It’s a seasonally crisp spring in the Kansas City, Missouri of 1998, and Dr. Delany Dean is a psychologist who’s just been offered a great career opportunity; a position as Program Director of the Masters and Johnson Trauma Unit at Two Rivers Psychiatric Hospital. Before beginning her stint and at the behest of the unit’s clinical co-directors, Mark Schwartz, Sc.D and Lori Galperin, LSCW, Dean is sent off to observe another operation of theirs, the Masters and Johnson trauma unit at River Oaks Hospital in New Orleans. The three-day trip, taken with Schwartz himself, is intended as a means of catching her up on what’s to be expected back home. What she sees there instead are things that to this day remain burned into her memory.
As Dean sits in on the group therapy sessions, she is taken aback by the number of emaciated, skeletal women – mostly suffering from eating disorders – alternatively screaming and muttering to themselves as they drift back and forth unsupervised. Tales are recounted of the traumas that led to their dysfunctions, but make no logical sense. Among these are bizarre retellings of gruesome rapes and murders, of devils and cults. Impossible stories encouraged and even sought out by their group therapist, stories that did nothing but feed into their ongoing issues of dependence and anxiety. An ever-spiraling loop of sick people becoming sicker under the uncritical guidance of their supposed healer. It was “like walking into a concentration camp,” Dean recalls nearly fifteen years later.
By the end of her visit, Dean is both mortified and suspicious of Schwartz’s methodology, but upon returning to Missouri, she is assured of complete control over her individual program. Over the next three months, as Dean continues to openly push her unit’s therapeutic methods as far away from what she saw in New Orleans, Schwartz begins to try to pressure her out of the position. Tensions mount, and in August, Schwartz and Galperin hastily arrange a meeting at Two Rivers with Dean and the entire staff. Afterwards Schwartz leans heavily on the CEO of Two Rivers to fire Dean. Soon enough, Dr. Delany Dean turns in her resignation.
What makes Delany’s story all the more interesting isn’t necessarily the descriptions of her strange experience working under Mark Schwartz. It’s that this isn’t the first time such a story has been told. In a 2000 piece for Kansas City paper The Pitch, journalist Deb Hipp – alongside relaying Dean’s experience – investigated the curious case of John Neal, a man who in 1998 decided to sue his therapist, a social worker by the name of Michael Sturm, for personal damages related to the mishandling of their sessions together.
Neal spent the better part of 1996 repeatedly strong-armed by Sturm into confronting the repressed memories of abuse and cult worship that had so devastated his life – memories that were a complete surprise to Neal. As he deteriorated further into anxiety and stress – even checking himself into the nearby psych facility where Sturm practiced for two weeks – it was only after other therapists assured Neal that he, in fact, didn’t have any repressed memories or alternate cult personas that he finally decided to stop seeing Sturm. The two would end up reaching a confidential settlement.
Unsurprisingly, the nearby psych facility Neal visited was the Masters and Johnson Trauma Unit at Two Rivers, and its clinical directors – as would be the case two years later – were Mark Schwartz and his wife Lori Galperin. The same two who now currently operate the Castlewood Treatment Center – a clinic focused on ‘compassionate, professional treatment for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, compulsive over-eating and binge eating disorders.’ – just outside St. Louis, and who, more than a decade since their standoff with Dean, stand accused of implanting false memories of abuse, satanic worship and multiple personalities by at least four of their former patients.
As the decades have rolled along since Flora Schreiber’s 1973 Sybil, the scandalous but immensely popular retelling of a young woman’s struggle with multiple personalities, so too has its luster of legitimacy. As journalist Debbie Nathan painstakingly deconstructed in her 2011 book, Sybil Exposed, the real Sybil, Shirley Mason, was an especially nervous, chronically anemic woman who, while dependent on her therapist for attention and love, never truthfully bought into her own stories of alternative selves. The therapist, Cornelia Wilbur, was a driven, caring and unethical psychiatrist who pumped her patient full of mind-altering drugs and refused to believe a hand-written confession written by her ward that detailed how she had created her personalities midway through their sessions. Mason’s journey with Wilbur would further be altered by Flora’s novel and Stewart Stern’s later TV screenplay. Lies stacked upon coerced half-truths and drugged exaggerations, all setting the standard of sensationalistic symptoms that would come to define Multiple-Personality Disorder (MPD).
