While I’m no expert in these matters, Scientology and the Aftermath contributor Rachel Bernstein’s public pronouncements on Tony Ortega’s blog about the mental states of the mother Cathy Tweed, and even her daughter Tayler Tweed, appear to have violated the Code of Ethics of her license as a therapist in California.
Because these public statements by Rachel Bernstein were about a mother who had lost her daughter to suicide, I felt a strong obligation to speak up. Especially after the “commenting community” on Scientology and the Aftermath contributor Tony Ortega’s blog used Rachel’s comments to support some of the cruelest things I’ve ever seen said on the Internet about anyone.
Here is the quote by Rachel Bernstein that I believe is a breach of ethics. Rachel writes about Cathy Tweed:
Then I read about her memorial. I have never met her mother, but the fact that she said her daughter’s upsets with Scientology had nothing to do with why she took her life makes her sound ridiculous and dissociative, and shows that even after her daughter’s death, she is still not at liberty to speak the truth. What I wanted to hear from her were “normal” parental reactions, i.e. how she was in shock, how it was a tragedy, how she is grieving so terribly that she can barely speak. Instead she and Tayler’s half-sister were getting memorial tattoos to help them cope. That is so strangely disconnected and dissociative. Did either of them try to help Tayler cope? It’s like her family watched her drown and did not pull her out of the water or throw her a rope to grab onto as her head went under, but instead got irritated with her about the way she was drowning and the screaming she was doing while she was struggling because that was bad behavior, and after she became fully submerged, they went and got memorial tattoos to help them feel better.
As expected, a lot of other reasons besides Scientology are given for her suicide, none of which usually lead to suicide. I have never heard of someone committing suicide because their “ex-boyfriend has started to date someone new,” or that they are “frustrated with their career options.” Then her mother says “I’m at peace with what happened.” That’s a very strange comment for a mother to make. How is that possible? There is so much that could have been done, and should have been done. Where is the guilt, remorse, regret? I’m not trying to vilify her mother, as she is being put in this situation where she is supposed to split off her feelings, but the way I am used to parents responding to the suicide death of their child is that they almost always feel a great deal of responsibility, and step up and say, “We can’t help but wonder if we didn’t help her enough and in the way she needed. We don’t know if we’ll be able to ever live with knowing that the possibility exists that we didn’t do everything we could, and we will miss her every day and wonder what her life could have been like if she had gotten the help and support she needed.”
[bold is mine]
Here are the relevant portions of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Code of Ethics:
3.13 PUBLIC STATEMENTS: Marriage and family therapists, because of their ability to influence and alter the lives of others, exercise care when making public their professional recommendations and opinions through testimony or other public statements.
3.14 LIMITS OF PROFESSIONAL OPINIONS: Marriage and family therapists do not express professional opinions about an individual’s mental or emotional condition unless they have treated or conducted an examination of the individual, or unless they reveal the limits of the information upon which their professional opinions are based, with appropriate cautions as to the effects of such limited information upon their opinions.
I think that with a mother who has lost her daughter to suicide, the “appropriate cautions” clause in 3.14 above has been flagrantly violated.
Tony Ortega’s continued use of his blog to attack Cathy Tweed very much crosses the line of ethical journalism, in my opinion. But he has justified his behavior by saying “that’s what journalists do!” I can only say that some journalists do this to mothers who have lost their children to suicide, lots of other journalists never would.
I do not want Rachel to stop helping ex-cult members transition into normal life. I want her to stop using her standing as a licensed therapist to make public pronouncements about the mental states of people whom she has never met – especially picking on those who have lost loved ones to suicide – no matter what religion they belong to.
Maybe I’m all wrong. Maybe Rachel Bernstein had good reason to pile on with Tony Ortega and single out this mother to publicly shame her imagined mental state by using statements she made to a prying journalist days after her daughter’s death. Maybe she was only focusing on Tayler Tweed and had no regard for the mother Taylor left behind who will never forget what happened.
But that’s exactly the point. Cathy Tweed is not a public figure, nor is she an official of the Church of Scientology who regularly abuses people. Cathy Tweed is a mother who lost her daughter to suicide, and who happens to be a Scientologist.
I believe that licensed psychologists who exploit the suffering of anyone are abusing their license, especially when they publicly shame a mother’s imagined mental states as Rachel Bernstein has done to Cathy Tweed.
You can find your very own copy of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Code of Ethics HERE.
Post Script: I have received overwhelming support for my position from many different people in the Scientology critic community, all of whom believe that this kind of cruelty against Scientologists is not wanted.
This particular declaration of support ended up in the commenting section of TonyOrtega.org a few days after Tony Ortega banned me:
Don’t lose your soul in a mess of cruelty. For those who have been harmed by Scientology, I have to recommend a book I wrote about a few years ago on this blog. This is a quote from it:
…”If you are a victim who comes forward and resolution through the court provides a conviction, it will not undo what happened to you. You will still have to heal. If you come forward and there is insufficient evidence for a conviction, that is a reality you will have to face, and you can find a way to begin recovering in spite of that. If you are given the choice to not prosecute and spare yourself the trauma of a trial, highly publicized or not, you can make your choice, go forward with your life, and begin to heal. If you never come forward to the authorities, tell no one or only someone close to you, you can begin to recover and overcome what has happened to you. Under any of these circumstances, there will always be those who doubt you and nothing will erase what has happened to you. That does not have to stop you from healing.’
“The most important thing is to try to begin recovering from within. I don’t think you can heal from outside events happening.’
“Waiting for the actions of others — be it the courts, your family, the opinions of those you care about, or the words of strangers — places you in a situation that you cannot control. And despite what was done to you, you do still have control.”