Mind Control Outrage In Houston Revealed
Excerpt From Book Details Horrendous Events
VICTIMS OF MEMORY
By Mark Pendergrast
(Upper Access, 1996)
Note: Five former employees of a Texas psyhciatric hospital were recently indicted charged them with some of the most astonishing violations of conduct and human rights violations imaginable. Here is an excerpt from Mark Pendergrast's book which details some of the horrors allegedly involved. Among the 5 recently indicted in Houston were Judith Peterson, Ph.D. and Richard Seward, M.D.
From the chapter, "Multiple Personalities and Satanic Cults."
Another alarming example of MPD treatment in Texas was revealed in a recent article by Sally McDonald in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing. Psychiatric nurse McDonald discusses how MPD specialist Judith Peterson, called "Dr. M." in the article, came to Houston's Spring Shadows Glen Hospital in 1990 to head the new dissociative disorders unit. McDonald's article makes startling assertions. Completely supported by new medical director Dr. Richard Seward, and by the hospital administration -- because her patients brought in $15,600 a day -- Peterson instituted a virtual reign of terror on the ward, according to McDonald. Peterson subscribed to Bennett Braun's methodology, hypnotizing patients and convincing them to relive supposedly forgotten traumas. She believed that virtually every patient harbored multiple personalities formed during satanic cult abuse. "One young patient was placed in nine-point mechanical restraints for three days, " McDonald writes, "not because he was a threat to himself or others . . . but because those three days coincided with some satanic event."
Twelve nurses fled the unit within a year and a half, but no one dared confront Dr. Peterson directly until she diagnosed a "bright, articulate, preadolescent" girl, an honors student, as having been involved in a satanic cult. Confined to one room, the girl was denied access to her parents. In weekly staff meetings, nurses begged for a less restrictive environment, asking that the child be given "freedom of movement, peer interaction, fresh air, exercise, and a bed to sleep in," but Peterson refused. The girl became pale, thin, and dispirited. "These nurses knew they were the only advocates this girl had," McDonald writes. "Alone she was unable to object to what her doctor and therapist thought `best' for her."
When insurance companies began to question why it was only Peterson and Seward who ever recorded "altered states" or "violent behavior" on the patients' charts, the nurses were pressured to write up such behavior, McDonald asserts, even though they had never observed it. Nurses were intimidated, constantly written up for non-existent violations. Peterson "threatened lawsuits so frequently that the nurses were afraid to counter her demands; they spoke in whispers in hallways because she taped their conversations." When the nurse manager sat in on "abreactive sessions," she was horrified by the "coercive, leading nature of these therapy sessions."
Mothers who had hypnotic memories of cult involvement were coerced into getting divorced and giving up their children, McDonald writes. "Nurses advised these distraught couples to seek legal counsel, especially before signing divorce papers, but the patients were too fragile to pursue outside opinions, and too frightened of incurring the wrath of their therapist, Dr. M. They believed [as she told them in sessions under hypnosis] that she was the expert, and only she could successfully cure them."
In a 1993 Houston Chronicle article, journalist Mark Smith quoted several former patients who are suing Judith Peterson. Lucy Abney, 45, who sought treatment for depression, spent nearly a year (and over $300,000) at Spring Shadows Glen and came out with more than 100 alters and vivid memories of ritual abuse. Her two daughters are in state custody. As an example of the paranoia rampant on the hospital ward, Abney described how her husband was turned away when he tried to give her a carnation. Patients were warned that items such as flowers could trigger alter personalities.
According to several former patients and nurses, Judith Peterson specialized in convincing mothers that they had abused their children, who were also supposedly cult members. Then the children would also be admitted to the hospital. In an anonymous interview, a former nurse on the dissociative disorders unit told me that five families entered the hospital in this manner. Of those, three mothers ended up divorced and losing all contact with their children.