From there it would spread through the public imagination and psychology field alike like wildfire; medical journals became devoted to deciphering the mystery of MPD, movie heroes and villains became endowed with split personalities, a group of like-minded experts that came in the wake of Wilbur would start up the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality Disorder (ISSMPD) and the number of MPD cases swelled up in size and extravagance; notable patients were – and still are – documented as having over 100 ‘alters’.
More interesting still were the recovered traumas behind these troubled young women’s (it was nearly always women) splitting of their psyche. Modeling Sybil, the cause of their pain needed to be an experience in their youth too devastating for their undeveloped minds to take on alone. They almost certainly needed to involve depraved acts of rape and torture, and sometimes they involved elaborate conspiracies of cult worshipers who sinisterly targeted young children. All the better to force open a cognitive defense in the guise of an alter which would protect the self by blocking off the memory – only to eventually spring up a life of its own in later years, fighting the body for control.
The journey to a cure laid in uncovering these memories and forcing the self to face them. Difficult as memory retrieval could be, therapists in the spirit of Wilbur would call on proven methods like hypnosis, guided imagery and disorienting but powerful drugs. Akin to cancerous growths in the body, it was the therapist’s job to play the part of mental surgeon, carefully extracting the memories they needed from the cobbled web of their patient’s mind (the fact that months of lucrative insurance money could be extracted for their long-term treatments was only ever an afterthought, of course). Trouble is, the human mind simply doesn’t work that way.
Far from the universal recording device we expect it to be, our memories can be influenced by all sorts of external sources, not least of all the tools which many MPD therapists looked to rely on in their sessions. Methods like hypnosis or guided imagery, while impressive-looking in their results, can easily generate imagined events when used as a means of recollection. Drugs like sodium amytal, the so-called truth serum, could certainly create talkative patients who spoke in half-conscious dazes – just not truthful ones. The real danger, though, came from the suggestive therapists armed with leading questions and an obsessive drive to expose away their clients’ buried memories. A drive based on a flawed understanding of memory and trauma.
Richard McNally, psychologist and Harvard professor, has spent part of his academic and literary career combating many of the pop psychology claims that arose out of the MPD community – including his 2003 book focused on debunking the idea of traumatic amnesia, Remembering Trauma. Contrary to MPD/DID folklore, McNally’s exhaustive research, both original and collected, shows an overwhelming conclusion: we, perhaps all too sadly, cannot spontaneously forget the horrible things we encounter in our day-to-day lives. If anything, those memories are etched more tightly in our minds than anything else, and while details can and will be misplaced, the gist of a traumatic event remains.
The idea of alter personas concealing away emotionally disturbing memories is similarly suspect, with a recent study conducted by McNally himself showing that even among people with self-identified split personalities, the information, and therefore memory, of emotionally relevant words was retained through all personas, despite the assurance by the study subjects that an alter had no such attachment to the word (e.g., a favorite food or sport).
This is nothing to say about the actual phenomenon of dissociation, otherwise known as a detachment from reality. Whether we call it daydreaming or being shocked into a flashback when reminded of a traumatic event in our past, there is a wealth of knowledge and anecdotes documenting the ability of people to lose awareness of their surroundings and delve into an altered state of consciousness – even to the point of terror, as those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can well attest to. But it’s a far, unproven, stretch from that to the subconscious splitting of a personality in times of duress. We suffer and react to suffering in many ways, both mundane and dramatic, but there’s little evidence showing we do so as Sybil did, only that others have a keen interest in pretending we do. A review of the current evidence by researchers from Binghamton University published in this February’s Current Directions in Psychological Science sums it up politely, coming to the conclusion “that a sociocognitive model better accounts for the extant data.” Socicognitive in this instance meaning the subtle manipulation of predisposed clients by therapists eager to believe in the idea of multiplicity.
