matters is the content of the criticism, not the titles held by the people doing the criticism.

This is not the first time Federici has gone to a person's university and/or written letters threatening lawsuits. In 2004, he complained to Jean Mercer's college, making completely unfounded and false allegations against her. She soundly refuted these and they had no effect on her status as a tenured professor at her college. However, this shows that I am not the first person he has made false allegations about.

After learning of the charges he made about me to my Dean, I attempted to write Federici privately to attempt to reason with him. What I got back was a letter threatening to sue me, cc'ing my Dean and also stating he would send this to the Chancellor and Florida State licensing board. He also wrote that he considered the letter a "privileged communication" as if my posting it publicly would constitute a violation of some sort. Even though I do not believe such a letter would fall into that category, as Federici is not a client of mine, nor is he discussing a client's case, I choose not to post it here, at least for the time being. I will, however, summarize and respond to some of the points in his letter and use fair use quotes, since from my point of view, I feel that the letters he has been sending to me and to my university are abusive, contain blatantly and demonstrably false statements, and in my opinion, constitute harassment. Again, that is my OPINION. Abusers often want their targets to keep the abuse secret and I feel that his letters were abusive towards me and I will not keep what I feel is abuse, a secret. Here are some of his allegations and my response:

1. Federici stated that my postings to the internet were a representation of my university, when they were never intended to be, nor have I ever stated that they represented FSU. In fact, in my e-mails, I have a disclaimer when I post to electronic list servs, that my postings do not represent FSU.

2. The allegation that I have made libelous and defamatory comments about him. Although I have been critical of therapies being practiced by Federici and others, none of what I have written would constitute libel or defamation. Any facts I have written about, I have supported with citations from the people I criticized, accompanied by my opinions. In his letter of July 26 to my Dean, Federici accused me of posting certain words about him in a subject header which in fact, I did not write. Those words and the subject header was written by another person on the internet newsgroup he referenced who, if you click on the link, will find, freely admitted to this and stands by what he posted. My post had been in response to a statement that was made by the that Federici is a psychiatrist, and had merely corrected the person that he was a psychologist. Because I responded, those words came up in the header, but I did not write them. While I do have very serious concerns about the interventions practiced by Federici and have exercised my constitutional rights to free speech in expressing my opinions about these interventions and concerns over the fact there are not published randomized clinical trials to support their efficacy or the claims made by Federici of an 80% success rate, I would never post the words misattributed to me, as it is my belief that Federici sincerely believes he is helping people. I clarified this later on that same exchange.

3. Federici mischaracterized the advocacy group I belong to, which is called Advocates for Children in Therapy as being a disreputable, fringe group when it is not. In recent months, individuals posting under pseudonyms who say they are supporters of Federici have mischaracterized this group and called it “Advocates for Child Torture” and there is a website that has misappropriated the title of the Advocates for Children in Therapy organization claimint the founder is Ronald Federici, when in fact he has nothing to do with the original organization. This has similarities to what Scientology managed to do when they took over the name, Cult Awareness Network, the main difference being that Scientology managed to legally take this organization over whereas Federici has not attempted to legally taken over ACT. For the actual purposes of this group, see . The evidence posted on that website is fair use quotations of proponents, including Federici. The claim is not, by the way, that all of these therapists practice exactly the same thing. Although there are common features, they obviously do not. It is my opinion and belief that Federici practices from an entirely different theoretical base (here, I actually agree with him) than some of the other therapists on that website who he has also been critical of, but that would be the topic for future discussion. For now, suffice it to say that although Federici is different from some of the other therapists, I have criticisms of both.

4. Federici stated that I violated my professional social work code of ethics by filing a complaint with the Virginia Board of Psychology Examiners without attempting to communicate with him directly about my concerns. I have never filed any complaints about Federici with the Virginia Board, hence I have had no need to approach him directly. He really should have checked that out with them before making this unfounded allegation.

5. Federici stated in his first letter to my Dean, “I am afraid Ms Pignotti is not of sound mind, which we feel is related to her past cult involvements.” And “Ms. Pignotti's 20+ years in a cult may have impacted her judgement and perceptions.” As he himself states, Federici has never met me, much less clinically assessed me. Hence, he is in no position to judge the my mental stability. I was not in a “cult” for 20+ years as he alleges. He referred to my past involvement with the Church of Scientology when in fact, my involvement was for less than 6 years in the 1970s, a time when experimentation with new religious movements was quite common in young people. I left this church/organization, which I joined as a teenager, 33 years ago in 1976 and have since, been quite critical of it. Since he claims to be familiar with the material that comes up on Google searches where the length and time of my involvement was clearly stated, he should have been aware of this. My current criticism of the types of interventions being promoted has nothing to do with Scienotology. I would bet that many individuals have things they did in their late teens/early 20s that they would not like to have trotted out and paraded before them 30+ years later. Young people often make foolish mistakes, some of them with quite serious consequences but thankfully most people learn from their mistakes, as I have.