Kathryn Schwiderski and her three children were all patients of Judith Peterson at another Houston hospital and came to believe that their entire family had taken part in a satanic cult. Their collective therapy and hospitalization cost over $2 million. In a 1990 presentation at a national MPD conference, Peterson described a family suspiciously similar to the Schwiderskis (without using their names), including details about "human sacrifice, cannibalism, black hole, shock to create alters (other personalities), marriage to Satan, buried alive, birth of Satan's child, internal booby traps, forced impregnation, and sacrifice of own child." While most of the family members no longer believe in these "memories," 22-year-old Kelly Schwiderski remains convinced that she killed three babies in a "fetus factory" in Colorado.
I interviewed one of Judith Peterson's former patients, who verified much of what McDonald and Smith wrote. Because she insisted on anonymity out of fear that Peterson will sue her I will call her Angela. During her private sessions with Peterson, Angela found her "charming, even bewitching. She had an air about her of insight and caring. In my first session, she was all ears and supportive emotion. It felt good to have someone who was so attentive to every word that I spoke, every movement that I made." Soon Peterson convinced Angela that she should enter the hospital, where she could see her more often.
Once admitted, Angela says she couldn't get out. Peterson became "a monster -- harsh, hostile, interrogating, guilt-imputing, accusatory," according to Angela. The therapist and her staff tried to convince Angela that she harbored multiple personalities and had been in a satanic cult. She was heavily drugged. "Dr. Peterson told me my anger came from a cult alter trying to come out, and that physical problems I was having were body memories." Peterson's patients weren't allowed to use the telephone unmonitored, Angela told me. Their mail was censored. Only approved visitors were allowed, and those few were closely watched. "If we weren't cooperative revealing new alters, talking about Satanism or were resistant to what we were told about ourselves or our families, we weren't considered `safe' and often were restricted to the central lobby."
Angela likens the treatment to attempts to break prisoners of war. "They had a board with all the patients' names," she told me, "and every one had an `1S' after it for suicide precaution -- not because we were really going to kill ourselves, but because that kept our insurance payments flowing." Finally, Angela escaped when her insurance ran out. "At first, Dr. Peterson was like my angel from heaven, but instead she took me to hell, and I've been struggling to get out ever since."
Another former patient, Mary Shanley (her real name), echoes much of Angela's experience. As a 39-year-old first grade teacher, she entered an inpatient unit under Bennett Braun's supervision in the Chicago area early in 1990. She disliked Braun intensely. "He thinks he's God," she told me, "and you'd better think so, too." But Shanley admired Roberta Sachs, her psychologist. Under Sachs's tutelage, Shanley came to believe that her mother had been the high priestess in a satanic cult, and that she, Mary, was being groomed for the position. "I remembered going to rituals and witnessing sacrifices. I had a baby at age 13, supposedly, and that child was sacrificed. I totally believed all of this. I would have spontaneous abreactions, partly because I was so heavily medicated. I was on Inderal, Xanax, Prozac, Klonopin, Halcion, and several other drugs, all at once. No wonder I was dissociating."
After eleven months, Shanley finally got out of the hospital for three months. Then Roberta Sachs called her and asked if she would consult with psychologist Corydon Hammond, who was coming to town to give a workshop. After a hypnotic session during which Hammond tried to get Shanley to name Greek letters and identify a Dr. Green, he announced that she was so highly programmed and resistant that she was not treatable. Her nine-year-old son, however, might still be saved if he was treated in time. Otherwise, the cult would kill him. Shanley's husband believed Hammond, and a week or two later Mary Shanley was taken to the airport, not knowing her destination.
