Joe Parham Stands Up

Is the African-American psychologist and former Ev Mecham staffer incompetent--or just streetwise?

It's a typical perspective for blacks, says Gibson, the psychiatrist. "Taking prescribed drugs or being in mental health [treatment] in general is not seen as something desirable in the black community," he says.

Gibson suspects that during this period of his life, Parham may have worked so hard that he failed to monitor a high-blood-pressure condition and perhaps suffered a series of tiny strokes that caused the brain damage that the state board refers to.

No one knows what happened.
But by 1994, Parham began receiving notice of the complaints that ultimately led to the series of tests that, in turn, led to his current suspension.

For a reason that is unclear, the Board of Psychologist Examiners sent Parham to a white psychologist in Scottsdale for his first evaluation. And it is that evaluation that has driven the board's decision to strip Parham of his ability to practice his profession.

"There are a number of black therapists they could have sent him to," says Gibson. "There are black psychologists who do that kind of testing."

Gibson says studies show African Americans generally score better on psychological tests when the tests are administered by black therapists. When confronted with a white test giver, Gibson says, an African American's "fear level is twice as much, because of a history of a lot of abuses in that system."

Parham also inadvertently affected his testing ability by not taking his anxiety medication on the day of the test. Parham's doctor later testified that failing to take the anxiety medication had the effect of plummeting him into a panic attack during the testing process.

Parham scored so low on the tests as to seem barely functional.
Parham was sent to another doctor, who later wrote "judgment appeared normal." The doctor asked Parham if he took medications. Parham said no, and he hadn't taken any drugs that day. But a urine test showed residues of the previous week's antidepressants and anxiety medication.

The board sent Parham to a neurologist, Allen Yudell, who concluded Parham was "perfectly normal."

"The man I saw today would not appear to be the person described in the notes of [Scottsdale psychologist] Dr. Beck," Yudell wrote. "I saw no significant deficits of intellectual function in cursory examination today."

Yudell suggested weaning Parham from antidepressants and anxiety medication that might have caused the earlier poor test results.

Still, Parham's license remained suspended.
To see if Parham was practicing despite the suspension, the psychologists board sent a detective masquerading as a patient to Parham's office. Later, the detective testified Parham "treated" her for about 10 minutes, after which she gave a check to the downstairs bookkeeper and left the office.

Parham claims that he did not treat the woman, that he just chatted with her for a few minutes and sent her to another doctor. He says he had no idea the check had been paid to the bookkeeper.

But at a hearing, the state board concluded that Parham was practicing while his license was suspended. What's more, the state board said, the psychologist had lied to a board doctor about his prescription medications to curb anxiety and depression.

Even more tests were ordered.
In December 1995, a doctor from Barrow Neurological Institute testified that Parham had suffered an inexplicable form of brain damage. "I documented the presence of impaired brain function," said Dr. Bruce Blackwood, "but I also explicitly stated in the report that the fact that Dr. Parham has some impaired brain function may or may not have any relevance to the practice of psychology. One of the things we know in neuropsychology is that individuals who suffer reduced capacity because of injury or illness tend to do best at things they know best.

"With many many years of experience and background and exposure to the activities of his job and completing the activities over many, many years, Dr. Parham could very well be able to comply with the demands of the job even with the obvious abnormalities that show up on my examination."

Parham had his share of other supporters during the hearing on his license suspension.

Several clients wrote letters to the psychologists board. Wesley Lamont Rudolf is a typical client: "I am from the roughest streets of California. I can rip you off faster than you could imagine . . .

"He [Parham] is like a father figure to me. He should be something to you, too. I am not in your jails. You are not supporting me and my family through welfare . . . Dr. Parham gave me reason [sic]. Don't take this reason from me and hundreds of other street smart men, women and children who need him."

Counts, the only African-American member of the board, consistently questioned the suspension.

"The African-American community doesn't have many African-American psychologists," Counts said. "Not many people will work with inner-city gang members--there's a tremendous need. . . . We've had him [Parham] evaluated and evaluated and evaluated. There's really only one expert who said he's dysfunctional."

No consultant could really explain how the brain damage might have caused the bizarre behavior reported by the complainants.

That was back in 1995. Parham went home and tried to pull together a plan for a year-round charter school for at-risk kids. At first it appeared that he would get the charter. Then the Department of Education learned about Parham's license suspension and killed the application.

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