Could It Be... Satan?

Mark Schwartz and Lori Galperin have a long history involving hypnosis, dissociative identity disorder and Lawsuits.

Mark Schwartz and Lori Galperin have a long history involving hypnosis, dissociative identity disorder and Lawsuits.

By Deb Hipp

The Pitch News - October 12, 2000

John Neal's feet began to swell as he walked south on Interstate 35. He ignored the 18-wheelers roaring past, but his stomach tightened whenever a car slowed. If the glowing brake lights signaled that the driver might pull over, John hid in the tall weeds beside the road. His wife's words played over and over in his mind.

"You'll be dead in two weeks," Carla had shouted at him as he'd walked away from their home in Ridgeway, Missouri. Maybe she was right.

Four years earlier, when they'd lived in Oregon, John and Carla had gone to a social worker, seeking an explanation for his nightmares. Nearly every night, John woke up screaming and soaked with sweat. He dreamed that he was suffocating in the trunk of a car. He waded through black cesspools and fell through trapdoors into dark rooms. He stood paralyzed with fear before the door of a run-down house. In some of the dreams, a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire towered above his head.

The social worker had listened carefully and then asked to speak with Carla alone. Eventually, Carla emerged from her office with a stack of books. She and John would figure out his problems on their own.

Over the next few weeks, Carla was immersed in the books. By the time she finished reading, she was certain that John's symptoms pointed to extensive abuse he had suffered as a child. The more traumatic the abuse, the more likely John had repressed it. The authors wrote that in severe cases of trauma, such as sexual abuse, entire decades of abuse could be hidden away in a person's subconscious mind, only to be unleashed when the adult was prepared to face it.

The more she marked off symptoms from the books' checklists -- panic attacks, wandering off for unexplained spans of time, graphic nightmares -- the more convinced Carla became that John's symptoms hinted at the worst.

Some days, at his job as a car salesman, John was suddenly overcome with inexplicable dread. The only way he could calm himself was to curl up in the back seat of an empty car. When Carla suggested that he showed the symptoms described by survivors of satanic ritual abuse, he didn't believe it. But he didn't rule it out, either.

A psychiatrist had once diagnosed John with Dependent Personality Disorder, which meant that he easily substituted other people's opinions and judgments for his own. No one had ever been able to explain the source of his panic and nightmares. Now Carla seemed to know.

According to the books she had read, the only way John could work through his pain was to unearth the awful memories that lay buried within his mind. Using the books' grisly examples of other people's "recovered" memories as a guide -- stories of children dangled over snake pits and young women forced to murder their own babies -- John wrote "memories" he thought Carla wanted to hear. He halfway believed she might be right.

For confirmation that satanic ritual abuse was real, John needed only to look at the growing media coverage. As far back as 1988, Geraldo Rivera had claimed on one of his television specials to have exposed a satanic underground. Numerous books had been published by self-proclaimed survivors of satanic ritual abuse, all of whom had recovered once-repressed memories of horrific childhoods. In 1993, the cover of Ms. magazine portrayed an infant clutched in the coils of a demon serpent, with the proclamation "BELIEVE IT! Cult Ritual Abuse Exists."

According to experts who gave workshops to therapists all around the country, satanic cults programmed their members as children to commit heinous acts as adults. The adults could then be "triggered" by particular words in a newspaper or by a cult member posing as a pedestrian, asking directions, or simply nodding toward them on the street.

Eventually, John's and Carla's lives revolved around keeping John away from anything that could trigger his cult programming. By the time they moved to Missouri in 1994, John was depressed and suicidal. He didn't know what to believe -- but he had never trusted himself, and the only person he trusted was telling him something so crazy that he couldn't quite accept it. By December of 1995, John was ready to find out for sure.

He and Carla consulted the stack of ritual-abuse books. In the back of one they found the name of Two Rivers Psychiatric Hospital, an 80-bed private hospital on Raytown Road.

John picked up the phone and made an appointment with Michael Sturm, a licensed clinical social worker in the hospital's Masters and Johnson Trauma Unit. (The Masters and Johnson name has long been associated with William Masters and Virginia Johnson, whose clinical research on human sexuality shocked and intrigued the American public in the '60s. Universal Health Services, the Pennsylvania-based company that owns Two Rivers, has an agreement with William Masters that allows the hospital to use the Masters and Johnson name for its trauma treatment program.)

By the time Carla threw John out of the house that afternoon in February -- tired of his cult bullshit, as she'd called it -- John had already seen Sturm for five sessions. If the things Carla had said about him -- that he had multiple personalities and that his mind was controlled by a nefarious cult -- were true, surely his therapist would know. John hoped that Sturm would tell him he'd been reading too many books. Then again, perhaps he would tell John that the demons he feared were real.

By the time John had walked -- and occasionally mustered the nerve to hitchhike -- the 100 miles to Kansas City, the winter night was almost over. His pace quickened as he neared Two Rivers Psychiatric Hospital. John admitted himself into Two Rivers in the early morning hours of February 19, 1996. Two weeks would pass before he walked out the front door.

Years would pass before he felt safe again.

Widespread acceptance that a person could recover accurate memories of repressed sexual abuse had been partly fueled by the 1988 publication of The Courage to Heal, a self-help book written by Ellen Bass, a creative writing instructor, and her student, Laura Davis. The authors, who had no training as psychotherapists, assured readers: "If you are unable to remember any specific instances ... but still have a feeling that something abusive happened to you, it probably did.... If you think you were abused and your life shows the symptoms, then you were."

Across the country, new experts on sexual abuse insisted that the only way people could heal was by remembering as much of the abuse as possible -- and then reliving the emotions associated with the trauma. However, in the hands of inept or untrained therapists, these clients grew progressively worse. Thousands of them deteriorated into extreme states of anxiety as their lives became a series of flashbacks and increasingly violent memories, the most bizarre centering on satanic ritual abuse. This often led the therapists to conclude that the clients could harbor as many as several dozen "alter" personalities, of which the "host" personality was completely unaware.

Many therapists believed that the only way their clients could heal was to somehow integrate their fragmented selves into one healthy system. According to John, Sturm was one such therapist: From the beginning, Sturm agreed with Carla that John showed signs of having been ritually abused and harboring multiple personalities.

"I wasn't discounting it as being wrong, because I was really troubled emotionally," says John. "I honestly thought there might be some reality to it. I was looking for an explanation." Sturm seemed to be encouraged by the fact that John had checked himself into the hospital.

"He told me that the reason I was so upset was because I was frustrated and torn, that part of me wanted to get out of the cult and part of me didn't."

John spent his nights at Two Rivers attempting to map out the hierarchy of the cult of which he supposedly was a member. When he told other patients that he was there because his wife thought that he was part of a satanic cult, they laughed. The only time John ever heard anyone talking about cults was when he was with Sturm, he says. Eventually, John sought the advice of a counselor who worked the night shift.

"When I started telling her that Mike thought I was involved with a cult, she got real quiet," says John. "I felt like I had touched an area that she just didn't want to get involved in." But, says John, "She didn't do anything, either."

John checked out of Two Rivers the first week of March and returned to Carla. They continued to see Sturm for three more months. Throughout the six months of therapy, John says, Sturm hypnotized him at least three times in an attempt to communicate with his hidden alter personalities.

"He would ask me, 'Who are you today?' And I would say, 'I'm me.' Then he would say, 'I know you're me, but who is "me" today?'" Sturm would ask him to associate the personality he was that day with a color, says John. Eventually, each personality had a color as its name. "He would ask me a question and I would answer it, and then he would say, 'No, I want you to close your eyes and I want "Blue" to answer,' or 'Black,' or whatever personality he wanted to speak with.

"He told me that I should write whatever I could remember about the cult and that I should record my dreams because those were in fact real-life experiences that one of my hidden personalities was revealing to me," says John.

John wasn't feeling any better. "I was more miserable, more depressed, and more suicidal than I was when I started," he says. One morning, as he lay in bed anticipating that day's therapy session, John knew that to continue with the sessions would be pointless.

However, John still wanted to find help. He soon began to see a psychiatrist, who quickly assured John that he didn't have multiple personalities. He was appalled, says John, "but I still thought he might be wrong."

Only after his therapy with the psychiatrist, and later with a psychologist, did John begin to question Sturm's expertise. They helped him learn to cope and feel safe in the world. By contrast, says John, his therapy with Sturm had taken him down a path of delusion and anxiety that had only worsened his condition.

On May 29, 1998, John filed a lawsuit against Sturm and Two Rivers. He alleged that Sturm had suggested to John that he and his alter ego had engaged in satanic cult activities. The lawsuit also alleged that Sturm failed to make a proper and timely diagnosis of John's condition and that Sturm, as a licensed clinical social worker, did not secure proper and timely consultation with a psychologist (to administer psychological tests) and a competent psychiatrist to provide therapy and appropriate medication.

Michael Sturm, who is still a therapist on the Masters and Johnson unit at Two Rivers, declined to comment for this story, citing reasons of personal and professional confidentiality.

On the same day that John filed his lawsuit, troubles were beginning for someone else at Two Rivers. She was not a psychiatric patient -- instead, she was to be the new program director for the Masters and Johnson Trauma Unit -- the same unit where John had received his therapy with Sturm.

Dr. Delany Dean's telephone interview with Mark Schwartz and Lori Galperin went well. Schwartz, who had earned his doctorate in psychology and mental health from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, had done his postgraduate training at the Masters & Johnson Institute in St. Louis. He and his wife, Lori Galperin, a licensed clinical social worker, had set up the Masters and Johnson Trauma Unit at Two Rivers in 1991 and currently act as its clinical codirectors.

Schwartz and Galperin live in St. Louis, where they run the Masters and Johnson clinic for relational and sex therapy, trauma-based disorders, and eating disorders.

In an earlier interview with the trauma unit treatment team, Dean, a psychologist, had expressed her views concerning the controversial areas of hypnosis and recovered memories of satanic ritual abuse. She did not approve of hypnosis used for memory recovery or abreaction (reliving intense emotions associated with past trauma). Dean also believed that group discussion of gruesome cult-abuse memories was countertherapeutic and risked spreading the idea to other patients. Patients who believed their lives were being influenced by satanic cults should be encouraged to examine whether anything in their lives actually supported that belief, Dean explained.

The staff of the trauma-unit treatment team -- a psychiatrist, head nurse, and three psychotherapists -- seemed comfortable, even relieved, with her treatment methods, Dean says. However, the views of the treatment team were not necessarily the views of Schwartz and Galperin.

"They (the staff) told me they were not in agreement with Mark and Lori and had covertly made changes in the treatment of patients in the trauma unit," Dean says. "They told me they were careful what they said around Mark and Lori. They told me that I should be careful too."

However, during her job interview with Schwartz and Galperin, Dean again expressed her skepticism regarding satanic ritual abuse and hypnosis. But, she says, Schwartz and Galperin believed they could show Dean some helpful ways to use hypnosis. They seemed to have a positive approach, says Dean. Within a matter of weeks, she assumed the role of program director for the Masters and Johnson Trauma Unit.

Schwartz and Galperin immediately sent her to New Orleans for orientation and training at the Masters and Johnson Trauma Unit at River Oaks Hospital, where they also acted as clinical codirectors. She soon found that the staff at River Oaks had little in common with the treatment team at Two Rivers.

As with most trauma units, River Oaks had a process group in which patients shared their feelings. Some of the patients in the group were women with eating disorders, many of whom had been patients for several months. As part of her training, Dean was invited to sit in on the group. Once the group session began, she could only watch in disbelief.

Woman after woman began to recount horrific "memories" of cannibalism and murder at the hands of satanic cult members. As these women related the graphic details, the eating-disorder patients grew visibly upset. A couple of them jumped up and ran out of the room shrieking uncontrollably.

By the time Dean was hired at Two Rivers, four major studies had concluded that there was no credible or tangible evidence of multigenerational satanic cults anywhere in the United States. One of the studies, published in 1993 for the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect, had surveyed more than 11,000 psychiatric workers and police officials. Of the 12,000 allegations of group satanic ritual abuse reported in the study, not even one could be substantiated by investigators.

By 1998, the majority of the psychiatric community had realized that encouraging patients to relive such memories led not to their recovery but, instead, to their deterioration. Yet such a group was encouraged in the Masters and Johnson Trauma Unit at River Oaks. Dean continued to watch in silence.

"A woman would say, 'I need to talk about what happened to me.' Then she would say something like, 'My parents took me out into the woods at night. Our preacher and the police chief were there. They were all wearing hoods and standing around an altar with candles. Suddenly my grandfather was pulled from the crowd. They murdered him in front of me, and then they ripped open his chest and forced me to eat his heart.'"

Each time a woman would speak, no matter how bizarre her memories, the program director leaned forward and gazed into her eyes.

"I hear your truth," he assured her. "I believe your truth."

"He just offered them empty words," says Dean. "Deep down inside, they wanted so much for the therapist to say, 'Come on, you're only 25 years old and you couldn't have already had 15 babies.' They wanted somebody in authority to say, 'This is crazy,' to tell them to stop saying these things."

Each day, on the drive back to their hotel, Galperin asked Dean what she had learned. Dean wasn't sure how to respond. She believed patients in the River Oaks trauma unit were being mistreated. She also questioned whether she would be expected to apply those same treatment techniques to the trauma unit at Two Rivers.

Eventually, Dean told Galperin about her discomfort with the treatment team's handling of satanic ritual abuse patients. Galperin assured her that she was confident in Dean's ability to do the job anyway, Dean says. But that wasn't what Dean heard when she returned to Two Rivers.

"One of the first things I learned when I got back was that Mark had called and demanded that I be fired," says Dean. Over the next three months, Dean continued to hear rumors that Schwartz wanted her gone. Still, she had little contact with Schwartz or Galperin and enjoyed working with her staff.