She arrived in Houston in May of 1991 to enter Spring Shadows Glen under the care of Judith Peterson. "When I first met Dr. Peterson, I thought she had this beautiful smile, and she spoke so softly and gently. She's tall and thin, sort of like a china doll, with a porcelain complexion and bright red hair. She's very striking." Once inside the hospital, however, Shanley found Peterson to be precisely the opposite of her first impression. "She was known on the ward as the red-headed bitch," Shanley told me. "She did not like me at all and made no bones about it." After Shanley called a mental health advocacy hotline to complain, she found herself accompanied "one-on- one" for 24 hours a day by a technician. "I was locked out of my room and kept in the central lobby. I wasn't allowed to use the telephone or to go outside. That's when I took up smoking, so that I could at least go outside briefly. I slept on the floor or on a couch. After I hurt my back in abreactive sessions, they let me drag my mattress out."
Part of Shanley's problem was her honesty. Even though she believed that she had been in a cult and possessed internal alters, she would not make them up on cue to please Dr. Peterson. When she would not perform properly during an abreactive session, she would be kept in restraints for up to nine hours until she said what Peterson wanted to hear. "A lot of the times, the tech and I would discuss what answer she might want." Sometimes, the psychodramatist and another psychiatrist would sit on either side of Shanley during sessions. "If Dr. Peterson asked a question and I couldn't answer, they would talk back and forth, representing my alters, literally talking over my head."
Most of Peterson's efforts concentrated on eliciting information regarding Shanley's son, who was going though a similar abreactive process back in Chicago with Roberta Sachs. Peterson would fax new information to her colleague in Illinois. "It would work the other way, too," Shanley says. "Dr. Peterson told me how my son acted out how he could cut a human heart out of a living body. I thought, there's no way he could imagine that. And I thought, he doesn't lie, I know he's not a liar. So I believed it all."
After over two years in Spring Shadows Glen, Mary Shanley finally got out in 1993. She has lost her husband and child, who still believe in the satanic cults. She has lost her home and her 20-year teaching career. "I have absolutely nothing. I don't even have enough clothes to wear to my work in a department store." She can't teach or hold a federal job because she is on a list of suspected child molesters.
There is hope, however. In 1995, Shanley's horror story was featured in a Frontline documentary, "The Search for Satan," making it painfully clear that she was a victim of terrible therapy. Two lawyers Zachary Bravos of Wheaton, Illinois, and Skip Simpson of Dallas, Texas are representing Shanley and several other patients in suits against Judith Peterson, Roberta Sachs, Bennett Braun, and others. Because of their willingness to take her case, Shanley feels some hope for the future.
By the end of 1992, nurse Sally McDonald had been shifted from the adolescent unit to another department in the hospital because she kept calling Peterson unethical, and the head nurse of the dissociative disorders unit had also been forced out of her position for "insubordination." Morale on the dissociative disorders unit had sunk to an all-time low, according to McDonald. Although nurses repeatedly protested to hospital administrators, nothing happened. Then, in the last week of February, 1993, Medicare officials arrived for a routine hospital inspection. Within hours, they brought in Texas health authorities, and on March 19, the dissociative unit was closed. Two patients walked outside for the first time in two years. Since then, former patients have begun to talk to the media about their experiences, and at least seven are suing. Judith Peterson no longer works at Spring Shadows Glen, but she has sued the hospital, McDonald, and another nurse for slander and libel, and she plans countersuits against several patients. She continues to practice as a private therapist. Richard Seward now works with prisoners, but he remains on call at the hospital.
The charismatic Dr. Peterson has her champions, however. I interviewed 23-year-old Christy Steck, an MPD patient who has been seeing Peterson for four years, and who spent most of 1992 in the dissociative disorders unit at Spring Shadows Glen. Steck has always had stomach problems and other vague physical complaints, which she now blames on her biological mother, since recovering memories of her mother and grandfather abusing her in a satanic cult. Her first flashback to ritual abuse occurred while she was watching the horror movie, Friday the Thirteenth. With her therapist's help, Steck has been able to identify alters named Tyrant, Tricia, Angela, Whore, and Fucking Bitch. The last two are "real deep parts that answer to whistles, clickers, and metronomes," Steck told me. They are the ones programmed to be sex slaves in pornography and prostitution. She has spots on her body that look like "just birthmarks," she said, but in reality they are tattoos and scars from electroshock torture.