That there are no credible facts supporting any of the claims made by the MPD community doesn’t take away from the distress experienced by its sufferers. The men and women diagnosed with split personalities aren’t any more deviant attention-seeking liars than Shirley Mason was when she arrived at the offices of Cornelia Wilbur; they’re stressed, depressed or otherwise psychologically fragile people who are given a diagnosis that offers them relief and answers. A diagnosis – unfortunately – no more reliable that the memories used to justify it.
With the science only ever temporarily behind MPD, the window of opportunity for its practitioners steadily began shrinking in the 90′s. In 1994, the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) – the guideline by which mental health professionals determine billable conditions and unofficial Bible of psychology- rechristened MPD as Dissociative Identity Disorder, a sign that the psych community was sheepishly beginning to step away from the idea that whole personalities could be trapped inside just one person’s mind. Money-wise, the days of exclusive MPD/DID clinics became unsustainable as the civil lawsuits by former patients came rushing in one by one. Such as Particia Burgus’s lawsuit against Bennett Braun, the founder of the ISSMPD, in 1993; or Martha Ann Tyo’s suit against Dr. Colin Ross, President of the Colin A. Ross Institute for Psychological Trauma, in 1998; or the confidentially settled suit against Richard Kluft, founder of the journal Dissociation, in 1998. Millions of dollars were paid out to former patients of these luminaries in the study of multiple personalities. Altogether it left those in the camp of MPD/DID on the outskirts of the professional fringe scrambling behind poorly done and poorly interpreted studies. The ISSMPD, dwindling in number and relevance, would eventually relabel themselves the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD)
But while the scientific underpinnings of the MPD field sank into the nearest muddy puddle, its adherents were left relatively untouched, only the most egregious examples facing any sort of financial repercussions, and virtually no professional consequences from the likes of the American Psychology Association, the largest scientific organization of psychologists in the world. Adherents like Mark Schwartz.
What little can be scrounged up about the elusive Johns Hopkins-trained psychologist with a certification in hypnosis and sexology is as exemplary as it is suspicious. From an appointment to the Missouri Governor’s Task Force on Rape to a position as Chairman of the Ethics Committee for the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, Schwartz’s professional career is a long string of successes. He has authored books, served as a expert witness and in the 90′s operated a prolific chain of therapy centers under the trademarked Masters and Johnson moniker – the name licensed from the renowned researchers William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, whom Schwartz trained under. As the 2000′s approached, Schwartz opted to drop the M&J brand, leave behind Two Rivers and open up the Castlewood Treatment Center, and there too he has maintained a golden touch.
A few clicks onto Castlewood’s slickly produced website and you’ll be greeted with testimonials from some of the thousands of clients who have passed through Castlewood’s doors in the last twelve years as well as endorsements from well-regarded professionals. The beautifully described grounds of the facility, actually two distinct centers in one, conjure up the image of a peaceful respite from the issues and traumas surrounding its clients – resident and outpatient alike – and the 25-50 staff members on location at any one time come from diverse backgrounds of nutrition, psychology and even theater. Yet, begin to look a bit deeper at Mark Schwartz and you’ll find the man to be every bit as perplexing as his clients.
Schwartz’s dirty laundry list is as long as it is likely incomplete: A book chapter authored by Schwartz in 1996 endorsing the unsupported side of the ‘delayed memory’ controversy. Dr. Delany Dean’s encounter with Schwartz in 1998. In 1999, expert testimony by Schwartz in a case involving a group of fellow therapists accused of creating false memories. A 2001 interview in which he is quoted as saying, “Memories of the abuse return when they reach their 20s or early 30s – after they get away from their families…The brain decides it’s strong enough to handle it.” A presentation in front of the ISSTD in 2010, where he is listed as a registered member. And now, the four (the latest was filed this November) civil lawsuits being filed against him and Castlewood.
