Dec 2, 2011

Sean Stephenson: Diploma Mill Yoda -- UPDATED

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

It was probably apparent in my previous post that I really took a scunner to Sean Stephenson. Aside from finding him appallingly arrogant, he struck me as something of a phony. When I first looked at his website, I thought it was a little sketchy on the details of his education, but I didn't want to go down that particular rabbit hole. His testimony constituted a small part of a very long post. My husband, however, couldn't let it go. It probably has something to do with the fact that he holds a doctorate from a legitimate institution, but he's a little touchy when it comes to people arrogating to themselves the title of Doctor without the proper educational credentials. So he started digging and I did more digging and we found, not to any great surprise, that there are some rather serious issues when it comes to Stephenson's academic background. No wonder he was so evasive when Sheila Polk questioned him on the importance of having the proper credentials if you're going to tinker around with someone's mind.

In his bio, Stephenson lists his undergraduate degree as being from DePaul University but he doesn't say what it's in. According to a very uncritical Wikipedia entry, it's in political science. So far so good. And DePaul's a fine school. But a degree in political science doesn't qualify anyone to counsel people, something he felt called upon to do in his work as a motivational speaker. In his quest to help people with their emotional problems, he pursued higher education... in hypnosis and NLP. I have not been able to find reference to any education in psychology.

For his hypnosis and NLP training he went to Bennett/Stellar University, an alternative healing school, which claims to be accredited but does not say who it is accredited by. According to this, it's accredited by the International Coaching Society. It is not listed in the government database of accredited institutions.

But it's his doctoral degree that really looks dodgy. In his bio, he claims to have received his doctorate from Kona University, previously American Pacific University. His Wikipedia entry goes into a little more detail. He began his doctoral program in clinical hypnosis in 2004 when it was American Pacific University. It doesn't say when he completed it. As explained in a footnote, American Pacific University was unaccredited, but when it became Kona University in 2009, it gained accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. I confirmed this through the government database. It is accredited, although it does not have regional accreditation which is really the gold standard of accreditation.

DETC is a national accreditor and should not be confused with regional accreditation. The vast majority of all schools in the United States are regionally accredited from elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and higher education institutions. Some regionally accredited schools accept and recognize the accreditations of nationally accredited schools, but others do not.[4][5] Michael Lambert, Chief Executive Officer of the DETC, says that about 70% of DETC graduates are successful in transferring credits. He also asserts that the "vast majority" of employers do view DETC as being equal, since DETC institutions are accepted for the tuition reimbursement programs in most corporations today.[6]

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) offered an opinion in a November 2000 statement that, "Institutions and accreditors need to assure that transfer decisions are not made solely on the source of accreditation of a sending program or institution."[7] The Higher Education Transfer Alliance (HETA) online directory[8] was designed by DETC to help students and the public find educational institutions with transfer practices consistent with criteria articulated by CHEA in its Statement to the Community: Transfer and Public Interest.[9] According to CHEA, institutions that are members of HETA have agreed that their "transfer decisions are not made solely on the basis of the accredited status of a sending institution and that the institution has agreed at least to consider transfer requests from other institutions."[8] The HETA directory provides links to member institutions so that students and others can review a specific institution's transfer policies and practice.

While it's not entirely clear whether Stephenson received his doctorate from the accredited Kona or the unaccredited American Pacific University he started with, the distinction is meaningless for several reasons.  The first is that Kona doesn't offer a doctoral degree. It only offers a masters degree in transpersonal psychology which is not the degree Stephenson holds. The second is that the hypnotherapy program originally offered by American Pacific was terminated in 2008. (More here retrieved by the Wayback Machine.) The third, and probably most important, is that there is no such thing as a doctorate in clinical hypnotherapy in the United States.

So Stephenson studied hypnosis and NLP at an unaccredited school that claims to be accredited. He got his doctorate in something you can't legally hold a doctorate in from a university that may or may not have been accredited at the time he graduated, but was never accredited to give that fictitious degree. Note that there is no mention of his holding a masters degree which is a prerequisite to a doctoral degree.

All of this somehow qualified him for "Board Certification in Clinical Psychotherapy," despite having no discernible education in psychology. But that certification comes from the Association of Integrative Psychology. This prestigious institution has been around since all of 2005. It certifies practitioners, not of psychology, but of hypnotherapy, NLP, or some trademarked entity they call Time Empowerment® or TE®. I know that's not the sort of training and education I think of when I hear the term "psychotherapist."

