Diagnosis

After being drugged, hypnotized and bound by restraints, the patients of Judith Peterson say they came to believe they had multiple personalities or had belonged to satanic cults. So, apparently, did their therapist.

Abney also complained that he had been accused "of being MPD or having different parts because I have a speech defect that comes out when I am tired or excited.

"... I feel like this had started off as health care for my family and then went to greed ... $90,000 a month forever ... this is a scam, it must stop now!"

The board informed Peterson in September 1993 that it had found no probable cause to continue an investigation of Abney's complaint. Three complaints against Peterson are currently pending with the board but are not public record.

As time went on, some of the personnel at Spring Shadows had begun to grow uneasy with what was transpiring in the dissociative disorders unit, according to Sally McDonald, a former nurse manager on the children's unit. Nurses began to leave the hospital. So did two medical directors.

McDonald, in a deposition taken this year for the Abneys' suit, says nurses were quitting because they were unable to work with Peterson. In an article published in 1994 in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing, and discussed in her deposition, McDonald wrote that nurses challenged Peterson's reliance on restraints and argued that her restrictive approaches were unnecessary.

Some of the patients, the nurses believed, had not exhibited self-destructive behavior and didn't need to be under suicide watch. One young man was placed in nine-point restraints for three days, McDonald wrote, "not because he was a threat to himself (or others) but because those three days coincided with some satanic event." The young man played cards with nurses with his one unrestrained hand.

According to McDonald's article, the main cause of attrition among the nurses was their concern about an overreliance on restraints in abreactive sessions. Some nurses felt this violated nursing and hospital policy, which stated less restrictive methods should be tried first and, according to McDonald, that "mechanical devices were used only as a last resort in assisting a patient to regain control." Although patients were told the use of restraints was voluntary, they were also told by doctors and therapists that being restrained would prevent them from hurting themselves if they became too violent in their recall.

During abreactive sessions, Amy Smith, Alison Roome and other patients say, they were strapped to a specially equipped bed with brown leather ties that were wrapped around their ankles and wrists. Roome says she once was restrained at nine points, with sheets coiled across her chest, her waist and knees and her head bound in a cervical collar. The sessions lasted from 40 minutes to two hours.

Smith describes life in the dissociative disorders unit as chaotic. One problem was that the abreactive responses didn't end in the planned sessions, according to Smith and former patient Karen N., who spoke with the Press on the condition that her real name not be used. Patients began to "spontaneously abreact" everywhere, reliving supposed traumatic memories at lunch or in a hallway.

The patients fed off one another's memories. To get attention and sympathy and to please their therapists, Smith and Karen N. say they would invent and embellish memories. An hour later, they would be one-upped by another patient. Small talk could center around memories of eating babies.

"Every day was total chaos. There was screaming and crying. We never knew what to expect. Some patients would lose control. We were all supposedly MPD and in satanic cults. You could be talking to someone and suddenly they would switch personalities. I started doing it, too. It all started to seem so normal," Smith says.

Smith recalls a therapist asking her during one group session if she could remember people standing over her and chanting when she was a child. All Smith had ever encountered that was remotely similar were her doctors standing over her during abreactive sessions. But she began to listen to other patients' cult stories and, gradually, she began to have images of being involved in cults and sacrifices, like a waking nightmare.

"A thought became a memory," Smith says. "I lost all sense of reality."
For $50, California-based Calvacade Productions will rent a training videotape for therapists in which Judith Peterson plays a patient and a Chicago psychologist plays the therapist.

In the tape, filmed in 1992, Peterson gives an eerie, excruciating performance of a woman reliving a memory of being raped by her brother and friends. Acting as if she had been placed in a hypnotic state, Peterson-as-patient recalls being tied to a bed and repeatedly assaulted when she was 13. She moans and screams out in pain. She is surrounded by fluffy pillows. She is not tied down with leather straps or sheets.

In September 1992, nurse Sally McDonald was summoned to an abreaction session to assist with an out-of-control child. McDonald says she attempted to stop the session after it appeared to her that one of the therapists on Peterson's team was holding the struggling child around the neck, with the therapist's thumbs around the girl's upper trachea.

Peterson, who was also there, would later argue that McDonald's vantage point only made it appear that way. The treatment team in the room sided with Peterson. McDonald pointed out that the four therapists were not trained in handling "assaultive behavior" by patients and requested that the session either be stopped or that the therapist holding the child be replaced with trained nursing personnel.

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