State fines center for allowing clinicians to call themselves ’psychologists’
October 6, 2009
By Abbie Ruzicka, Globe Correspondent

The director of the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton has been fined by the state’s Division of Professional Licensure for allowing 14 unlicensed clinicians at the school to use the title ‘‘psychologist,’’ the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Psychologists announced today.

Dr. Matthew Israel was fined $29,600 and a reprimand was placed on his license, according to the board. Israel has been licensed to practice psychology in Massachusetts since 1974, according to state records.

The Rotenberg center ceased using the title of ‘‘psychologist’’ in 2006 after the Board of Registration of Psychologists first brought forth its concern over the misuse of the title, and changed their titles to ‘‘clinicians,’’ Rotenberg spokesman Ernie Corrigan said.

The center’s use of ‘‘psychologist’’ for clinicians prior to 2006 was consistent with what it believed the word meant at the time.

‘‘There’s genuine confusion,’’ Corrigan said, citing a 1996 change in state law that requires psychologists to be licensed by the state. Before 1996, doctorate and master’s degree-level clinicians trained in psychology were allowed to use the psychologist title.

‘‘These were highly educated people,’’ he said.

The Rotenberg center, which treats adults and children from across the country with autism, mental retardation, and emotional problems, is believed to be the only facility in the country that uses electric shock therapy to curb its students’ behaviors.

In the past, the center has been the target of numerous government investigations and legislators have put forth efforts to limit the use of skin shock and aversion therapy.
In total, Israel and the Rotenberg center have paid over $200,000 to the state in fines, according to a court settlement in July of this year.