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Online practice by foreign professionals? How one court decided

A psychologist licensed in Israel, but not in the U.S., illegally offered his services in Pennsylvania and must pay civil penalties and stop holding himself out as a psychologist, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled August 11 (Abraham v. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, Board of Psychology).

The memorandum opinion, issued by Judge Bernard L. McGinley, notes that Joseph Abraham maintained a website “in or around November 2010” with the address, in which Abraham identified himself as “Dr. Joseph Abraham, Online Psychologist-Expert on Human Behavior.”

Although an address in Mechanicsburg, PA, was listed and included driving directions, Abraham claimed that his practice location is the Internet, not Pennsylvania, and that the Pennsylvania address was only for a bed and breakfast business, rented hourly.

“I have dual citizenship (U.S./Israel), dual residency (PA/Israel), and possess an Israeli license to practice Psychology… The website is available globally as a platform to present my services; it is not a PA entity,” Abraham maintained.

Abraham’s webpage did note he would provide psychological services only in countries that have reciprocity agreement with Israel, emphasizing the U.S. was not included. But in February 2011, investigators with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of State, Bureau of Enforcement and Investigation (BEI), discovered by impersonating individuals from the Pennsylvania area interested in receiving Abraham’s services, that Abraham was, in fact, “offering psychological services to the public without being properly licensed.”

Initially, Abraham contended that the website was owned by an Israeli marketing firm. Thus, Abraham claimed, he could not be held liable for the content since he was not an active manager of the firm.

Judge McGinley found that the evidence suggests otherwise, highlighting the fact that Abraham’s business address listed on the site is a Pennsylvania address and that the telephone number listed is a Central Pennsylvania number.

“The record clearly established that Petitioner (Abraham) was a resident of Pennsylvania and his counseling business was situated in Pennsylvania,” McGinley wrote. “Petitioner… was actively soliciting Pennsylvania residents to sign up for his services as psychologist.”

Abraham also argued that the board’s findings were “erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence.” But McGinley notes that the evidence is adequate for a reasonable mind to support a conclusion, and that a “court cannot overturn an agency’s exercise of its discretion absent fraud, bad faith, or blatant abuse of discretion.”

Ultimately, the board determined that members of the public “could be harmed” by Abraham’s psychological activities. Also, the board noted, Abraham failed “to present any evidence of mitigation or show any remorse of his actions.”

McGinley, affirming the board’s decision, confirmed that that there was plentiful evidence that Abraham (by his own admission) was not a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, yet, Abraham’s website incorporated terms like “psychologist,” “psychological,” and “psychology,” in which he offered his services for a fee, violating Section 3 of the psychology practice act.

Currently, is still accessible online. A Pennsylvania address and phone number are still listed, and Abraham identifies himself as “Dr. Joseph Abraham, Life Coach.”