How much damage can a private "counsellor" do?
Former Hong Kong businessman Thanh Nguyen, 45, complained to the Sunday Morning Post about his encounters with a counsellor who provided no proof of his qualifications, overstepped his boundaries and charged enormous fees - leading to what he said was long-lasting emotional and financial damage.
Nguyen and his former girlfriend, with whom he has a young daughter, saw the counsellor once a week from 2007 to 2008 to help them with problems including a custody battle.
"I never saw any qualifications for him to be a child psychiatrist or any type of psychiatrist … although that's what he told me he was," Nguyen said. Yet he continued to attend the sessions because he was desperate to secure access to his daughter.
He said the counsellor charged them HK$6,000 per 50-minute session, while most private clinical psychologists charge about a quarter of that. At the time, Nguyen was wealthy enough not to question the fee.
"He also took a big role in advising me on my financial affairs … but he is not licensed to perform that role, either … He drafted up a financial agreement with my ex-girlfriend and convinced me to sign it. I ended up paying her to lead a lavish lifestyle while I did not get to see our child."
"I trusted him and he ruined my life," Nguyen said.
The counsellor is still practising but is not a member of the Division of Clinical Psychology or the Hong Kong Society of Psychiatrists, which maintain directories of certified professionals.
The counsellor ignored several requests for details about his qualifications.
Dr Sammy Cheng Kin-wing, chairman of the Division of Clinical Psychology, said people had the right to see proof of their therapist's qualifications. "If your therapist is not a member of the Division of Clinical Psychology [or Society of Psychiatrists], you can ask them about their qualifications or request to see their documentation," he said.
The Sunday Morning Post contacted other clinical psychologists who are not members of the DCP. Four out of the five provided proof of their qualifications, while one refused.