Dec 2, 2011

Sean Stephenson: Diploma Mill Yoda -- UPDATED

It was probably apparent in my previous post that I really took a scunner to Sean Stephenson. Aside from finding him appallingly arrogant, he struck me as something of a phony. When I first looked at his website, I thought it was a little sketchy on the details of his education, but I didn't want to go down that particular rabbit hole. His testimony constituted a small part of a very long post. My husband, however, couldn't let it go. It probably has something to do with the fact that he holds a doctorate from a legitimate institution, but he's a little touchy when it comes to people arrogating to themselves the title of Doctor without the proper educational credentials. So he started digging and I did more digging and we found, not to any great surprise, that there are some rather serious issues when it comes to Stephenson's academic background. No wonder he was so evasive when Sheila Polk questioned him on the importance of having the proper credentials if you're going to tinker around with someone's mind.

In his bio, Stephenson lists his undergraduate degree as being from DePaul University but he doesn't say what it's in. According to a very uncritical Wikipedia entry, it's in political science. So far so good. And DePaul's a fine school. But a degree in political science doesn't qualify anyone to counsel people, something he felt called upon to do in his work as a motivational speaker. In his quest to help people with their emotional problems, he pursued higher education... in hypnosis and NLP. I have not been able to find reference to any education in psychology.

For his hypnosis and NLP training he went to Bennett/Stellar University, an alternative healing school, which claims to be accredited but does not say who it is accredited by. According to this, it's accredited by the International Coaching Society. It is not listed in the government database of accredited institutions.

But it's his doctoral degree that really looks dodgy. In his bio, he claims to have received his doctorate from Kona University, previously American Pacific University. His Wikipedia entry goes into a little more detail. He began his doctoral program in clinical hypnosis in 2004 when it was American Pacific University. It doesn't say when he completed it. As explained in a footnote, American Pacific University was unaccredited, but when it became Kona University in 2009, it gained accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. I confirmed this through the government database. It is accredited, although it does not have regional accreditation which is really the gold standard of accreditation.

DETC is a national accreditor and should not be confused with regional accreditation. The vast majority of all schools in the United States are regionally accredited from elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and higher education institutions. Some regionally accredited schools accept and recognize the accreditations of nationally accredited schools, but others do not.[4][5] Michael Lambert, Chief Executive Officer of the DETC, says that about 70% of DETC graduates are successful in transferring credits. He also asserts that the "vast majority" of employers do view DETC as being equal, since DETC institutions are accepted for the tuition reimbursement programs in most corporations today.[6]

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) offered an opinion in a November 2000 statement that, "Institutions and accreditors need to assure that transfer decisions are not made solely on the source of accreditation of a sending program or institution."[7] The Higher Education Transfer Alliance (HETA) online directory[8] was designed by DETC to help students and the public find educational institutions with transfer practices consistent with criteria articulated by CHEA in its Statement to the Community: Transfer and Public Interest.[9] According to CHEA, institutions that are members of HETA have agreed that their "transfer decisions are not made solely on the basis of the accredited status of a sending institution and that the institution has agreed at least to consider transfer requests from other institutions."[8] The HETA directory provides links to member institutions so that students and others can review a specific institution's transfer policies and practice.

While it's not entirely clear whether Stephenson received his doctorate from the accredited Kona or the unaccredited American Pacific University he started with, the distinction is meaningless for several reasons.  The first is that Kona doesn't offer a doctoral degree. It only offers a masters degree in transpersonal psychology which is not the degree Stephenson holds. The second is that the hypnotherapy program originally offered by American Pacific was terminated in 2008. (More here retrieved by the Wayback Machine.) The third, and probably most important, is that there is no such thing as a doctorate in clinical hypnotherapy in the United States.

So Stephenson studied hypnosis and NLP at an unaccredited school that claims to be accredited. He got his doctorate in something you can't legally hold a doctorate in from a university that may or may not have been accredited at the time he graduated, but was never accredited to give that fictitious degree. Note that there is no mention of his holding a masters degree which is a prerequisite to a doctoral degree.

All of this somehow qualified him for "Board Certification in Clinical Psychotherapy," despite having no discernible education in psychology. But that certification comes from the Association of Integrative Psychology. This prestigious institution has been around since all of 2005. It certifies practitioners, not of psychology, but of hypnotherapy, NLP, or some trademarked entity they call Time Empowerment® or TE®. I know that's not the sort of training and education I think of when I hear the term "psychotherapist."

It's one thing to train in holistic disciplines for which there are no governmentally recognized accrediting bodies, as long as you're transparent about the nature of that training. Here's what you don't get to do: You don't get to call yourself "Dr." In fact, it's illegal in a number of states to claim degrees from unaccredited schools.

Jurisdictions that have restricted or made illegal the use of credentials from unaccredited schools include Oregon,[80][81] Michigan,[83] Maine,[84] North Dakota,[80] New Jersey,[80] Washington,[81][85] Nevada,[81][86] Illinois,[81] Indiana,[81] and Texas.[87][88] Many other states are also considering restrictions on the use of degrees from unaccredited institutions.[89]

Hmmm... Illinois... Isn't that the home of one Sean Stephenson? Yeah. It is.


Credit where credit is due: Sean Stephenson did, indeed, amend the information on his site as promised. He has removed "Dr." from his name everywhere that I can see on his website and from his Twitter profile. He has added the following information to his bio and similar text to his private sessions page.

Sean Stephenson completed a seven year educational journey in Clinical Hypnotherapy from American Pacific University (now named Kona University). His Doctorate in Clinical Hypnotherapy, while unaccredited by the Department of Education, is one of the most elite and comprehensive educations in the field of Hypnotherapy and Neuro-Linguistics.

He also changed text describing his client services and eliminated the incorrect information from the Washington Post quotation he and I discussed in the comments.

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