While Brooke Taylor’s complaint (filed in June of this year) does not directly name Schwartz, the affidavits of 41-year-old Lisa Nasseff, and 26-year-old Leslie Thompson, paint the portrait of a man deeply enamored of outdated theories and junk science. They both allege that through the course of their treatments at Castlewood – complete with occasional referrals to River Oaks – Schwartz himself planted memories of sexual abuse at the hands of cult members in their minds, pushing them to accept those traumatic experiences as the root cause of their eating disorders, to accept that they had been so devastated by their trauma as to of buried the memories deep inside their other personalities. Memories that needed to be unlocked through the familiar mainstays of hypnosis sessions and psychotropic drugs. But apparently, once the women began to question Schwartz’s assertions, he turned to more threatening means of persuasion.
When it came to Thompson, who underwent intermittent treatment at Castlewood from 2007 to 2010, Schwartz allegedly warned that, “If you do not open up the doors to your past, your eating disorder will kill you.” With Nasseff, who stayed from 2007 to 2009, he supposedly assured her via phone message a year after she had stopped visiting that she would die from her eating disorder if she didn’t immediately return to Castlewood for additional treatment.
And although Taylor’s petition, relatively tame in that she recounts only being made to believe her abuse was perpetrated by a family member, doesn’t mention Schwartz, that in of itself brings up the possibility of other therapists at Castlewood who similarly espouse his ideas. Taylor visited the Center from May to August of ’10.
The lastest, Colette Travers’ suit is similar to Taylor’s in that there is only the allegation of false memories involving sexual abuse and rape, not some of the more bizarre scenarios including cults and infant sacrifices. Coincidentally, the suits that do bring up that also directly implicate Mark Schwartz as personally inducing those memories. The petition highlights, among other things, that during her stay at Castlewood from February 1st to November 26th of ’10, Travers incurred total expenses of $180,000 and that she attempted suicide the day after she left the facility on the 27th.
In all four cases, the women allege a systemic campaign by Schwartz and Castlewood to separate them both from their families and their wallets. The complaints point out attempts to isolate them from their friends and family by portraying them as being part of the conspiracy to conceal the truth of their horrific past, cult or otherwise. And they don’t shy away from implying Schwartz’s motivations as partly financial, claiming they were specifically targeted for their generous insurance plans or monetary assets that allowed for long stays of intensive and expensive treatment at $1100 dollars a day. But what ultimately ties the four women together is the physical, mental and financial toll they paid for the months of bad therapy inflicted on them by the Castlewood Treatment Center. It’s a toll that Audrey Banks*, mother of a former Castlewood patient, is all too familiar with.
Audrey’s daughter, Kristin*, was at one time a 18-year-old, 5’3″, straight-A student well on the path to the next step of college, but by the time she reached Castlewood’s doorsteps, she had spent the better part of two years fighting off the anorexia that threatened her promising life. Like so many of its patients, Kristin’s journey to Castlewood represented a desperate, if not last, resort – having gone through two treatment programs in other states only to eventually relapse. And also perhaps like so many of its patients, she came to Castlewood with no documented history of sexual abuse.
As Kristin began her treatment sessions in the late fall of ’10, Audrey was hopeful if not a bit worried that Castlewood was right for her daughter. “We were told that they’d accept anyone who needed help, even if their issues weren’t as traumatic, ” Audrey recalls. Yet, even as Audrey hoped for the best, Kristin began to have reservations. The first month brought calls from daughter to mother that detailed strange stories of fellow patients. “By the first few weeks, she would call and tell me, ‘You gotta get me out, Mom. These people are wack! Every single person has been raped or abused. I don’t belong here!’,” Audrey remembers. Still, after being reassured by Kristin’s therapist at the time, Audrey pleaded with her daughter to give Castlewood a chance. It was a decision she would forever regret.
