A British Columbia psychiatrist permanently renounced her medical license in response to a complaint about her treatment of a patient with post-traumatic stress disorder who was participating in a clinical trial of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, Breaking: has learned.
Donna Dryer of Cortes Island irrevocably renounced her registration on Aug. 1 and received a formal reprimand after admitting to unprofessional conduct with the patient, according to a letter from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC (CPSBC) to the patient.
The disciplinary action has not yet been made public, but the letter says Dryer’s unprofessional conduct included conflict of interest, boundary violations and continuing the therapeutic relationship when Dryer knew her husband and research partner, Richard Yensen, was having sexual relations with the patient.
The sponsor of the clinical trial, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), has characterized Yensen’s actions as sexual abuse. The patient filed a sexual assault complaint with police and in 2022, Quadra Island RCMP confirmed they were recommending unspecified criminal charges but said Crown prosecutors did not approve them.
Videos taken during the patient’s treatment sessions in the 2015 clinical trial show Dryer and Yensen hugging, hugging, blindfolding and restraining the clearly distressed woman. At one point, Yensen suggests that she “lie down and spread her legs”; in another, he lies on top of her while she moans in anguish.
CBC agreed not to name the patient due to the sensitive nature of the complaint, but asked the Health Professions Review Board to review the university’s handling of the case.
The patient said she strongly objects to the wording of the university’s reprimand, which states that Yensen “had sexual relations” with her.
“There is no consent between a patient and a therapist,” the patient told CBC in an email.
“Framing sexual assault as a ‘sexual relationship’ encourages victim blaming and implies consent in a context where consent is impossible.”
Yensen has not denied having had sexual relations with the patient but claims that they were consensual.
The patient also questions the university’s decision to resolve the complaint through a consent agreement with Dryer and says she has not received an investigative report describing why the university’s investigative committee resolved the complaint this way.
“They care more about protecting a doctor’s reputation than they do about protecting a patient from rape,” he alleged.
In a written statement, a university spokesperson said a public notice about the disciplinary action is expected to be posted online soon.
The university says officials cannot comment on Yensen’s actions because he is not registered with CPSBC and cannot comment further on the case now that it is being considered by the Health Professions Board.
Dryer has not responded to requests for comment.
Sexual Assault Lawsuit Settled Out of Court
The complaint against Dryer was originally filed in 2018 and has now taken more than five years to resolve.
The patient has said she enrolled in the trial as a last-ditch effort to treat severe post-traumatic stress disorder caused by past sexual abuse and assault.
Dryer and Yensen were working as subinvestigators for MAPS on a Health Canada-approved Phase II clinical trial examining the safety of MDMA, a party drug often known as ecstasy or molly, for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.
Yensen admitted to having sexual relations with the patient after the experimental sessions ended, but while she was still enrolled in the clinical trial.
In a 2018 lawsuit that has since been settled out of court, he alleged sexual assault. Yensen stated in his response that the patient manipulated him and initiated the encounters.
Because counseling and psychotherapy are not regulated in British Columbia, there was no university or regulatory body that could investigate what happened or consider disciplinary action against Yensen.
However, the latest practice standards from the British Columbia Clinical Counselors Association make clear that therapists who have sexual relationships with their clients are exploiting an imbalance of power and commit sexual misconduct. The BC College of Psychologists has similar standards and explicitly prohibits having sexual relations with research participants.
MAPS issued a statement in 2019 calling Dryer and Yensen’s behavior with the patient unethical, announcing that he had cut all ties with the couple and had agreed to pay the patient $15,000 for the therapy.
After video of the treatment sessions in 2022 was made public, MAPS announced it had launched a compliance review covering all of the couple’s work on the trial.
The organization has not yet responded to Breaking:’ request for an update on the status of that review.
Dryer previously worked as an associate clinical professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. A UBC spokesperson confirmed Thursday that he will no longer be at the university as of April 2022, but said he could not comment further due to privacy laws.