It's one thing to train in holistic disciplines for which there are no governmentally recognized accrediting bodies, as long as you're transparent about the nature of that training. Here's what you don't get to do: You don't get to call yourself "Dr." In fact, it's illegal in a number of states to claim degrees from unaccredited schools.

Jurisdictions that have restricted or made illegal the use of credentials from unaccredited schools include Oregon,[80][81] Michigan,[83] Maine,[84] North Dakota,[80] New Jersey,[80] Washington,[81][85] Nevada,[81][86] Illinois,[81] Indiana,[81] and Texas.[87][88] Many other states are also considering restrictions on the use of degrees from unaccredited institutions.[89]

Hmmm... Illinois... Isn't that the home of one Sean Stephenson? Yeah. It is.


Credit where credit is due: Sean Stephenson did, indeed, amend the information on his site as promised. He has removed "Dr." from his name everywhere that I can see on his website and from his Twitter profile. He has added the following information to his bio and similar text to his private sessions page.

Sean Stephenson completed a seven year educational journey in Clinical Hypnotherapy from American Pacific University (now named Kona University). His Doctorate in Clinical Hypnotherapy, while unaccredited by the Department of Education, is one of the most elite and comprehensive educations in the field of Hypnotherapy and Neuro-Linguistics.

He also changed text describing his client services and eliminated the incorrect information from the Washington Post quotation he and I discussed in the comments.


  1. Good work as usual, LaVaughn. Of course, Stephenson is not the only New-Wage player who uses dodgy degrees. Another example: Texas' own Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale, who used to brag that he was a friend of James Arthur "Death" Ray. The friendship developed as a result of both guys being in "The Secret," but Joe doesn't talk about Ray much these days, I've noticed. "Dr." Joe has an honorary marketing Faux-hD from online Belford University, and a "doctorate" in Metaphysics from The University of Metaphysics. A few years ago Texas took the latter off of their sh-t list because they consider it a religious school, and the accreditation police are concerned with the secular. Still, it seems pretty clear that Joe didn't spend years laboring to acquire his credentials the way your husband did.

    I've also noticed that many who claim to have phony or questionable degrees will, when called on it, either ignore or gloss over the questions, or they will say that knowledge and experience are really more important than degrees from an accredited institution of higher learning. That may be, but if so, why do they bother with the "degrees" in the first place? The answer is simple and obvious: because they're just trying to puff up their own credibility by putting that "Dr." in front of their name. And all too many people will be impressed by that phony credential and won't bother to question it.

    Stephenson is beyond arrogant, and since he noted that he didn't want any special treatment because of his disabilities, it's good to see that you, Connie Joy, and Salty are giving him the "treatment" he deserves.

  2. The University of Metaphysics! That's awesome! Joe Vitale is absurd.

    I'm well aware of all the bogus degrees. Singing Bear, sweat lodge designer, is also a Doctor of Metaphysics but it was from another fine institution. He's also a "licensed mental therapist." Does anyone take this shit seriously?

  3. I have nothing to hide. Write me directly: I'm happy to answer all your concerns and questions. Be well.

  4. I'd be happy to discuss my degrees, credentials, and methods of therapy with you.

    I find it interesting that you say,

    "It certifies practitioners, not of psychology, but of hypnotherapy, NLP, or some trademarked entity they call Time Empowerment® or TE®. I know that's not the sort of training and education I think of when I hear the term "psychotherapist."

    Try reading this... specifically this part...

    "Hypnotherapy is therapy that is undertaken with a subject in hypnosis. Hypnotherapy is often applied in order to modify a subject's behavior, emotional content, and attitudes, as well as a wide range of conditions including dysfunctional habits, anxiety, stress-related illness, pain management, and personal development."

    I spent 8 post graduate years studying, passing difficult exams, writing over a 1,000 pages of papers, and attending hundreds of hours of classroom training. I attended the best school in Clinical Hypnotherapy I could find. I received the highest degree you can receive in hypnotherapy.

    Besides, I'm in the process of moving to PHX where your concern isn't even an issue anyway.

    I understand your upset for diploma mills, I can even support that frustration. However, for what it's worth, I busted my rear for this doctorate and it's completely legitimate. Besides you didn't care to share that my undergrad degree at De Paul University had as many psych credits as political science, but my school didn't allow a double-major.