6. Federici stated “Given her clear (sorrid) [sic] past and biases, her influences on students and others could be profoundly negative.” and “Ms. Pignotti has been involved with an Elden Braun, . . .A former scientologist and scammer of huge sums of money. His records is posted accurately on the web. Please carefully, review Ms Pignotti's past and present affiliations and adversarial positions with many “ Although I believe his statements about Braun to be inaccurate, as the case against him was a civil, not a criminal one, I am in no way associated or involved with Mr. Braun. He merely responded to a negative posting about me, defending me. However, I have never even met Mr. Braun. Federici further stated that Rosa and Sarner are unsavory individuals. This is not the case and their reputations are being unfairly maligned by supporters of Federici when in fact, both are respected professional individuals.

7. Federici stated “What concerns me most is that 1) you have an ulterior agenda of criticizing people when you do not know the facts; 2) you have NEVER seen or evaluated a patient in clinical practice; 3) you associate with some real low level people--your University should be concerned about this ( Sarner, Rosa, Braun/ACT ); 4) you act unprofessionally and unethically.”

In response 1) I have supported my criticism with citations to facts and when offering opinions, have stated them as such as an expression of my constitutional right to free speech; 2) His statement that I have never seen or evaluated a patient in clinical practice is false (although in social work we refer the individuals we work with as clients, not patients). I have, in fact, seen a number of clients in a psychotherapy practice I had in the state of New York between 1996 and 2001. At the time, I had passed what was the required state examination at that time (the credential CSW -- certified social worker). Although as of 2005, the laws have changed in New York the state of NY did not license social workers at the time I had my psychotherapy practice, such practice was legal and valid at that time. During that time period I saw a number of clients in my psychotherapy practice, which I would describe as eclectic in orientation and contrary to what is being alleged I did not just use TFT -- I also used exposure-based methods, family counseling methods and psychoeducational methods in much of my work. No client or any other individual ever complained about me. Although currently I obviously have rejected TFT, the practice of TFT itself is not considered unethical and in fact, I was eclectic, like the majority of people in a survey I did on LCSWs, published this year. There are no grounds to say what I did violated any professional ethical codes.

3) See my comments above. 4) I disagree that my criticism has been unprofessional and I have never claimed to be representing FSU in my writings on the internet.

8. He stated that he was going to complain to the Florida Board of Social Work. I am not currently licensed as a social worker in the state of Florida, nor am I performing any functions that would require me to be licensed. I do not have a clinical social work practice in Florida, thus, I am not under the jurisdiction of this board. My teaching duties at FSU do not require licensure and I have no plans to apply for licensure at this time, but even if I did or if I were licensed, I have not violated anything in the NASW code of ethics.

9. He stated that I was being sued for defamation. This is false. I am not being sued for defamation or anything else. Someone posted a false statement about this on the website, but this is not the case. I have never been sued for defamation. In 2001, I was the target, along with 30 other individuals, of a frivolous law suit for “racketeering” which was immediately dismissed by the judge on the case, before it ever went to trial. It involved my online criticism of an individual Hulda Clark, who wrote a book entitled The Cure for All Diseases, claiming without scientific basis, to have the cure for diseases such as cancer.

10. Federici advised my Dean to do a Google search on my name. In fact, a number of highly negative internet postings do come up on Google searches on my name and most of these were made by people who are supporters of Federici and his colleagues who are upset by the fact that I have criticized and challenged their therapies. This has included postings to, on last count, over 189 internet newsgroups and a number of ads that have been place in online publications such as Craigslist, although Craigslist removed the postings because they were considered spam and harassment. However, the numerous internet postings remain and do come up on my name, making a number of demonstrably false statements about me. Federici claims to have had no involvement in these postings and I have no definitive proof he is. However, as his communication indicates, he learned about one of them only an hour after it occurred and the way his letter is worded bears remarkable resemblance to some of the postings (e.g. the rather unusual misspelling of the word, sordid, as “sorrid”). People can look at all this if interested, and come to their own conclusions about whether they think Federici was in any way involved. They should also consider this most telling threat, made shortly before the attacks began where this blogger who is a survivor of a therapy she felt did a great deal of damage to her, posted a letter she says she received from Federici which stated the following:

"I know all of your names, and could post what I know about your personal and family issues of atheism, scientology, handicaps, depression, mental health issues, sexuality, etc. I have NOT posted a word in rebuttal. NOT ONE. And no, the other posts were not me, but people who know me and my family for 20+ years. Not transient, but real, good people. "

Some of my colleagues have opined to me that I should not even dignify all this with a response. However, I wanted to correct, for the record, the false statements that were made about me, just in case there is any doubt in anyone’s mind as to their inaccuracy.