NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Memphis-area psychiatrist has been forced to close her office for two months and may lose her medical license for good after it was discovered she spanked at least 10 patients with whips and riding crops and sometimes compared them to mules.
Dr. Valerie Louise Augustus, who has led Christian Psychiatrist Services in the Memphis suburb of Germantown for 17 years, was found to have used a riding crop — a thin whip normally used to strike horses — on the buttocks of a patient in 2015, according to Tennessee medical discipline documents that were made public Friday.
The patient, who had a history of physical abuse, was suffering from depression and struggling with suicidal thoughts, documents state.
State officials’ investigation also found that Augustus had “made contact with other mental health patients with a riding crop, whip or other object” and kept both a riding crop and a whip displayed in her office.
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She also “compared her patients to mules,” the documents state. At least some medical students saw Augustus hit her patients.
The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners suspended Augustus’ license after finding no evidence in psychiatric literature for using whips or riding crops as an effective part of treatment. The suspension is for no less than 60 days, starting in June.
To get her license back, Augustus will be required to take a two-day class on medical ethics, boundaries and professionalism and be cleared by the Vanderbilt Comprehensive Assessment Program, which examines professionals who are having emotional or behavioral issues in the workplace.
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If the program clears Augustus, she then can petition the board to return her license. If it is restored, she will start a three-year probationary term.
Augustus also was fined $10,000, $1,000 for each patient she struck, according to board documents.
She could not immediately be reached for comment.
Calls to her clinic were unanswered. A voicemail message said Augustus was unavailable, and her clinic would be closed in June and July.
The clinic’s website said Augustus was on “personal leave.”
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The site also said her clinic previously was named the top mental health practice in the Memphis area by The Commercial Appeal, a USA TODAY Network newspaper; it did not state the year. Her business also is listed on the Memphis-area Angie’s List.
Augustus’ discipline was revealed through a monthly announcement from the Tennessee Department of Health, which maintains public records on licenses for doctors, nurses, chiropractors, massage therapists and other health care professionals throughout the state. More than 100 disciplinary actions were included in the latest monthly report.
Follow Brett Kelman on Twitter: @brettkelman
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