Unlicensed therapist faces B.C. RCMP probe for alleged illegitimate autism assessments

·6 min read
Xander Phoenix, who gave up his application for a psychology licence in B.C., says he is no longer seeing patients in this province. (The Phoenix Centre - image credit)
Xander Phoenix, who gave up his application for a psychology licence in B.C., says he is no longer seeing patients in this province. (The Phoenix Centre - image credit)

A therapist who gave up his application for a psychology licence after he was accused of sexual misconduct by a patient is now under investigation by B.C. RCMP for allegedly charging parents for autism assessments he was not qualified to perform, CBC News has learned.

Xander Phoenix, who is the subject of a public safety notice from the College of Psychologists of B.C., has also been accused by a former supervisor of fraudulently using his signature on assessment reports.

Two parents and the former supervisor say they have filed police reports, and Kelowna RCMP have confirmed an investigation is underway.

CBC has reviewed two autism assessments for Kelowna-area children signed by Phoenix in March 2021 and April 2022, as well as the associated $3,000 invoices for his services.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development said Phoenix is not on its registry of autism service providers, and in B.C., only pediatricians, psychiatrists and registered psychologists can write autism assessments.

The two parents who shared their children's assessments said they went to police after learning they were not valid. These assessments are necessary to access the appropriate funding and support for kids with autism, but as of December, the overall wait time to have a child assessed in B.C. was 84.7 weeks.

"He's taking away so much opportunity from children who deserve it. We now have to start over from scratch," said the mother whose child was assessed by Phoenix in April.

"The waiting lists are much longer than they were six months ago."

CBC has agreed not to name the parents to protect their children's private health information. Both say Phoenix refunded their money after they confronted him about his lack of qualifications.

Therapist says he 'never lied about my qualifications'

Phoenix told CBC in an email that he is not aware of any police investigation related to his assessments and insisted he is fully qualified to perform them because of his training and experience.

"I never lied about my qualifications. They [the parents] all knew I was qualified to complete autism assessments and also knew I was not registered but under supervision," he said.

He acknowledged, however, that a number of his autism assessments were not accepted by the ministry and said he agreed to refund the clients' money as a result.

"I have done many evaluations, all of which were accepted, even by the court in B.C. If those had been invalid or illegal, they would never have been accepted and recognized," he said.

On the question of using his previous supervisor's signature on assessments, Phoenix said it was an "error," and the issue has been "addressed and resolved."

Phoenix added that he is no longer practising in B.C. and has given up his clinic here.

"I am now just a private citizen who just wants to be left alone," he said.

Former supervisor reported Phoenix to police

Phoenix currently holds a psychologist licence in Florida.

As CBC has previously reported, he had applied for a licence in B.C. at one point but withdrew his application during the college's investigation into allegations he had a sexual relationship with a patient.

Phoenix also let his licence in Virginia expire last summer before a disciplinary conference related to the same allegations.

In previous conversations with CBC, he did not deny having sex with the woman in question but claimed she was never really his patient.

DedMityay/Shutterstock
DedMityay/Shutterstock

The B.C. college's public notice about Phoenix, first posted in September, doesn't mention any of the allegations against him but says he is not and has never been licensed in this province.

Since then, the notice has been updated twice without any explanation for why the additions were necessary.

The first update addresses Phoenix's relationship with his former supervisor, psychologist Harry Stefanakis, stating that Stefanakis has not been associated with Phoenix since May 21, 2021. The second update states that psychologist Catherine Currell has never had any association with Phoenix.

A review of the autism assessments provided to CBC might offer some insight into why the notice was amended.

One of the assessments includes Stefanakis's signature and the other Currell's. The two professionals are described in the report as Phoenix's "consulting supervisors."

Stefanakis's signature is on the earlier assessment, dated Mar. 30, 2021, when he was still Phoenix's supervisor.

When asked to comment about Phoenix, Stefanakis wrote in an email, "He has fraudulently used my name on more than one occasion. I have filed a police report and reported it to the College of Psychologists of B.C."

The assessment purportedly signed by Currell was written more than a year later, on April 7, 2022.

When asked why he used Currell's signature, Phoenix said, "it was an error on my part."

Currell has not responded to requests for comment; however, her website specifically states that she does not provide any services for children or adolescents.

College says it's aware of allegations

College registrar Andrea Kowaz said she was limited in her ability to share further information.

"I am able to say that the college has the authority to protect the title 'psychologist' and has taken steps to warn Mr. Phoenix of the statutory restrictions which prohibit him from using that title to describe his work in British Columbia," she wrote.

Kowaz went on to say that she is aware that allegations have been shared on social media regarding Phoenix's writing of autism assessments.

"We understand that allegations have been made publicly about Mr. Phoenix. … We cannot comment specifically on those allegations," Kowaz wrote.

She said the college doesn't have the authority to investigate criminal allegations involving someone who has never been a registered psychologist in B.C., and these claims are best handled by the police.

Reports have been filed with the RCMP in Burnaby, the location of Phoenix's former clinic, and in Kelowna.

Kelowna RCMP confirmed they have taken charge of the investigation but declined to comment further.

"We are not in a position to discuss specifics about an ongoing investigation other than to say it is progressing, and we have no timeline with respect to when it will be completed," Sgt. Kevin Duggan said in an email.

Zahraa Photography/Shutterstock
Zahraa Photography/Shutterstock

Although Phoenix said he is no longer practising as a therapist in B.C., there is nothing that would prevent him from seeing patients again. Psychotherapy and clinical counselling are not regulated in this province.

That is disturbing to the mother whose child was assessed by Phoenix in March 2021.

"There are people that can put on a mask and pretend to be somebody that they're not and take advantage of many people in vulnerable situations," she said.

"This experience that I had with this individual is, I think, maybe because there was no regulatory body to do anything about it."

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