Co-director of closed psychotherapy clinic retires amid retractions

A dozen papers have been retracted so far, and six more are planned.

One of the co-directors of a now-shuttered Maryland psychology clinic implicated in 18 paper retractions has retired, Spectrum has learned. Prior to her retirement, Clara Hill was professor of psychology at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Starting on 1 June, the American Psychological Association (APA) retracted 11 papers by Hill and her university colleagues Dennis Kivlighan, Jr. and Charles Gelso over issues with obtaining participant consent. The publisher plans to retract six more papers by the end of the year, according to an APA representative. On 13 August, Taylor & Francis retracted an additional paper led solely by Hill.

The research was conducted at the Maryland Psychotherapy Clinic and Research Lab, where Hill, Kivlighan and Gelso were co-directors. The clinic had shut down as of 1 June.

When asked about the circumstances surrounding Hill’s retirement, a university spokesperson told Spectrum in an email, “Dr. Clara Hill retired from UMD effective July 1, 2023.” After Spectrum asked again about the circumstances, a spokesperson replied, “This is all we’ll have for you on the faculty member’s retirement — thanks!” Hill worked at the university for 49 years.

As of 1 August, Hill’s faculty page did not mention her retirement. By 14 August, her position had been amended to “Professor (Retired),” and a notice of her retirement had been added to the beginning of her biography.

Spectrum left two voicemails on Hill’s university office phone and emailed her university address with requests for comment but did not hear back.

The 11 papers retracted by the APA appeared in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, Dreaming and Psychotherapy. The additional retractions will come from the same titles, according to an APA representative. Hill conducted all 11 studies, whereas Kivlighan and Gelso conducted 10 and 6, respectively.

All 11 retraction notices published thus far cite an investigation from the University of Maryland Institutional Review Board (IRB) that found the papers used data from between one and four people “who either had not been asked to provide consent or had withdrawn consent for their data to be included in the research.”

An additional paper by Hill was retracted from Counseling Psychology Quarterly, a Taylor & Francis title, on 13 August because “concerns have been raised about the integrity of some of the data, with regards to patient privacy and informed consent,” according to the retraction notice. “When approached for an explanation, the authors concurred and have agreed to the retraction of this article.”

Spectrum made a public records request for a copy of the IRB’s investigation report. The university denied the request because the report involves a student. The university said it would not be possible to share the report because that would reveal the student’s identity — even with redactions — which would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The request was also denied because the university said the records include confidential opinions involved in decision-making.