Psychiatrist Sued for Crossing Professional Boundaries…to Collect Rare Art

by Bruce Boyers

The Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights has for years been documenting cases of psychiatry crossing professional boundaries to obtain sex. But in a bizarre case now being heard in San Francisco Superior Court, the estate of recently-deceased psychiatrist Jerome D. Oremland is being sued for inducing a patient to hand over valuable works of art. According to the suit, during the time of therapy, Oremland convinced his patient John Pierce to give him at least a dozen rare works of art by masters such as Italian Renaissance artist Raphael and French modernist Henri Matisse.

JusticeThe suit was filed in 2015 shortly before Oremland’s death. In addition to allegations of obtaining works of art through the practitioner-patient relationship, the suit also claims that Oremland used his patient to conduct private investigations—sometimes on other patients—and even as a handyman to clean his swimming pool.

Attorneys representing Oremland’s estate deny the allegations, and claim that the art was payment for therapy. Yet Geoffrey Spellberg, Pierce’s attorney, stated in an interview that the lawsuit claims Oremland received the artwork at a fraction of its value and basically stole it under the guise of providing psychotherapy. The suit also states that Oremland used many of the sessions to discuss subjects unrelated to treatment such as financial schemes and art solicitation.

Pierce had been hospitalized several times before he began a run of “intensive therapy” with Oremland that lasted some 26 years. Oremland himself was known as a major art collector and even published books exploring art and psychology. Pierce was a successful building contractor and also an art collector.

Pierce is now claiming that during therapy sessions, he was induced to give Oremland a dozen high end works of art, including paintings by Ferdinand Bol, Matisse, Nicolaes Maes and Local Giordano; a bust of Egon Schiele, and drawings by Edvard Munch, Raphael and Joan Miro. Pierce claims that during one session the psychiatrist convinced Pierce to buy 12 rare David Park woodcuts and give him eight of them.

Violations of Psychiatric Ethics Guidelines

 Such behavior violates guidelines laid down by the American Psychiatric Association itself. These guidelines warn psychiatrists to respect professional boundaries, because patients “may be especially vulnerable to undue influences.” They continue: “The psychiatrist should be sensitive and careful that his/her conduct does not physically, sexually, psychologically, spiritually or financially exploit or harm the patient.”

Interestingly, a professional journal, Current Psychiatry, reported in 2008 that an estimated 6 to 10 percent of psychiatrists engaged in sexual relationships with patients. Other kinds of boundary violations occur more often, the journal said.

Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights has been reporting on psychiatric abuse since 1969.

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