Psychiatrist whipped her patients with a riding crop and called them 'mules', officials say

The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners hears arguments in the case against Dr. Augustus.
The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners hears arguments in the case against Dr. Augustus. Tennessee Department of Health

A Tennessee psychiatrist will have to close her practice for at least 60 days, take an ethics course and undergo an examination after allegedly striking patients in her office in 2015, according to documents from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Dr. Valerie Louise Augustus, a psychiatrist who runs Christian Psychiatric Services in Germantown, Tenn., was accused of hitting at least 10 patients with a riding crop, whip or other implement and occasionally comparing them to "mules," The Tennessean reported.

In one incident, a patient complained that Augustus struck her on the buttocks during an appointment in 2015, and even kept the crop and a whip on display in her office, according to WREG.

Augustus is a licensed physician and is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, according to WKRN.

Her practice's website had a message on its front page saying Augustus would be out on personal leave as of June 2, and that patients would be notified when it reopened.

"We know from testimony that the respondent engaged in this disturbing behavior on more than one occasion," a representative of the state said at a disciplinary hearing, and said Augustus "hit patients with a history of abuse."

The state alleged that Augustus did the whipping as part of "a desire to exert dominance over her female patients and her inability to accept personal responsibility," according to WMC.

"For a psychiatrist to hit her patients, her suicidal patients, with a crop, with a whip, or with a 4-foot stick of bamboo ... hitting isn't healing," the representative for the state told the board.

An attorney for Augustus argued at the hearing that the patients were only tapped with the riding crop, not struck with force.

"Dr. Augustus testified that she tapped her patients lightly as a joke. It was a faux-punishment, not real punishment. She wasn't really whacking these people, she wasn't hitting 'em hard," he told the board.

The board members were unconvinced, and ultimately concluded there was "no evidence in psychiatric literature to support the use of touching a patient with an implement as part of treatment," according to WREG.

In their decision, the board said Augustus used "implements" to make contact with the buttocks of patients and called the actions "unprofessional and unethical conduct." In addition to the suspension of her license, Augustus was fined $10,000 and will be on probation for three years following her suspension, according to board documents.

Augustus was not reached for comment by WMC, The Tennessean or WREG.

Good mental health isn’t the absence of mental health struggles. Physical and emotional stress can trigger chemical changes in the brain. Coping skills help reduce stress and promote good mental health.