Arrested counselor may have been exempt from licensing requirement

Daniel Staats

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A man charged by the Dalton Police Department last week with sexual assault by practitioner of psychotherapy isn't licensed in Georgia to practice counseling or therapy, according to the Secretary of State's office. But the chairman of the state licensing board said the licensing law contains a number of exemptions including for faith-based counseling such as that practiced by the man.

Daniel Durward Staats, founder and owner of Helping the Hurting, was arrested on Friday and released on a $10,000 bond the same day. He is accused of fondling the breast of a client in July during a counseling session and exposing his genitals and encouraging the woman to perform oral sex on him.

James Hill, a public information officer for the state Department of Community Supervision, said Staats provided alternative behavior counseling, which he described as similar to anger management. He said he was not aware that Staats was not licensed as a counselor in Georgia.

"My understanding is that Staats is the only one in the area able to provide this type of counseling, so when the court ordered individuals to attend the alternative behavior counseling, he was the only one who provided it," he said.

Steve Livingston, chairman of the state Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers and Marriage and Family Therapists, said an individual does not necessarily need a license to practice counseling, social work and therapy in Georgia.

Among those exempt from licensing requirements for counseling, therapy and social work under the law are:

• "Active members of the clergy, but only when the practice of their specialty is in the course of their service as clergy."

• "Members of religious ministries responsible to their established ecclesiastical authority who possess a master's degree or its equivalent in theological studies."

• "Persons engaged in the practice of a specialty in accordance with biblical doctrine in public or nonprofit agencies or entities or in private practice."

"What that means is that if you have, say, a master's of divinity and present yourself as a Christian counselor and say your approach to counseling is based on biblical doctrine, then our board has no standing to oversee you or discipline you in any way," Livingston said.

In a 2011 story in the Daily Citizen-News, Staats described Helping the Hurting as a "Christ-centered counseling ministry." Helping the Hurting's Facebook page says Staats has a master of divinity in pastoral counseling.

Hill said Staats had only about a dozen clients who were seeing him as a term of their probation.

"The judges and the district attorney are aware of his arrest," he said. "No one will be held in violation of their probation as a result of not being able to complete their counseling with him, and if necessary, our officers will petition the courts to allow them to seek some alternative counseling."

According to a Dalton Police Department incident report, a DPD officer contacted a Department of Community Supervision officer after speaking with a woman in August who claimed Staats had told her he was in an open relationship with his wife during a counseling session and that it was OK if the woman sent him photos of her. She said he said he had a private Facebook account and she accepted a friend request knowing it was Staats "because she did not think anyone would believe that Staats was behaving inappropriately with clients."

The DPD officer wanted to know if the Department of Community Supervision had received complaints about Staats. The Department of Community Supervision officer said he was "aware of a colleague who had an experience with him. (Redacted text) had used Staats services back in 2011. One night she received a message from Staats on Facebook. ... She could not quote the message exactly but he asked 'If me and my wife were in an open relationship, would it be OK if I was in a relationship with you?'"

According to the report, the person "was shocked by the message and showed it to her husband. Her husband messaged Staats back scolding him for the inappropriate contact. Staats replied back that he was just doing some research."

Phone messages left at Helping the Hurting were not immediately returned on Thursday.

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