    I'm happy to answer any additional concerns you have.

    Be well,

  5. @Sean, I have far too many friends in the mental health field to take your credentials seriously and I've thoroughly elucidated the reasons.

    "Besides you didn't care to share that my undergrad degree at De Paul University had as many psych credits as political science, but my school didn't allow a double-major."

    No. You didn't care to share it. Your bio doesn't address at all what you got your undergrad in, let alone what classes you took outside of your major. If that's information you expect people to know, it's on you to make that clear.

    But if you'd really like to address my concerns, why don't we start with the reasons you'd go to bat for someone who cooked people to death in the process of desecrating a sacred ceremony. Someone who left people wandering around downtown San Diego with no money, ID, or cell phone, and then did nothing but stage a cover-up when one of them died. I take it your thorough training in psychology didn't address personality disorders?

    A "legitimate" doctorate in a something you can't even have a doctorate in from an unaccredited school. You are comical.

  6. @Sean, While I have you, there's something else I'd like you to clarify. On your website, you say you work with two groups of people:

    "# Men who want to increase their self-confidence for the purpose of attracting women, improving their career life, and improving their physical health.

    # Women who want to better their self-image for the purpose of reducing their stress, reducing their weight, and releasing limiting thoughts and behaviors."

    Are you under the impression that men don't ever need to lose weight or do you not work with fat men? Do you not work with gay men or only men who want to attract women? Do you think women don't have career or health issues and that our major focus should be on being thin?

    Oh, and this: Why do you prominently display a quotation from the Washington Post that gets your credentials wrong and states that you're working on a second PhD? And did you even get the pretend PhD from American Pacific or was it the DCH?

    One more thing:

    "Besides, I'm in the process of moving to PHX where your concern isn't even an issue anyway."


  7. I appreciate the feedback on how to present my credentials...and in the coming days you will see changes to my site. So I truly thank you for the feedback.

    I get that you are upset with me for testifying on behalf of James Ray. That case was filled with sensitive issues and debatable points. I was brought in to share my personal experience of a friend I had for over 12 years. I also shared my opinions, both personal and professional. I understand that there will be many who despise me and even curse my name for that. I can live with that.

    I believe in God, The Universe, call it what you want, something much bigger than you and I. I have prayed that the families of those that died and all those affected by their deaths find peace. Hatred and resentment is toxic and does nothing productive for humanity.

    I'm done debating you on every point of my credentials and degrees, because it looks like you're on a war-path to just silence me and/or prove I'm not legitimately qualified to help people. I am. I work hard every day to do my part on this planet and follow within the guidelines of safety.

    As for whom I work with, those are simply the groups I have specialized in working with...but even that will be taken off my site soon, as I see your point. Truth be told, you could have simply written me at and I would have addressed your concerns and made any appropriate changes to legitimate feedback.

    Take care.

    - Sean

  8. So you're NOT going "discuss" or "answer" my questions and concerns and you're deflecting the responsibility for that onto me. For the record, I'm not any "war-path" and I have no interest in "silencing" anyone. I believe far too strongly in the First Amendment for that. That's a pretty wild assumption on your part... or a straw man. Take your pick. I've also never said you weren't qualified to help people. But the people who choose to work with you deserve transparency about what your actual training and credentials are. If you called yourself a hypnotherapist and an NLP practitioner, I, for one, would have nothing to say about it -- the deceptive practices of Bennett/Stellar aside. But when you call yourself a Doctor and a psychotherapist and let people -- like a reporter from the Washington Post, for instance -- misconstrue your credentials, it looks an awful lot like fraud to me. And, not for nothin', but if you were going to "bust [your] rear" for a doctorate, why not go to a legitimate school instead of one that's a punchline? Why not go the normal route? You know, get a masters degree like you're supposed to and then a get a doctorate... from accredited schools. Because when people see Dr. in front of someone's name, they assume that's what they've done... but I think you know that.

    Anyway... I'm not surprised that you would have preferred to address my "concerns" privately, via email. But I prefer to address publicly available information posted by people I don't know publicly. Besides. I suspect you would have deflected and obfuscated via email just as you've done here, if you'd answered me at all.

    I look forward to seeing your revisions. Do you have an ETA on that?

