Crime & Courts

Prominent Hilton Head psychologist’s license revoked; Sex with patient alleged

A prominent Hilton Head Island psychologist has had his license permanently revoked for having a sexual relationship with a patient that included intimate encounters in his office, according to an order from the S.C. Board of Examiners in Psychology.

Dr. Howard Rankin, a psychologist, neuropsychologist and author who has been featured in the national media, admitted the relationship to an investigator from the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation and is barred from practice after an April disciplinary hearing before the board, records show.

Rankin has been featured as an expert on addiction, weight loss and other fields in The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, and has appeared as a guest on CNN and ABC’s “The View” and “20/20.”

He declined to comment for this article.

According to the board’s order, a female patient diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder began seeing Rankin for therapy in 2005. The patient, referred to only by her initials in the order, had attempted suicide on several occasions and had been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment more than once, the order says.

In 2009, Rankin told her that her sessions were not therapy but were part of their “friendship,” according to the order. In 2010, Rankin told her he would not charge her for sessions, the order says.

They hugged in November 2011 in his office during a therapy visit. The order cites an email from Rankin to the patient on Nov. 29, 2011, stating, “I don’t believe our relationship has been damaged, it has evolved. Personally I don’t think a line was crossed — straddled perhaps but not crossed.” lack of commas consistent with actual quote in order

In July 2012, there was “intimate contact,” including kissing, fondling and oral sex. In August 2012, Rankin and the patient had intercourse in his office on two occasions, the order states. That September, he admitted the relationship in an email to a labor department investigator, according to the order.

When someone alleges improper or unethical care to the Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulations, investigators gather records and conduct interviews. Michael Kollar, a Charleston psychologist who chairs the board, said the board does not know who made the complaint.

Labor department communications director Lesia Kudelka said in an email that “all proceedings and documents concerning complaints and hearings thereon are private” and exempt from disclosure, under state law.

Kollar likened hearings before the board to a courtroom. Both the state and the defendant are represented by attorneys; evidence is presented, and witnesses testify and are questioned.

In Rankin’s case, however, Kollar said Rankin had already pleaded guilty by admitting the relationship to investigators. Rankin’s hearing “was not a matter of guilt or innocence, but instead what to do about it,” Kollar said.

The board concluded that he violated five regulations, including “engaging in verbal or physical behavior toward a client that is sexually seductive, demeaning or harassing,” having sexual intercourse with a client and endangering the client’s welfare “with sexual or other dual relations.”

In his 10 years of service on the board, Kollar said Rankin is the first psychologist to have his license revoked.

Rankin is required by the American Psychological Association to tell patients he is no longer in practice and to provide referrals if necessary.

Bob Collar, a former business associate of Rankin’s, said he was shocked when he learned Rankin’s license had been revoked.

Collar had been vice president of the sports division at the Rankin Center for Neuroscience and Integrative Health on Marshland Road, which Rankin founded in 2010.

The motto of the center was “The Science of You.” Rankin and his team would integrate psychology and neuroscience to create an individual health plan for clients, using brain mapping, neurofeedback, cognitive and behavioral training and counseling.

Collar said the center “never really took off,” and he bought the equipment to open his own brain-mapping business. When clients would come in to Collar’s office with what he deemed “more serious problems,” he would refer them to Rankin, who continued to see his own clients for therapy at the Rankin Center.

Collar said he is angry with Rankin after learning of his license-revocation case. The clients he referred to Rankin, however, often thanked him and said Rankin was helpful, he said.

He is concerned that Rankin’s case will discredit the field of using neuroscience to resolve psychological problems.

“It’s the way of the future,” Collar said. “(Stuff) like this puts the whole thing back.”

Rankin also at one point worked as the clinical director of MindStream Academy, a small boarding school in Bluffton that focuses on helping students lose weight. Harry Plumer, an employee who answered the phone at the school Thursday, said Rankin “is no longer with us and hasn’t been here for a while,” and that the academy had no further comment.

Prior to having his license revoked, Rankin had been disciplined by the S.C. Board of Examiners in Psychology once before. In April 2012, he was ordered to attend a preapproved course on record-keeping and confidentiality after an investigation found he “failed to take contemporaneous notes for 16 patient sessions” from May 2007 through January 2009, and had instead reconstructed notes from memory at a later date.