Letters

Devilish Dialogue
Our daughter did not go to Spring Shadows Glen and have the "benefit" of the Ph.D. training of Judith Peterson to get the "Devilish Diagnosis" described by Bonnie Gangelhoff [July 6]. Unfortunately, the same results came from treatment by all-too-common repressed memory therapists. The therapy involved helping the "inner child" remember through hypnotic techniques. The therapists encouraged our daughter to read self-help books containing "checklists" for symptoms of people who have suffered sexual abuse. The checklists are so general that almost anyone would be included. The books establish a whole new vocabulary that includes words and phrases like denial, inner child, body memories, flashbacks, boundary violations and distancing. Distancing is usually applied to the "family of origin" and cutting off all contact with them. Once the patient has accepted the diagnosis by the therapist that the symptoms fit the profile of one who has been sexually ab

sed -- the next step is to try to recover the repressed memories of the abuse.
The "cult-like" support groups generally run by therapists involve "survivors" who have been indoctrinated by their therapy. Seasoned members of the support group encourage new members to recover their memories of childhood sexual abuse. The groups encourage stories of satanic ritual abuse, and in the emotionally charged atmosphere of the survivor support group, a tale of satanic ritual abuse by one member in one meeting will be the memory of another member at the next meeting.

We know all this because we have met several who have recovered from this toxic therapy. We know from other families that we have met that have stories similar to ours. But most important, we know from the material that our daughter left behind in her apartment when she disappeared, abandoning her possessions, including her car. She had come to believe that her parents had abused her throughout most of her life and they were involved in satanic cults. Her recovered memories included memories of a never existing brother and sister being murdered in rituals. We have never been able to talk to her and explain and show her evidence that her memories cannot be true.

It's been three and one-half years since our daughter cut off all contact with our family. There is not a day that goes by that we don't think of her and hope that she will call. A number of good therapists are now becoming involved in mediation to reunite families that have been torn apart by repressed memory therapy. Our hope is that we can start to reunite with our daughter through the mediation process.

In high school our daughter was active in Amnesty International, which says a lot about her concern for the civil rights of people throughout the world. Her civil rights have been violated by repressed memory therapy. Our "before therapy" daughter would be proud of us. It will be her decision to make, but I would not be surprised that someday she may join in the fight.

Name withheld
Katy

Thanks for Bonnie Gangelhoff's intelligent article, "Devilish Diagnosis" concerning Dr. Judith Peterson and cult abuse. I was once hospitalized on a locked ward specializing in sexual abuse and the consequent post-traumatic stress with patients of Peterson. Although she wasn't my doctor, she assisted me in the retrieval of a repressed memory. No, I wasn't drugged or hypnotized or restrained (although that was taking place on the ward) and she made no leading suggestions. Just muttered, "You are blessed, you are blessed," until I wondered if she didn't need treatment herself.

It's a shame that scandals like this have made it difficult for wounded people to get good treatment, but the more information we have, the better. It's important to clarify the issues. It's obvious from police and hospital reports that children are being sexually abused. The issue is complicated by the isolation and shame that result from such experiences, leading some patients to recant at whatever cost in order to rejoin their families.

Those who doubt the possibility of repressing memories might consider reading Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman, who examines sexual abuse victims in conjunction with traumatized Vietnam war veterans. Post-traumatic stress is a little like racial prejudice -- if you haven't seen it, you might even think it doesn't exist.

Elizabeth McBride
Houston

Bonnie Gangelhoff's story on Judith Peterson was a true community service. Accolades to her for researching it and to her editors for supporting her in the work. She validates the psychiatric reforms passed in recent years by the Texas Legislature. As lengthy and varied testimony there revealed: you just can't trust these guys in the counseling session, and you certainly can't trust their professional organizations to police their members.

I am personally aware of three more such cases in the Houston area. Insurance fraud. Falsified records. Fraudulent billing. Death. Sexual improprieties. In every case, the psychiatrist/psychologist/hospital lost in court or was reprimanded by Medicare investigators, malpractice insurance paid the patient and more. However, in every case, the "doctor" is still in business -- or will be after a brief suspension by the governing authority of their peers. The real culprits are these peers; they know this is happening before the patients, press and public do -- and do nothing. Where the crime requires a trip to the woodshed, peer ethics delivers a slap on the hand. It seems only through the Press will the public be protected.

Thomas A. Wright
Houston

In the July 6 issue of the Houston Press, Bonnie Gangelhoff's article on psychotherapy gone astray, "Devilish Diagnosis," draws parallel to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's recent novel Of Love and Other Demons. The antagonist in Gangelhoff's article, Dr. Peterson, a therapist by training, seems determined to reveal traces of abuse and other impurities in her patients. Of course, she could detect no overt signs of abuse, yet she is determined to confirm her suspicions. It seems Peterson is trying to keep a step ahead of her patients so that any imprecise, incomprehensible and unreliable therapy becomes time-consuming and costly for the patient. On the whole, patients like Alison Roome become targets for this artifice and thus the tragic figure.

Similarly, in Of Love and Other Demons, it is the Church that is obsessed with the phenomenon of demon sleuthing in order to validate its absolute existence against the demon itself. In those times, exorcism was the nemesis of demonic possession, but it was no antidote and no defense against the vulnerability of its patient. In Marquez's book, the tragic figure is a beautiful 12-year-old girl whose true demon is not within her, but in the society that makes her go through this painstaking task of exorcism. Even though both accounts of extradition are epochs apart, there is something to be said about the complex nature of human beings and the evaluation of its symptoms.

Samina Hadi-Tabassum
Houston

Bonnie Gangelhoff is to be applauded for her thorough research and beautifully written account of people who have been traumatized and victimized by therapists who specialize in satanic ritual abuse.

One important point that Gangelhoff did not adequately cover is that Satanism is, in fact, a real phenomenon. Surveys of existing evidence have shown that there are two forms of contemporary Satanism: 1) Open, organized groups such as the Temple of Set and Church of Satan. Although their beliefs are repulsive to many, these groups are not involved in organized cultic crime and they pose no threat to the public; and 2) Small, transitory groups of self-proclaimed Satanists, usually composed of teenagers and young adults, who are often involved in crimes such as drug trafficking, murder and rape. Although these groups can be dangerous, the causal link between satanic worship and the crimes they commit is a tenuous one. These existing forms of Satanism are a far cry from the underground satanic ritual abuse conspiracy that some therapists continue to believe is real, despite evidence to the contrary.

It is all too easy to dismiss the current satanic ritual abuse phenomenon as stemming from the unfounded beliefs of a small group of therapists who "brainwash" their suggestible clients into similar delusions, as portrayed in Gangelhoff's article. In reality, it is more complex and must be viewed as part of a larger historical, economic, political and cultural environment in which pop psychology has become embedded in professional practice and victimization is worn as a badge of courage and rewarded by the media, self-help groups and mental health professionals alike. The media, replete with its tabloid talk shows and lack of critical evaluation of sensational claims, play a central role in the dissemination of myths about cults, satanic cults and ritual abuse. Kudos to the Houston Press for continued topnotch investigative journalism and to Gangelhoff for the courage to investigate and expose the damaging effects of satanic ritual abuse ideology masquerading as therapy.

Susan P. Robbins, DSW
Houston

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