  9. As for the revisions, check back next week Monday.

    That reporter in the Washington Post was accurate, at the time I was pursuing a PhD, and then switched my degree program years later to a DCH. So at the time it was accurate. But it will be a good idea for me to put an * next to that quote with more detail. Thank you for that heads up.

    When you find an accredited University that gives an accredited degree in Clinical Hypnotherapy, you let me know. But for now, the traditional institutions that you believe are the ALL POWERFUL in "deeming legitimacy" are not caught up to speed on the healing properties of hypnosis.

    I find it interesting you keep putting me under the microscope when I don't see any of your credentials clearly posted on what you do? A "Psychic Intuitive," and you're worried about what I do? Find me an institution in the Federal Government that deems that you are licensed, board certified, or any other fancy title that is legitimate for your career.

    Currently the states I practice hypnotherapy don't even have a licensing process, if they did...I'd be pursuing that. Again, I'm not your target. I appreciate your need to keep people transparent, and I will continue to strive to offer the general populous the best records and qualifications needed to do what I do.

    If I wanted to I could call myself a Life Coach. I've considered it to avoid the obnoxious run-around I occasionally encounter (referring to you). However what I do is legal, legitimate, and I am helping millions of people (through TV, the net, my office visits, books, and video programs). I've lived a clean, moral, and ethical life to the best of my abilities and yet there are still many who can't sleep until they find something to pick on. Such is life.

    Here's the funny part about this all, I'm interested in your field, Psychic Intuitive. I would probably enjoy conversing with you, and would appreciate a friendship with you. Sadly you only wanted to spread bashing remarks about me and my credentials. Have you not studied compassion, love, or human relations at all? If you had, you'd put your effort on healing the planet from the trajedy in Sedona. You'd post comments and blogs on forgiveness, on releasing the ego from judging your enemy, and seeing the other side. Ah well. My guess is I could produce every shred of evidence you request and it still would never be enough. You're mad at me for being a friend of James, and sharing my experience of him. And I understand that. I do hope that my comments have made some positive impact on your concerns.

    Be well,

  10. @Sean, A couple of things:

    "When you find an accredited University that gives an accredited degree in Clinical Hypnotherapy, you let me know. But for now, the traditional institutions that you believe are the ALL POWERFUL in "deeming legitimacy" are not caught up to speed on the healing properties of hypnosis."

    There is no such entity. That's my point. And, I repeat, if you had simply presented yourself as a hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner, I'd have no problem with it. The problem is that you present yourself as having a doctorate. You present yourself as having credentials you can't claim in the United States and can't legally claim in a number of states, including Illinois.

    "I find it interesting you keep putting me under the microscope when I don't see any of your credentials clearly posted on what you do? A "Psychic Intuitive," and you're worried about what I do? Find me an institution in the Federal Government that deems that you are licensed, board certified, or any other fancy title that is legitimate for your career."

    The difference is this: Nowhere have I claimed to have a degree in any of it because there are no degrees to be had. I'm completely transparent about what training I've had and it's up to people to decide whether that's meaningful to them. Obviously, there are no certifying bodies for a psychic intuitive and I've never implied in any way that there are.

  11. Wow. Thanks for exposing yet another smarmy fraud, LaVaughn, and one so publicly at that. I find it interesting (if not really sad) that you got him rattled enough to engage in this sad public defense that you utterly eviscerate with fact. Thank you, and thank you.

    (Jeffrey Hammond, husband of Kristina Bivins)

  12. @Fake “Dr” Sean Stephenson,

    This looks like a rerun of the exchange I heard about between you and a few others on face book. Is it true that you finished up deleting a whole lot of your abusive comments there? You probably wish you could delete them from here too, as all you did was highlight some more fakery on your website and show that you can't justify your support for James Ray.

    You have clearly demonstrated that you consider it perfectly in order for a teacher to cook people to death and try and evade the consequences, and that it is perfectly in order to hound a participant their death and then cover it up by lying to police, lying to other participants and lying to medical staff.

    Further, Ray's own defense based largely on the idea that James Ray was unfit to be leading the ceremony, and was under no obligation to provide the services he was paid for.

    Those are the professional standards that you endorsed in court, “Dr” Stephenson. Thank you for making that so clear about yourself.

    Also, on my reading, what LaVaughn offered you was not “feedback” on how you “present your credentials on your website”. Rather, she caught you lying about your credentials. And you will not be “making changes” due to this “feedback”; rather you will be retracting a lie after you got caught out. What is NLP-speak for “getting your butt kicked”?