By the second month, Audrey began to notice a change within her daily phone conversations with Kristin. A change that coincided with the larger influence of Mark Schwartz in her daughter’s therapy. “Kristin told me everyone knew that Mark Schwartz rarely got involved with the personal treatment of his patients. You know, he was overseeing the whole place,” Audrey recounts, “but Schwartz apparently took a shine to her, and pretty soon it was Schwartz this, Schwartz that,” she continues.
With each growing month, the daily calls grew less frequent, and visits to Castlewood to see Kristin ended with her spending more time inside a hotel room than with her daughter. But Audrey pressed on, hoping that however unorthodox Castlewood appeared they would give her daughter the relief she needed. That is until an impromptu call from Schwartz in the spring demanded that she and her husband immediately fly to Missouri to meet with him and Kristin. When she asked why, Schwartz refused to answer, only warning that should she not come to Castlewood, he’d be forced to call the proper authorities.
And so Audrey alone flew almost overnight to St. Louis, dreading the worst possibilities, and arriving to find them even worse. Entering the room that held Mark Schwartz seated next to Kristin, Audrey could only sit in shock as the therapist instructed her daughter, “Become Little Kristin. Big Kristin will protect you. Tell your mother what she needs to hear.” Shock that became disbelief as her formerly bright-eyed and fully adult daughter devolved into a small child rocking in her chair before her eyes, whimpering, “It hurts. It hurts.” When Audrey asked her daughter what exactly hurt, Schwartz grew impatient and abruptly ended the conversation, asserting that Kristin was afraid to tell Audrey the truth because she could tell her mother would not believe her. As Audrey protested that she hadn’t even heard what Kristin wanted to tell her, her oldest daughter was escorted out of the room and she left alone with Mark. Schwartz then began to tell Audrey that newly discovered memories of Kristin’s revealed she was abused multiple times by not only her next door neighbor but another family member from the ages 7 to 14 (Audrey later learned that the abuses apparently also involved the use of snakes and insects). He topped it off with the not-so-subtle implication that it was the willful blindness of the family that allowed Kristin’s trauma to go unnoticed up until this point.
It wasn’t long after the now-devastated and confused Audrey made the trip back home – without personally hearing word one from the mouth of her own daughter – that her family faced a slew of investigations from county prosecutors and social workers. While Audrey struggled to accept the possibility that she missed her daughter’s abuse right in front of her, she wasn’t afraid to go back and confront the possibility. “I went back and asked teachers if they saw problems at school. I looked through personal journals, old homework. I talked to old neighbors. But none of it fit. Timelines didn’t make sense. None of it made any sense,” Audrey says.
That the formal investigations also turned up nothing was hardly comforting news to Audrey as Kristin’s return home from the eight months of treatment at Castlewood brought with it the seeds of mistrust and paranoia fostered by Schwartz. The family that stuck by Kristin during years of struggle with her eating disorder now became the family that left her to be abused. “She swore she would never set a foot in our house again,” Audrey tearfully remembers, “Castlewood destroyed my entire family.”
None of this is to say there’s an impending resurgence of MPD/DID cases raring to appear over the horizon. As noted by Nathan, the days of dedicated DID treatment being covered by insurance companies are long since past, and as extravagant and exotic as the stories unknowingly created by DID patients and their therapists are, they’re also the result of long, extensive therapy sessions and hospitalizations built up over many months, veering as close to co-dependency as Wilbur and Shirley Mason’s relationship once did. To put it frankly, brainwashing is no task for those short on time or money. And it clearly isn’t guaranteed to last once the client gets off the couch. It’s likely why the cases in Castlewood all feature women with uniquely structured insurance plans or cash reserves that allowed Schwartz, et. al. to indefinitely treat them for their eating disorders. “Other parents we talked to told us we had some of the best insurance they had ever seen. They covered everything we needed for Kristin,” Audrey recalls.
