Boom of false psychologists after Covid: the case of Portugal

With the pandemic, there has been a boom in fake psychologists in Portugal. The Order of Psychologists has received 62 complaints of abuse of professional titles. They are people who present themselves as “psychotherapists”, “hypnotherapists”, “coaches”, “psychologists” and “therapists” without actually having any skills. They are untrained people, and therefore unable to understand and interpret the needs of patients, who treat people with mental or emotional problems, risking further aggravating their situation. These individuals, according to the order of psychologists, represent a real “threat to public health”.

With the health crisis, “creative and disguised mental health services offered by people who have neither training nor professional knowledge have increased. This is serious, because they can further worsen people’s emotional state and make them more unbalanced. medication or interfering with past trauma can lead to severe depression or suicide, ”explains Isabel Filipe, psychologist and psychotherapist.

The weekly Expresso collected the testimonies of some of the victims. One of them is called Paula Fernandes, she is 53 years old and last January she decided to turn to the Clinica da Mente to overcome her depression, which had been gripping her for more than twenty years. She had discovered the center by accident while she was watching television. In one program they presented Hbm (human behavior map) psychotherapy, a technique created by Pedro Brás, the director of the clinic.

He thought that with this therapy his problems would be solved, that he would start living again, but things did not go as he hoped. Once contacted the clinic, she was “forced” to pay “immediately” for a package of consultations. “They cornered me: they told me that if I didn’t, I would pay more and I accepted. I spent a total of € 1,900 for a treatment that quickly went from weekly to monthly”. The treatment consisted of “interviews with a psychologist and hypnotherapy sessions in which I listened to music,” explains the woman who, after realizing the scam she had fallen into, she began to suffer from anxiety. “I had panic attacks, I wanted to jump off the balcony. I slept for four hours and stayed up for the rest of the night. I lacked the medicines they had taken away from me. But the psychologist at the clinic ignored my complaints, she told me. that would pass. Eventually, I called my psychiatrist, who stabilized me by giving me back the meds, “he said. Fernandes felt teased, cheated and betrayed by those who presented themselves as mental health specialists, but who are all but professionals.

La Clinica da Mente “encourages patients to pay in advance for a package of consultations per meter that costs thousands of euros, as if it were the monthly fee of a luxury gym. Nobody can promise a result in x sessions to people with different clinical pictures “explains psychiatrist Inês Homem de Melo. The psychiatrist explains that Brás has an” anti-scientific “and” anti-psychiatric “approach, as well as a” blaming for patients “attitude. Homem de Melo explains that the director of the center “instills guilt in patients that they cannot cope without drugs. But there are forms of mental illness for which drug treatment is essential, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. . This discourse can therefore have dramatic consequences “.

The psychiatrist also tells of other cases, one of which occurred in a clinic in São João da Madeira, in the north of the country. “The patient told me that they offered her a treatment for depression worth 7 thousand euros, which consisted of homeopathic injections imported from Germany, accompanied by electromagnetic sessions with a device called Mora. I was shocked by the price of this technique which is not. it is based on no scientific evidence. Desperate, the lady collected all her savings. These vulnerable people see a person in a lab coat who calls himself a ‘doctor’ and they fall for it … “, explains the doctor.

He then mentions a masseuse who works in a hairdressing salon in Porto and who defines herself as a “holistic” psychotherapist. “She entered the field of mental health, but invoking the techniques of Chinese medicine. I am not against these therapies if they do not replace medicine or psychology”, concludes the doctor.

The clinic is attracting criticism on the Internet, among other things on the social network Reddit. Most of them concern the huge sums of money that must be paid immediately for Hbm psychotherapy.

José (invented name), 27, a computer engineer, says he paid 2,100 euros for a treatment that consisted of “taking a nap”, “listening to spa music” and “repeating a general script”. João, another former patient of the clinic, reports on the same social network that he was offered a treatment of 3,500 euros with a subsidized payment. “They charge 200 euros per hour for a consultation. I wanted help and they proposed me a plan to get into debt …”.

Contacted by Expresso, Brás rejects these accusations and believes that the prices he charges are appropriate to the method in question and denies that his clinic advises patients to “wean” from drugs. “All these speeches come from people unable to manage and direct psychotherapy. We are the only clinic in the country that measures the psychological state of patients, not only at the beginning but also at the end of treatment, with excellent efficiency”, he assures he. In addition, the director of the center denounced the order of psychologists for defamation. Pending these criminal complaints, the Mind Clinic estimates that the damage caused by the smear campaign exceeds 315 thousand euros, taking into account the loss of patients and professionals caused by the actions of the Order of Psychologists. Asked by Cm, the Portuguese Order of Psychologists replies that “to date, it has not become aware of any criminal complaint presented by the Mind Clinic against the Order or its President”.