    You should print a clear retraction notice on your site and a shamefaced link to this article as the source of the correction you failed to make yourself.

    Incidentally, you shouldn't be surprised if you face criticism for supporting a four time killer. And if you can't justify that support and have even been exposed as a liar yourself, you are not really in the position to lecture people on forgiveness.

  13. Hello Sean Stephenson,
    I am curious to know your opinion on James Ray's handling of the sweatlodge ordeal. We have learned through witness testimony-
    'They did say “She’s passed out, she’s passed out, I don’t know if she’s breathing” and he said “The door has now closed and this round has begun, we’ll deal with that at the end of this round.”
    We also learned that after the ceremony as two people lay dead, one dying, and 15 more injured, that James proceeded to go take a shower and eat a sandwich. When the police came to question him, his response was "Right now?" Also, apparently, besides the one conference call with the participants, we learned that that was the end of his communications with them. He did not contact any of the families of those dead or injured.

    I'm also curious to know your opinion of the deadly conditions of the sweatlodge, i.e.; the plastic tarps, the extreme heat, his encouraging people to stay in when they wanted to leave, which is all contrary to Native American ways..which, even though he was offered guidance by them on the proper ways to conduct a sweat, he turned them down.

    And of course, we know that Colleen Conway's death was swept right under the carpet, and her family was left to discover on their own that she had committed suicide.

    I realize that you are close friends with him, I understand that you believe in God (so do I). That aside, I would like to hear your earnest opinion of his handling of these situations.

  14. Sean's disturbing cop-out answer to my private email with question above-

    'God bless everyone involved.

    Be well,

  15. lol deleting comments, censoring dissent? So you can target scammers but others cannot target you as a scammer?

  16. @daveyboy... aka Druff, Censoring dissent? No. Removing content-free, name-calling spew? Bet on it.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. A self proclaimed PHD was Jeffery R Pierce of Flushing, Michigan. He was a very good psychic and used information obtained to scam many I know. He said it was easy to claim nativeAmerican decent because no one could verify it. He confided in me he listed several organizations inUSA and UK he was affiliated with since he was sure no one would check or follow up. If a person can get a PHD without stepping into a college, getting a masters degree first or receiving an online degree in one year why are we even putting in the time. Jeff passed away to face a different piper. He illegally called himself a PHD in Michigan and had his "healing center"closed down in New Mexico fleeing to Seiverville, Tn. where he died in his sleep at 59 leaving his 19 year old wife number 7 and a one year old baby with
    countless off spring scattered throughout. I was one of the few people
    he confided in and later scammed.

  19. Oh my...

    There seems to be an abundant supply of new age phonies for you to take a scunner to these days. Never heard of this guy before.

    "I believe in God, The Universe, call it what you want, something much bigger than you and I. I have prayed that the families of those that died and all those affected by their deaths find peace.
    Hatred and resentment is toxic and does nothing productive for humanity."

    This reminds me of Blake. Vomit inducing.

  20. Yeah, there's nothing quite like being shamed for not being spiritual and forgiving enough when people you care about are killed by the recklessness and egotism of a spiritual teacher.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. LaVaughn, you obviously harbour a lot of hatred toward Sean. Perhaps you should take an anger management course. Sean was very respectful to you in his responses. You really need to find a more positive outlet for your anger. Perhaps following some of Sean's teachings, might help!

    1. Yeaaaaahhhhh... Sean almost had me convinced that he act ethically. Not so much.

    2. Lol, oh K. You people really do just parrot the same tired old tactics, don't you? If someone points out that another person is a liar, just claim the accuser is full of hatred and anger, and that way, it takes the focus off the liar and puts the problem on the accuser instead. Genius. And it would work better if you dishonest manipulators didn't overuse it so much. Learn some honesty and integrity, dear, and knock it off with these weak, transparent little deflection tactics.

  23. After what he said about people suffering from depression as being selfish.........he no longer qualifies in my books!! I find him to be an insensitive man who leans on his EGO more than he does on his compassion for his fellow man. Anyone can say what their credentials are & no matter the credential,being a decent human being doesn't need a certificate. after what he said about people suffering from depression,I will never read ONE word further of what he may ever have to say in the future!!!!


Opinions and ideas expressed in the comments on this page
belong the people who stated them. Management takes no
editorial responsibility for the content of public comments.