It isn’t even to say that Castlewood represents a return to the days of the MPD craze in the 80′s. Audrey remembers seeing and hearing nothing but positive feedback from another parent whose daughter was staying in Castlewood II, the adjacent facility of the center, and gratifying as it might be to believe, the testimonials that line the pages of the Castlewood website can’t all ring false. Among the general community, in a survey of psychologists taken as far back as 1999, only 21% believed that DID remained a valid and strongly supported diagnosis. Given the efforts of those like McNally to empirically test the claims made by its supporters in the last decade, that percentage may have only dropped further.
But what Mark Schwartz and possibly some of Castlewood ‘s other specialists do represent is a legacy of pseudoscience that’s long found itself entangled in psychology and psychiatry since the days of Mesmer and hysterical women. There is still a gap between the laboratory and the therapist’s chair, with hundreds of distinct unproven systems, models or therapies for a mental health professional to choose from. Much of that is owed to the complexity that comes with definitively proving that any one method can provide better outcomes of mental health, especially considering how chronic and resistant to change the ailments of the mind can be. “[I]t’s the Wild West — psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are basically taught that it’s OK to pick pretty much any treatment methodology out there and use it in any way they see fit,” laments Dr. Delany Dean, now Florida-residing. It’s a gap that leaves researchers like McNally playing catch-up to bad science, and the public none the wiser.
While it might be hard to believe that in 2012, more than a decade after Deb Hipp caught sight of a psychologist openly endorsing and practicing discredited therapies, Mark Schwartz remains professionally unscathed and uncriticized, it’s that much harder to believe that the newest edition of the DSM, the DSM V, will continue to include a slightly tweaked but not any more empirically supported version of Dissociative Identity Disorder; serving to ensure its place as a enduring myth that unscrupulous or uninformed therapists, social workers or screenplay writers will continue to perpetuate. That it remains legitimatized should serve as a testament to the unwillingness of even the most rational of us to entirely deal with the skeletons in our closets.
Earlier last October, The ISSTD held its 29th annual conference in Long Beach, California and alongside presentations by languished experts Richard Kluft and Colin Ross were the familiar guests of the Castlewood Treatment Center. Meanwhile the four lawsuits filed against Mark Schwartz and Castlewood are set to reach settlement conferences starting last November into this year, all as they’ve forged ahead with plans to expand their services out to the West Coast, opening up the Monarch Cove Treatment Center for Eating Disorders in Pacific Grove, California this past fall. Mark Schwartz is currently listed as Monarch Cove’s Clinical Co-Director.
For his part, Schwartz has refused official comment on any of the four cases, but the Castlewood website now includes several responses to the small media coverage of the lawsuits, blasting them as ‘bizarre and lurid’ attacks on the Center’s reputation.
As for Kristin, a year removed from her experiences at Castlewood, she has managed to take a step inside her parents’ home on more than one occasion, and slowly begun to rebuild the shattered relationship with her family. She has even started to express doubt about the memories she obtained with Mark Schwartz’s help. But sadly, according to Audrey, looking back too far isn’t an option for Kristin; the tragic irony being that for all the chaos and sleepless nights endured by mother and daughter over the past few years, Kristin is – as of this writing – eating healthy, relapse-free and unwilling to return to therapy for fear of drudging up her own repressed demons once again. With the statute of limitations for Kristin to decide whether she would want to join in the ongoing lawsuits against Schwartz running out by this time next year, it’s a bittersweet milestone for Audrey Banks, “It’s just not the same life anymore. I’m grateful for the new Kristin, don’t get me wrong, but I’d do anything to have my old Kristin back.”
*Names have been changed to protect identity
-Cornelia Wilbur was originally identified as a psychologist, she was in fact a psychiatrist.
-Richard McNally’s Remembering Trauma was first published in 2003, not 2007 as originally stated.
Updates: There is officially now a fourth woman and lawsuit in the process of being filed against Castlewood. The details which can be found here.