Jerry Sandusky Scandal

SANDUSKY CASE: Man who evaluated alleged victim was not psychologist

Jerry Sandusky, right, arrives at the Centre County Courthouse, in Bellefonte, Pa., for a hearing, Friday, February 10, 2012.  Centre Daily Times/Nabil K. Mark
Jerry Sandusky, right, arrives at the Centre County Courthouse, in Bellefonte, Pa., for a hearing, Friday, February 10, 2012. Centre Daily Times/Nabil K. Mark Centre Daily Times

After State College psychologist Alycia Chambers talked to an 11-year-old boy about Jerry Sandusky showering with him in May 1998, she concluded Sandusky was exhibiting signs of grooming the boy for sexual abuse.

A couple days later, a counselor, John Seasock, met with the boy and had a different conclusion. The showering episode, Seasock determined, was rather the result of a routine that coaches like Sandusky do after a workout.

Centre County prosecutors did not pursue criminal charges against Sandusky after that incident, and whether the competing conclusions factored into that decision remains a subject of conjecture.

But, almost 14 years later, the fact that Seasock wasn’t a psychologist at the time, according to state records, raises questions about how much weight his opinion should have carried.

“To take that person’s word over a psychologist who has been prepared and licensed by the state is, I would say, very surprising and a serious concern,” said Marolyn Morford, a State College psychologist.

Morford said Tuesday she’s been alarmed by Seasock’s representation as a psychologist at the

time in question. That’s how the Penn State police investigation report refers to him, and that’s how Seasock has been referred to in media reports after the document was leaked Saturday.

State records show that Seasock has been licensed as a professional counselor since January 2002.

Prior to 1998, counselors didn’t need to be registered, and after a law passed that year, Seasock had four years to apply to the state for a license.

Seasock, who operates Renaissance Psychological and Counseling Corp. in Kingston, near Wilkes- Barre, could not be reached for comment.

The difference between a psychologist and a counselor comes down to education and training.

Licensure as a psychologist requires more rigor — a doctorate degree and more hours of supervision.

The doctorate includes a dissertation and research training, which lends themselves to a higher level of scientific thinking, said Mike Wolff, an assistant clinical psychology professor at Penn State.

Becoming a licensed professional counselor requires a master’s degree and typically not as many hours of supervised work, he said.

Another State College psychologist, Cindy MacNab, said the distinction between a psychologist and licensed professional counselor is important to make given the gravity of the information in the reports. She said it’s saying as though a license practical nurse has the same credentials as a medical doctor.

Morford said a psychologist may treat more seriously impaired people while a licensed professional counselor provides more supportive treatment.

“From the foundation, they had a larger, more extensive preparation to work with children, adults and families with psychological, behavior or emotional problems,” Morford said of psychologists.

Furthermore, Morford said Seasock has allowed himself to be referred to as a psychologist when he wasn’t. She said he has yet to correct that, which constitutes an ethics violation.

Sandusky’s attorney, Joe Amendola, disagrees that the therapists’ qualifications have anything to do with the decisions they reached after evaluating the boy. He thinks Seasock’s evaluation will create reasonable doubt for the jury.

“He may have had more professional experience in the area of detecting possible child abuse, as a counselor, than many psychologists, including Dr. Chambers, had,” Amendola said.

Chambers could not be reached for comment.

The boy told Penn State police the shower incident made him feel uncomfortable, and Chambers wrote in her memo to police that that’s what the boy told her. She interviewed the boy the day after the showering incident happened.

Chambers’ evaluation also indicates the 11-year-old boy was already a patient of hers. She wrote that when she met with the boy that day, he sat right down to talk. “Usually, (he) wanders around the office, looking at things to play with while we decide what to do.”

After the interview with the boy, she consulted with colleagues, who all agreed Sandusky was showing signs of a “likely pedophile’s pattern of building trust and gradual introduction of physical touch.”

Seasock, who was acting as a consultant for various Centre County agencies through a federal grant in the late 1990s, came to interview the boy May 8, 1998, as part of the Penn State police investigation. He wrote that he went into the hourlong interview without any background of the incident.

Seasock wrote in his report that there were some inconsistencies and “gray areas,” but he was firm that Sandusky’s behavior was that of coach and that no sexual victimization occurred.

A resume, on the University of Scranton’s website, lists Seasock’s doctorate in psychology from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine but doesn’t give a year.

It does show he did a doctoral practicum from August 1998 to June 1999.

He was referred to as a doctor of psychology when he attended conferences in 2009 and 2011.

Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616.