"Dr. Peterson is so sincere and genuine, also strong-willed and dedicated," Steck told me. "When she first met me, she shook my hand and looked into my eyes. I saw the most caring, genuine person I've ever met. She kept holding my hand and said she'd always be there for me, no matter what I said." Peterson confirmed that Steck was not only an MPD, but a special kind. While in the dissociative disorders unit, Steck voluntarily entered restraints during abreactive sessions. "I have violent seizures from remembering electroshock, and I have violent alters programmed to kill whoever is hearing this. That's why they put me in restraints. Otherwise, I would try to hurt myself or Dr. Peterson."
Steck calls Peterson her "savior" and insists that she has "always given me the freedom to choose my own path." The therapist often asks her, "Okay, do you want to go back to the cult, or do you want to work? If you're not going to talk, why should I bother to work with you?" Steck calls Peterson "tough but caring," and says that the therapist has never really pressured her. "She gives people a choice of what to believe. She never says, `believe that's what happened.' She says, `It's up to you to figure out what happened.'"
When Steck's insurance had almost run out, Bennett Braun flew in from Rush Presbyterian in Chicago to evaluate her. Braun's 500-page report, which discussed her abuse and suicide attempts in detail, allowed the doctors to declare Steck a "catastrophic case," so that a special rider on her insurance kicked in to continue to pay for treatment. Later, Richard Loewenstein came from Sheppard Pratt to confirm the diagnosis.
Now, Christy Steck sees Judith Peterson two or three times a week. "I'm doing better than I ever have in my whole life," she told me. "But I can't be left alone yet. I can't really work, but I clean a couple of houses for people I know well. They stay there while I work. It's just a matter of working through this programming to where I'm not accessible to the cult. The more I see that I've been programmed and brainwashed, the more I can work with it. If I don't see it, I won't get well." She predicts that she will need another four years of "intensive therapy,"after which she will probably need a weekly check-up. "I hope some day I'll be integrated."
Finally, I interviewed Judith Peterson, and I came to understand how all three of her patients are probably telling the truth. Peterson denies McDonald's accusations. "The lady spelled her own name correctly; almost everything else in that article is a lie," she told me. She denies that any phone calls were monitored, that patients were held against their will, that they were kept until their insurance ran out. She points out that McDonald never worked on the dissociative disorders unit, but only on the adolescent unit.
As for the preadolescent girl who concerned McDonald so much, Peterson asserts that she was a "very acute" case of MPD who tried to crash through a plate glass door in order to escape, and who repeatedly attacked Peterson, once with the broken shards of a compact mirror. "Not infrequently, I've been knocked across the room by violent alters," she told me. Yes, some patients had to be restricted to the central lobby near the nursing station, so they could be watched, but that was only to keep them from hurting themselves or others.
Peterson says that she no longer uses the term "abreactive sessions," preferring to speak of "memory processing." Before each session, she asks patients to write down their new memories, which may have come through flashbacks, journaling, artwork, dreams, or body memories. Then, after placing them in a "light hypnotic state," she encourages them to go through each memory to "deal with the feelings and perform cognitive restructuring." These sessions clearly get quite intense, with patients purportedly reliving torture and electric shock treatment. "They have pseudo-grand mal seizures," Peterson told me.
She is no longer so sure that her patients were actually involved in satanic ritual abuse cults. Rather, the ritual abuse may have been used "as a screen and creator of terror. Underneath it, in terms of complex alter layers, is organized crime." In other words, she believes that criminal gangs intentionally terrified her patients, often making them mistakenly belie ve that murders had taken place. "They have ways of tricking people; they're given drugs, and they're terrified and confused." The crime groups do this in order to produce "synthetic alters" who will act in pornographic films or become prostitutes. Other patients, she thinks, were thus treated by the Ku Klux Klan.
