B.C. Therapists Accused of Malpractice in MDMA Therapy Trial: Second Participant Comes Forward

B.C. Therapists Accused of Malpractice in MDMA Therapy Trial: Second Participant Comes Forward
Former psychiatrist Donna Dryer, right, gives a talk about psychedelic therapy alongside husband Richard Yensen in 2019.

Two married B.C. therapists are now facing another lawsuit regarding their conduct during a clinical trial for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Petr Kopet, a participant in the study, has taken legal action, stating that the therapists’ actions during the trial left him in a deeply troubled mental state and led to the end of his marriage.

According to CBC News, Kopet lodged a civil claim earlier this year against Donna Dryer and Richard Yensen in the B.C. Supreme Court. He alleges that the therapists discouraged him from restarting his antidepressant medications when he experienced a “deep depression” during the trial which took place in Vancouver in 2016.

Kopet, who had initially joined the trial in hopes of finding a remedy for his post-traumatic stress disorder, stated in his claim that his mental health worsened, pushing him to the brink of suicide. “His mood changed to the point where others felt unsafe around him. Relationships with others were broken or damaged,” the claim details. As a result, Kopet sought emergency treatment at Vancouver General Hospital where he was placed back on antidepressants.

Further allegations by Kopet suggest a breach of patient confidentiality. According to his statement to CBC, he found out that Yensen and Dryer had shared private details about him, revealed during therapy sessions, with another participant of the trial. “I knew Yensen and Dryer were awful as professional therapists during the clinical trial but I didn’t know they were that awful until … I became aware of the fact that they had been divulging copious amounts of my personal information,” Kopet expressed. This revelation was what propelled him to pursue legal action. CBC News confirmed that they spoke to the other trial participant who verified Kopet’s allegations.

Therapists Marcela Ot’alora and Bruce Poulter are trained to conduct MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. In this reenactment, they demonstrate how they help guide and watch over a patient who is revisiting traumatic memories while under the influence of MDMA.

In response to the lawsuit, Yensen has refuted the claims, describing Kopet as “oppositional with a propensity to violence” and labeled him a “difficult participant” in the study. Yensen’s response emphasizes, “All of Dr. Yensen’s interactions with the plaintiff were within proper professional boundaries and consistent with the aims of the research study and the plaintiff’s voluntary participation in it.” Meanwhile, Dryer has yet to present her response and hasn’t replied to several requests for comments.

During the time of the trial, both therapists were working under the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) as sub-investigators for a Health Canada-approved Phase II clinical trial, researching the potential of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy or molly, as a treatment for PTSD.

Earlier in the year, another troubling event came to light. Dryer admitted to professional misconduct and consequently resigned from her B.C. medical license. This was following a complaint from another PTSD patient from the trial who alleged she had been sexually assaulted by Yensen multiple times, all while Dryer was aware. While the case was settled outside of court, Yensen did not dispute having sexual relations with the patient but maintained that it was consensual and initiated by the patient. In 2019, MAPS severed its ties with the therapist couple over this incident and compensated the patient $15,000 for therapy.

As for Kopet, his participation in the trial required him to cease taking his regular antidepressants. After the treatment sessions concluded, he recalls consulting Dryer on handling his deteriorating mental health. According to his claim, she advised against resuming his medication “without having carried out a detailed assessment of his mental state and risk for further deterioration and suicide.”

Kopet confided to CBC, describing his mental breakdown as “horrendous.” He added, “I was a mess, became despondent and belligerent, and my now ex-wife didn’t feel safe around me. It became a watershed moment that ended up killing my marriage of 20 years.”

The repercussions extended beyond his marriage. He was compelled to move out of Vancouver due to the financial strain from losing his ex-wife’s support. Kopet mournfully shared, “But the worst consequence for me was the loss of a life-partner and my best friend in my ex-wife… I still grieve that loss six years after.”

In his lawsuit, Kopet charges Dryer and Yensen with negligence, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty.