Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mark Schwartz, Clinical Co-Director of Castlewood Treatment Center, Accused of Implanting False Memories of Satanic Abuse

I was sad to hear about this story - Mark Schwartz is not to be confused with Richard Schwartz (I mistakenly thought they were brothers), founder of the Internal Family System Therapy model of parts work. Mark is clinical co-director at Castlewood Treatment Center, where Richard Schwartz also works on occasion.

Mark has been accused of implanting false memories of satanic abuse in a former patient with the intent of collecting more money from insurance. If these allegations are true, it's a sad commentary on putting money above the well-being of the clients.

As many commentators on this story have suggested, the eating-disordered clients seen at Castlewood are particularly vulnerable to manipulation through hypnosis - getting them into a hypnotic state is easier due to the ease with which they already dissociate.

It's also important to know that only Schwartz is being accused here, although Castlewood is of course named in the lawsuit. Richard Schwartz and the IFS model are not implicated in the allegations.

Here is a version of the story from MSNBC (via the AP) - it has received a lot of attention, including several UK papers.

Woman: Psychologist implanted horrific memories

updated 12/2/2011 7:54:41 PM ET

The memories that came flooding back were so horrific that Lisa Nasseff says she tried to kill herself: She had been raped several times, had multiple personalities and took part in satanic rituals involving unthinkable acts. She says she only got better when she realized they weren't real.

Nasseff, 31, is suing a suburban St. Louis treatment center where she spent 15 months being treated for anorexia, claiming one of its psychologists implanted the false memories during hypnosis sessions in order to keep her there long-term and run up a bill that eventually reached $650,000. The claims seem unbelievable, but her lawyer, Kenneth Vuylsteke, says other patients have come forward to say they, too, were brainwashed and are considering suing.

"This is an incredible nightmare," Vuylsteke said.

Castlewood Treatment Center's director, Nancy Albus, and the psychologist, Mark Schwartz, deny the allegations. Albus pledged to vigorously fight the lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 21 in St. Louis County and seeks the repayment of medical expenses and punitive damages. As in repressed memory cases, which typically involve allegations of abuse that occurred during childhood, the outcome will likely hinge on the testimony of experts with starkly different views on how memory works.

Nasseff, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., stayed at Castlewood from July 2007 through March 2008 and returned for seven months in 2009. She was struggling with anorexia and as a resident of Minnesota, which requires insurers to cover long-term eating disorders, she could afford to stay at the center, which sits on a high bluff in the suburb of Ballwin overlooking a park and meandering river. Most states, including Missouri, don't require such coverage.

In her lawsuit, Nasseff claims Schwartz used hypnotic therapy on her while she was being treated with psychotropic drugs, and her lawyer says Schwartz gave her books about satanic worship to further reinforce the false memories. She says she was led to believe she was involved in a satanic cult whose rituals included eating babies, that she had been sexually abused and raped multiple times, and that she had exhibited 20 different personalities.

Vuylsteke said the trauma was too much to bear, and that Nasseff tried to get hold of drugs to kill herself during her stay.

"Can you imagine how you would feel if you thought you had participated in all these horrible things?" Vuylsteke asked.

Eventually, Nasseff learned from other women treated at Castlewood that they, too, had been convinced through therapy that they were involved in satanic cults, Vuylsteke said. And, he said, those women were also from Minnesota, allowing insurance to pay for their treatment.

"It seems like quite a coincidence that all of this cult activity was in Minnesota," he said.

Nasseff returned to Minnesota, where she works part-time in public relations and has her eating disorder in check, her lawyer said.

In her lawsuit, she claims Schwartz warned her in October 2010 to return to Missouri for additional treatment or she would die from her disorder. She says he left a phone message this October warning that if she sued, all of her memories of satanic rituals and abuse would be revealed.

Schwartz, reached by phone at the center, where he is its clinical co-director, denied any wrongdoing but declined to discuss the case further because he hadn't hired a lawyer yet. He previously told ABCNews.com that he never hypnotized Nasseff, that they had never discussed satanic cults and that she never told him she had committed criminal acts.

Albus didn't respond to requests for comment, but she told Courthouse News Service that Castlewood "strongly believes that all of these claims are without merit and we intend to defend these claims vigorously."

Some experts, including University of California, Irvine, professor Elizabeth Loftus, question the validity of repressed memory cases, which became more commonplace in the 1990s.

"Where is the proof you can be raped in satanic rituals and have absolutely no awareness of it, then reliably recover those memories later?" she asked.

However, neither Loftus nor Jim Hopper, a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, would speculate about whether Schwartz may have implanted false memories. Both agreed people can have memories of events that didn't really happen and that the power of suggestion can play a role in producing false memories.

Loftus cited several medical malpractice cases won over memories that proved to be false. Hopper said he believes memory is complex.

"Something that happened years ago can be encoded in the brain in various ways, and various combinations of those memory representations may be retrieved, or not, in various ways, for various reasons, at any particular time," he said.
Since this story originally aired, other women have come forward to support the original claims or add new ones to the situation now facing Schwartz and Castlewood.

From St. Louis Today:

Other women come forward in Castlewood center complaint

In the lush hills overlooking Castlewood State Park, a secluded clinic attracts people from across the country who have tried and failed to overcome an eating disorder.

Pictures of Castlewood Treatment Center in west St. Louis County show a homelike sanctuary where residents practice yoga, sit around a fireplace and sleep under down comforters.

That idyllic image was shattered last month when a Minnesota woman filed suit against Castlewood and its director, psychologist Mark Schwartz, alleging she was brainwashed into believing she had multiple personalities and was implanted with false memories of sexual abuse and satanic cult activity while under hypnosis during her 15-month stay at the center for anorexia. Other women have since come forward to support the woman's claims and to report similar experiences.

"They definitely pushed the idea that I had been abused as a child on me," said Dara Vanek, 28, of Philadelphia, who stayed at Castlewood for several months in 2007 and 2008. "To all of a sudden have this huge amount of doubt about what happened in my childhood was incredibly damaging and shaming for me."

In her malpractice lawsuit against Castlewood, Lisa Nasseff, 31, also alleges that Schwartz wanted to keep her at the treatment center because she had insurance that would pay her medical bills that totaled $650,000.

The lawsuit against Castlewood came as a relief, Vanek and other women say.

"I feel like it validates that I'm not crazy, that it's something else that was going on," she said. "Satanic ritual abuse was talked about a lot in group therapy. It's kind of ironic (because) Castlewood itself almost seemed at times like a cult. It was implied that you could not recover unless you dedicated your life to Castlewood."

Castlewood is a last resort for patients looking for healing after spending years of their lives in other medical facilities, according to a statement from executive director Nancy Albus.

Its treatment "is marked by compassion, respect and empowerment," according to Albus.

Albus said more than 1,000 clients have been treated at Castlewood since it opened more than 10 years ago. A second, castlelike facility opened recently nearby, and the two homes are licensed for 26 residents as well as outpatient services.

The sprawling Castlewood campus includes a swimming pool, hot tub, dance studio, art room and gym, according to state records. Residential stays cost $1,100 a day over an average of two to four months, and are sometimes covered by insurance, according to Castlewood's website. The facility doesn't accept Medicare or Medicaid patients, so it doesn't receive any government funding.

The private equity firm Trinity Hunt Partners of Dallas, funded by the Hunt family that owns the Kansas City Chiefs, bought majority control of Castlewood in 2008, expanded it in 2010 and announced plans to open similar facilities in other cities. The purchase was part of the firm's $25 million move into behavioral health care.

Former Castlewood patients said their days were spent making collages and writing in journals that they would share in individual and group therapy sessions. On the weekends, residents go on outings to movies, the Butterfly House and the zoo. Therapists supervise clients at meal times, and take them to restaurants and grocery stores to talk about healthy eating habits.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health licenses the facility and found only minor record-keeping deficiencies in its most recent inspection last summer. In their interviews with state inspectors, three Castlewood clients said they felt respected by staff, and another said the program saved her life.

Castlewood also meets the standards set by the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, which conducts regular site visits and interviews with patients and staff.

A Florissant woman who asked only to be identified as Laura because she is still seeing a therapist from Castlewood said her inpatient experience in 2003 and 2004 was positive and that her therapy sessions never included discussions of cult activity or childhood sexual abuse.

"If I didn't go there I wouldn't be here," said Laura, 34. "Castlewood is a good place to go if you're very sick."

Schwartz declined an interview through his attorney. Albus said in her statement that Schwartz is internationally respected in the field of eating disorders.

Former patients of Schwartz, 60, said he is down-to-earth with a magnetic but mysterious personality. He looks like "an old hippie" with long hair, as one patient described him, and another said he has fertility statues and dead bugs behind glass hung in his office.

Schwartz is licensed as a psychologist in Missouri and has no discipline record with the state. He holds a doctorate in science degree from Johns Hopkins University and is an adjunct professor of psychiatry at St. Louis University, according to his résumé.

A spokeswoman for SLU said Schwartz gave a presentation at the medical school years ago but does not teach or supervise students.

The main treatment strategy at Castlewood is called internal family systems. The technique is based on the theory that "the eating disorder actually protects (people) from re-experiencing or thinking about difficult things from their pasts," according to Castlewood's website.

Clients are encouraged to think of themselves as having many "parts" or emotions. Through therapy, they focus on improving the destructive parts of themselves, such as the perfectionist part, that can prevent them from fully enjoying life, as explained on the site.

Several local mental health practitioners said internal family systems therapy has not been rigorously studied for its effectiveness.

Therapists practicing the technique must take extra care with patients with eating disorders, who can be particularly vulnerable to having their memories and personalities twisted, in part because they are malnourished, experts said.

Some residents of Castlewood are so ill that they require feeding tubes, while others are so weak that they use wheelchairs, former patients said.

"People who are suggestible in certain ways can take a suggestion from a therapist and begin to split themselves into parts that they then name, and they will begin to think of themselves as having multiple personalities," said Dr. Lynne Moritz of the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute. "The issue is you don't want to encourage that in susceptible people."

Instead of encouraging a client to think about parts, "you want to integrate the whole person who has many different ways of thinking and feeling all at the same time," Moritz said.

Today, experts believe cases of multiple personality disorder are rare, if not nonexistent.
"I've never had a case of multiple personality in 40 years of practice," Moritz said.

The mental health care field took a hit to its reputation in the 1990s after a rash of cases involving patients who reported memories of childhood sexual abuse that they had previously repressed. In many of the cases, the memories were found to be suggested by a therapist, and the concept of repressed memories grew more controversial.

Schwartz has written that the controversy over memory should not scare therapists away from asking about a client's past, especially because a history of sexual abuse is common in people with eating disorders. The psychologist was affiliated with Dr. William H. Masters and Virginia Johnson, famed local sex researchers of the 1960s and 1970s, and he operated a sex therapy clinic in their name before opening Castlewood.

"Certainly, eating disorders therapists have every reason to suspect the presence of sexual trauma in their patients," Schwartz wrote in the introduction to his 1996 book "Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders."

"Individuals who actually believe that memories are created by therapists are, for their own reasons, motivated to not know and not see the extent to which abuse actually exists in our culture," Schwartz wrote. "If the statistics are accurate, then our friends and neighbors are having incestuous relationships with their daughters and sons, and by ignoring it, so are we."

Meagan McKay of Vermont said she was at Castlewood at the same time as Lisa Nasseff, the woman who is suing the center.

McKay recalled that when Nasseff left Castlewood, Schwartz told the other residents that she had returned to her cult.

That's when McKay realized something wasn't right.

She started questioning all the times she saw women shaking and screaming, saying they were having flashbacks of abuse. She wondered now about the woman who drew monkeys to represent her multiple personalities. And she thought back to all the times she heard someone say they would die if they left Castlewood.

