Hypnosis for Eating Disorder Led to False Memories About Satanic Cult Abuse, Suit Says

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A woman claims a psychologist at an eating-disorder clinic hypnotized her while she was on psychotropic drugs, inducing false memories of being raped and belonging to a satanic cult.

Courthouse News Service writes

She claims he did this recklessly, “based partly on her ability to pay for long-term continuous inpatient services,” and told her that that if she sued, “her perpetration of various criminal and horrific acts of abuse would be revealed”.

Lisa Nasseff sued the Castlewood Treatment Center and Mark Schwartz, Sc.D., (Doctor of Science) in St. Louis County Court. She seeks repayment of $650,000 in medical expenses, much of it unnecessary, which she says she laid out during more than a year of inpatient treatment.

Nasseff claims her false memories were a result of Schwartz’s use of hypnotic therapy while she was under the influence of psychotropic drugs. She claims the false memories caused her to believe she was the victim of sexual abuse, rape and satanic ritual abuse; caused her to believe she was a member of a satanic cult that had committed crimes; and that she had 20 different personalities.

“We’re not talking about memories from when she was a little kid,” Nasseff’s attorney Kenneth Vuylsteke told Courthouse News. “We’re talking about a 28-year-old woman who believed that a couple of years ago that she participated in satanic abuse and sacrificed babies. … These aren’t memories that happened to little kids. These are memories that supposedly happened two or three years ago that this woman was brainwashed to believe.”


Vuylsteke said a series of similar cases occurred in the 1990s. He said the issue became so prominent that it caused the psychological community to re-evaluate the standard of care, including that of hypnosis therapy.

“Clearly, the mainstream psychological community says this isn’t the standard of care because of the history of this happening,” Vuylsteke said.

Vuylsteke said Schwartz targeted women from states that require insurance companies to cover long-term treatment for eating disorders; those states include Nasseff’s home state of Minnesota.

Nasseff alleges medical malpractice and intentional infliction of distress. She claims that Schwartz played upon her mental instability to continue the treatment. […]

Nasseff claims she incurred more than $650,000 in unneeded medical bills due to the false memories. She seeks punitive damages.

Vuylsteke said he believes Nasseff is not the only victim and that more lawsuits will follow.

Blogging for the Riverfront Times, John H. Tucker says

We left a message for Nasseff’s lawyer, Kenneth Vulsteke, who was quoted in a recent article in Missouri Lawyers Media, accusing Schwartz of intentionally stirring up false memories in Nasseff because he knew she’d keep paying for his services.

“You’re creating a confused mind, a vulnerable mind, and then either accidentally or, as we allege, perhaps on purpose people are led to believe these horrible things happened,” Vuylsteke said. For example, “you may have participated in the sacrifice of a baby to Satan, then you were brainwashed to forget it by the cult, and you can’t believe you’ve done such a thing so you repress it somehow.”

Although the complaint does not mention baby sacrificing, Vuylsteke told a reporter for Courthouse News Service that sacrificing babies was a part of Nasseff’s false memories.

On Wednesday ABC News wrote

other women receiving treatment at the facility began to realize their stories were very similar to one another’s, Vuylsteke said.

“She got together with other women who had been through this with her at Castlewood. And they said, ‘How can we all have been members of cults and not know it — two years ago, three years ago? We all got brainwashed? It can’t be right.”

Now “multiple individuals” are speaking out about Castlewood, and backing Nasseff’s account of what took place there, Vuylsteke added. […]

chwartz, the therapist who treated Nasseff at Castlewood and still serves as the facility’s clinical co-director, denied ever hypnotizing Nasseff.

“We don’t use hypnosis,” said Schwartz, who told ABCNews.com he has not yet retained a lawyer. “It’s usually exposure therapy where the person is exposed to the memories of their trauma in various ways in order to move beyond it … A person is avoiding the memories and the feelings [associated with those memories] so you have them begin to talk about it in a safe way, that’s not re-victimizing.”

He also said he had never discussed satanic cults with Nasseff, and she had never told him she committed any criminal acts.

“I don’t know anything about all that,” he said.

He did confirm she had been given anti-depressants and that they had discussed “sexual trauma,” but “the details I don’t even remember.”

“She reported abuse history, we dealt with it, she got a lot better, and now she’s suing us,” he said. […]

On the Castlewood website, it states the treatment center’s staff specializes in several areas, including hypnosis. […

Nasseff’s lawyer, Vuylsteke, admitted he was skeptical when he first heard about Nasseff’s case.

But then he met her in person.

“Lisa … is a highly intelligent individual,” he said. “When I spoke with her I understood then what happened and what she had to work through to come to the realization that all of this was implanted.”

He was further convinced after speaking with Bill Smoler, a prominent attorney from Madison, Wis., who is well-regarded among false memory experts. In January Smoler won a $1 million verdict for the parents of a girl who accused them of abuse after receiving inpatient therapy, and will be joining Nasseff’s case as co-counsel, Vuylsteke said.

There’s no credible scientific evidence that the human brain can store “repressed memories,” according to University of California at Irvine professor Elizabeth Loftus, one of the country’s foremost experts on false memory.

But psychologists have demonstrated it’s possible to implant memories.

“In my research we plant false memories in the minds of people in order to study the process,” she said. “There have been hundreds of cases … where people have gone into therapy and were led to believe they were molested.”

It’s a problem that emerged in the ’80s and ’90s, according to the False Memory Foundation, an organization founded in 1992 after a spate of cases where adults claimed to have uncovered “repressed memories” of childhood sexual abuse during therapy sessions. The revelations, however, weren’t true.

“They were just exploding at that time,” said False Memory Foundation co-founder Pamela Freyd, adding that the cases often involved inpatients participating in both hypnosis and support groups while on medication.

Chris Barden, a psychologist and attorney based in Minnesota was at the helm of many of those cases.

“During the 1990s I conducted more lawsuits against ‘recovered memory’ therapists than, I believe, any other lawyer in the world … for a total near 300 in over 30 states,” he told ABCNews.com. “I won all but one of them.”

The False Memory Foundation website states false memories “can result from the influence of external factors, such as the opinion of an authority figure or information repeated in the culture. An individual with an internal desire to please, to get better or to conform can easily be affected by such influences.” […]

Exposure therapy can yield positive results in the right setting. But if someone has not actually been exposed to the traumatic event they’re asked to re-imagine, exposure therapy can have a much different effect, Loftus said.

“If you take a group of women who have been raped and have them contemplate their legitimate rape experience then pretty soon many of them will be able to think about it without feeling as much emotion and pain,” said Loftus. “But if you’re exposing somebody to something that didn’t happen then something completely different is going on.”

Research resources on False Memory Syndrome
Research resources on Satanic Ritual Abuse

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014