With the advent of the internet, obtaining a professional degree has become as simple as pressing a button on one’s keyboard and the transfer of an agreed amount using a moneywire service.
If it charges one’s personal esteem to parade themselves off as MBAs or PhDs socially in front others, that’s one thing. But when it comes to the application of their easily gained ‘expertise’ on the minds and bodies of others and more often than not motivated by personal gain, then a more sinister picture emerges.
Some time ago I received a call from a father expressing reservations about the treatment his mentally-disturbed son was receiving at the hands of a western lady psychologist, and had somewhat come to the conclusion that her professional qualifications were suspect. He asked if I could help.
It is unfortunate that many countries in the GCC have attracted those selling their qualifications based on fake degrees from diploma mills. There have been many reported cases of charlatans and frauds passing themselves off as professionals and working on citizens and residents in various fields including medicine in Saudi Arabia. But before I was going to pass judgment on Dr P.K., I had to make sure I had the facts right. A quick look at her website illustrated Dr P.K. as an MA and PhD in Psychology from Wexford University. It added that Dr P.K. ‘has extensive experience of the Middle East’ and ‘has carried out numerous counselling sessions, psychological debriefing sessions and training workshops in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar and Europe.’
The website also described Dr. P.K. as ‘uniquely qualified in the area of psychological debriefing after major traumatic critical incidents,’ and that she had been honoured for her efforts with an MBE from the Queen. Perhaps my caller was wrong and this was certainly a case of mistaken identity. How could the Queen of the United Kingdom be so easily fooled?
I decided to check out Wexford University which had awarded her the Masters and PhD in Psychology. A BBC report titled Bogus degree sites shut down which appeared on March 7, 2003, had this to say: “Several websites offering fake British degrees for up to £1,000 each have been closed down following a joint operation in the UK and US. Among the institutions created for the websites was the … University of Wexford. The operation, run by a man and a woman, both Israeli, was based at offices in Israel, Romania and the US. It is thought to have made millions of pounds. The bogus institutions used a drop box in Green Lanes, London, as a postal address.”
A spokesperson for the UK Education Secretary stated, “Those people who bought the degrees knew exactly what they were doing. The complaints we received were actually from colleagues of those who got jobs by lying. It’s worrying that they got into such important and responsible positions using the fake degrees.”
Soon, P.K. with the PhD in Psychology in hand began selling her services as a counsellor and a psychotherapist. She began with schoolchildren in the various international schools in Riyadh working with some disturbed children. A shrewd saleswoman, she managed to promote herself at the various western embassy and ladies functions and was soon operating a thriving albeit unlicensed and illegal practice.
Following a spate of bombings in western compounds in the last decade, she pitched for and secured a retainer of a hefty sum from the operators of two family compounds for a series of critical incident debriefings with the frazzled residents, her settlement being paid for by the insurance companies.
She made several trips to countries around the Gulf including the UAE, Qatar and Oman, addressing women’s groups touting her credentials as a highly qualified counsellor and psychotherapist. The irony of all this deception is that it led to her nomination and subsequent awarding of an MBE by the Queen of England for ‘services to the British community in Saudi Arabia.’
When I confronted her with some of the data I had uncovered, she explained that basically she was conned following her application to Wexford University. They took information on details of previous experience and credits (her O-levels), and once payment was submitted it wasn’t long before her Masters and PhD in Psychology arrived. Using those degrees, she managed to obtain further certification from an institute in California as a licensed psychotherapist.
She also admitted that she had attended no college classes, and except for filling some online applications, her knowledge came from her vast experience working with people. She was astute to understand that I was focusing on fraud here and promised me that she would shut her private practice down and refrain from dispensing further counselling.
If the nomination process for an MBE which would warrant close scrutiny into the professional qualifications of a nominee who would appear before Her Majesty the Queen could go so wrong, I shudder to imagine the number of children victimised by the unqualified mental help dispensed by this lady.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.