"I was there for about seven months altogether and saw an awful lot of people who were brainwashed," she said. "I started saying things to people like, 'I think the only cult anybody's ever been in is the one we're in right now."



Dan H said...

I was a patient of Mark Schwartz both at Masters &Johnson and at River Oaks in New Orleans. I went to see Mark after abuse memories surfaced in a drug treatment facility; so my memories were there before I ever saw Mark.
Mark did hypnotize me on several occasions. Each time, I was fully aware of what was going on in the room. I can say he never tried to "lead," me anywhere. I can also say that he couldn't claim I said anything I didn't since I was aware.
When I was at River Oaks, my insurance covered a 30 day stay. At the end of that time, Mark thought i needed another week inpatient. When I told him I couldn't afford it, he arranged for me to stay that extra week free of charge.
When I went to see Mark, I had a long history of heroin addiction. I had been through 6 drug rehabs, and 3 years on the Methadone program. Nothing helped.
Mark Schwartz helped me process my childhood issues to the point where i could finally deal with my addiction problems.
His actions during hypnosis were perfectly ethical. Arranging extra inpatient treatment free of charge does not suggest, "milking," insurance.
As far as I'm concerned, Mark Schwartz saved my life. I'll never forget that.

william harryman said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Dan. Your experience confirms everything I have heard about Mark Schwartz and about his work at Castlewood.

Anonymous said...

Richard Schwartz and Mark Schwartz are not brothers.

william harryman said...

Thanks for the clarification - I was not clear on that, but one article made that same assumption.

Anonymous said...

According to his public schedule, serial predator Marc Gafni will be teaching at Castlewood this Feb. 20-25. Looks like a case of "like attracting like." But who will be there to protect the vulnerable patients?

Anonymous said...

I was treated at Castlewood around the same time as the women in these lawsuits. I was also suffereing from a severe eating disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. One thing that is important to remember is that all of the treatment provided is OPTIONAL. I refused treatment with the IFS model and was given cognitive processing therapy instead, for example. I also refused the opportunity to have some hypnosis, because I did not feel comfortable with it. I found recovery at Castlewood, and I was really glad of it. Yes, there were some weird elements, like the number of people who moved to St. Louis to stay in outpatient care. I guess the thing that surprises me are that people are willing to undergo therapies or take medications that they don't understand...

Anonymous said...

It's obvious that the only cult these women at Castlewood were ever in was there at Castlewood. Sounds very familiar, as in Mercy Ministries. Castlewood, Mercy Ministries and all others who use therapy methods that destroy families deserve all the bad publicity they can get.

Anonymous said...

I've been a client at castlewood treatment center for about 6 months now. I'v experienced incfdible and unconditional support and compassion. It is an amazing program and this story is completely falsified. Mark is an amazing and caring individual and has never traeated me or any of my other peers in treatment with anything but caring and wholistic therapy. I've never heard of anyone here recieving hypnosis terapy, but can't say whether that was a tool utilized in the past. Castlewood has saved my life and always maks decisions with my very best intrest in mind. I'm so grateful for this program and all the caring, supportive and experienced staff. I've been to A LOT of treatment centers, and thi is by far the best experience I've had. I've been treated with dignity and respect, given every opportunity to thrive and feel so prepared for my transition back into an independent ad healty lifestyle when I leave. If you've never been here or experienced first hand what the program really offers, you have no room to comment or respond to this completely rediculous account of a clearly disgruntled and disturbed client, known for her sad and desperate attempts to get attention any way she can. Iv'e had close friends who were in the proram with her an described her as unstable, exagrative, and took every oportunity to blame staff or other clients for her issues and choices. tuth is she's a big girl making little girl decisions. I'ts really sad that she would turn on her treatent team who poured into hr day after day for so long. And may I remind you that this is a completely voluntary program, and any client can leave at any time. Must not have been so bad if she stayed for that many months. It's sad whe people can't and won't take responsibilityfor their own choices, but this is definatetly the case in this rediculous claim. I LOVE AND FULLY SUPPORT CASTLEWOOD.- JenG