Of course, Peterson cannot tell for sure whether these memories are accurate. "My patients tell me very bizarre stories." She simply listens. "I'm a guide, asking `What happened next?' I don't lead them." Yes, she has heard stories of murdered babies. "It doesn't particularly matter if it's true or not. I wasn't there. The dilemma of true or not true is up to them." Of one thing she is certain, though: "These people don't make up the terror; that's pretty hard to do. They also don't make up the electric shocks. They have body memories of them." That accounts for the pseudo-seizures.
Judith Peterson, now 48, seems genuinely outraged that her integrity has been impugned. She has always considered herself an altruistic, idealistic person trying to help the world. She began her career working with migrant workers and Head Start children and parents. She considered going into the Peace Corps. She has only tried to help those who come to her "depressed, anxious, overwhelmed." In her workshops, she says, she even warns against the dangers of telling patients during an initial session that they must have been sexually abused. "Yet here I am so viciously attacked," she laments. She explains her former patients' dissatisfaction by referring to their mental condition."Basically, these patients are sociopathic. They have their own reasons for targeting me," she says darkly.
Peterson sent me a revealing article she recently published in Treat ing Abuse Today, in which she compares her plight with that of her abused patients, coping with "existential crises at a depth I never thought imaginable." She complains, "Those I tried to help sadistically turned on the very person who reached out to help." This article eloquently expresses Peterson's experiences and beliefs:
"I've spent timeless moments, hours, days and years listening to those with souls that were shattered. I moved from being a therapist who thought incest was the worst thing imaginable, to hearing of abuses so unimaginable that I walked out of therapy sessions stunned .. . . . Sometimes I would just cry over the range and extent of human cruelty. There are no words to express what I have felt as I have heard people describe everything from having a broom handle stuffed up their anus to having their teeth electrically shocked. I have listened to a mother describe how she tied her small child to the bars of a crib before putting something in every orifice of the body a rag already in the mouth to prevent screaming. I've listened to descriptions of electroshock on a baby and the baby's seizures."
Despite Peterson's willingness to share the pain of mothers' "horror of damaging those they love," however, some of these same mothers have now turned on her. "The shame and guilt were then transferred to me, the therapist. Kill the messenger. Lie. This client relived the trauma by victimizing me. Suddenly, the therapist is the victim."
Peterson is stung by allegations that she separates families and encourages Child Protective Services (CPS) to take her patients' children away. "I've found something new in our field," she told me. "There's a high degree of mothers who have perpetrated their children." When she discovers this during therapy sessions, she is mandated by law to inform social services. "It's almost impossible to persuade CPS to let children stay with their families under such circumstances. The CPS people are, unfortunately, mostly incompetent and overworked."
I came away from my interview with Judith Peterson thinking that she was intelligent, assertive and quite possibly insane. She does not think that she is leading her patients. She completely believes that they are inhabited by violent, dangerous internal personalities, that they are a danger to themselves and their families, and that she is striving to heal the wounds of terrible past trauma. She cannot admit the possibility that the terror they are experiencing might be an artifact of her therapy rather than symptoms of past abuse.
The stories about Judith Peterson told in these pages only skim the surface. As more of her clients begin to speak publicly, the incredible paranoia she inspired and the destruction of families becomes clearer. In 1995, Houston journalist Bonnie Gangelhoff wrote a devastating article on Peterson called "Devilish Diagnosis." One former Peterson client told Gangelhoff, "Every day was total chaos .. . . . You could be talking to someone and suddenly they would switch personalities. I started doing it, too. It all started to seem so normal." The husband of a former client revealed that Peterson told him that "people could control my wife by transmitting sequences of phone tones to her over the telephone." Peterson herself wrote to the Texas licensing board, complaining that "an alter was programmed to knife me in my office."
[There are footnotes and endnotes to be found in the book.]