Crime and Courts

Woman Who Pretended to Be Psychologist Gets 11-Year Prison Term

In court, Sharonda Avery did not apologize to her victims but only asked for their grace and mercy

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A Virginia woman who pretended to be a psychologist, treating hundreds of patients and even testifying as a medical expert during custody hearings in court, was sentenced Friday to 11 years in prison.

Family after family testified in court in Stafford County on Friday about the damage done by Sharonda Avery.

These families trusted Avery so much and were so convinced that she was a legitimate doctor that even years later, some still mistakenly refer to her as "Dr. Avery."

Dr. Joni Johnson hired Avery at Pediatric Partners for Attention and Learning in 2012. Posing as a doctor, Avery provided therapy, recommended medication and even persuaded judges during child custody hearings.

Avery was arrested in May 2019 after an investigation revealed she fabricated her college degrees and faked her resume. She was fired in 2018 and the practice is no longer in business, the Stafford County Sheriff's Office has said.

Suspicious patients complained to authorities after not being able to find a license for Sharonda Avery. News4's Julie Carey reports.

Families say the damage she caused lingers.

Holding her daughter's hand, Emily Whittacre bravely shared the story of how Avery lied about being a psychologist, wrongly and illegally diagnosing Whittacre's daughter, who was just 9 years old at the time.

Tragically, she was one of more than one hundred victims.

"The families that she knew and Dr. Joni knew that they were mistreating and … it just breaks my heart," Whittacre said.

Kelly Von Schwanitz, whose daughter saw Avery, said her child is "finally on the road to recovery, but she has no friends."

"She does not trust people and it is very sad to see a child so alone," Von Schwanitz said. "And so scared that if they're open with somebody, that there's going to be punishment on the back end of that."

Avery now is beginning an 11-year prison sentence for nine felonies. When her term is up, she will have 35 years of supervised probation. The judge said Avery can never counsel or provide therapy of any kind ever again.

Back in February, after Avery admitted to being a fake, News4 Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey tried to talk with her. Avery would not comment on why she misrepresented herself.

In court Friday, Avery did not apologize to her victims but only asked for their grace and mercy.

The doctor who employed Avery has not been charged with a crime.

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