Controversial Doctor Faces Loss of License

State alleges psychiatrist abused position of power

By Cornelia Grumman Chicago Tribune Staff Writer

August 13, 1998

The state agency that regulates doctors moved Wednesday to strip the medical license of Dr. Bennett Braun, an internationally recognized Chicago-area psychiatrist specializing in multiple-personality disorder and repressed memory therapies.

In the first filing against an Illinois doctor who used the controversial treatments, the state Department of Professional Regulation issued a nine-count complaint outlining how officials say Braun nearly destroyed the lives of a Glen Ellyn family with his techniques. The 23-page filing signals another blow to a field of mental health that has seen its acceptance challenged in recent years.

Feeling depressed after the birth of her second son, Patricia Burgus sought therapy and relief from Braun in 1986.

Within weeks, she says, Braun started guiding her into a horrific, years-long odyssey of the mind, one in which she suddenly possessed 300 personalities and remembered sexually abusing her children, eating meatloaf made of human flesh and serving as the high priestess of a satanic cult covering nine Midwestern states.

"The damage I saw people experience in that therapy, the lives that were lost, the careers, the marriages, the women who lost their children, people who lost their minds, it was so sad," an emotional Burgus said Wednesday upon hearing of the state's complaint. "I think this has just been an answer to prayers."

Braun's attorney, Harvey Harris, declined to comment other than to say he believed most of the sensational press coverage surrounding the case in recent years to be false. Braun, whose practice is connected with Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago and Rush North Shore Medical Center in Skokie, could not be reached.

Braun faces a Sept. 28 preliminary hearing before a Department of Professional Regulation administrative judge.

"He's misused the course of treatment of multiple-personality disorder the way a surgeon misuses a knife," said Thomas Glasgow, chief of medical prosecutions for the Department of Professional Regulation. Glasgow developed the complaint after Burgus formally reported her case to the state in January.

"The purpose of this complaint and the purpose of this prosecution is not to go after multiple-personality disorder or repressed memory," he added. "The problem here is that someone with an inordinate amount of trust, who was caring for extremely fragile and susceptible psychiatric patients, misused both his prestige and his medical ability." The complaint alleges gross negligence; dishonorable, unethical and unprofessional conduct; making false or misleading statements; and improper prescription of controlled substances. Glasgow said Braun used irresponsible combinations of Halcion, Xanax, sedatives, hypnotic psychotropic drugs, and prescribed Inderal, a blood pressure drug, at levels "that weren't even animal-tested at the time."

In settling a civil lawsuit last October, Braun and Rush paid $10.6 million to Burgus -- among the highest ever in a false memory case. Officials with Rush would not comment Wednesday.

The field of repressed memory therapies soared in the early 1980s. And aided by books such as "Sybil," movie star confessionals of remembered child abuse and relentless attention paid to the topic on the daytime talk-show circuit, multiple-personality disorder diagnoses multiplied over the last decade.

But states and courts have started taking critical views of experimental repressed memory treatments. Critics have been fortified by skeptical statements issued in recent years by established medical organizations such as the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association.

Regulators in Arizona, Minnesota and Texas have successfully removed licenses of practitioners of the controversial multiple-personality disorder treatments.

"Sure it's a blow, because it's one more very unhappy situation where a therapist has done the best he could according to what he thought was right at the time," said Dr. Marlene Hunter, a Canadian psychiatrist and president of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation, the Northbrook-based research organization Braun founded in 1984. "It didn't turn out well, and the consequences have been devastating."

Braun, according to Hunter, "is a very dedicated psychiatrist" who wants nothing more than to do the best for his patients.

Through annual conferences, videotapes and seminars, Braun, 58, a Glenview resident, helped train many of those now treating multiple-personality disorder around the country. "He's definitely seen as a sort of guru in multiple-personality disorder," Glasgow said.

And though Hunter and other psychiatrists who subscribe to Braun's work worry that all the negative attention could stanch further development in the field, Burgus' attorney says he thinks it's about time mental health professionals are held to the same professional standards as those in other medical fields.

"For too long, mental health services have lagged behind the rest of the healing professions, in use of treatment methods demonstrated to be valid and effective, and in too much use of experimental procedures without adequate disclosure to patients," said Zachary Bravos, who practices out of Wheaton.

Skip Simpson, a Dallas attorney who is suing Braun on behalf of another patient, echoed Bravos and said medical boards have been lax in going after such alleged abuses.

"I think by and large, the professional and licensee organizations have not been very good at policing their own in this field," Simpson said. "That is one of the primary reasons why the legal field has entered into the fray."

Burgus' sons, at ages 4 and 5, also were admitted to the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center psychiatric ward for intensive, experimental treatment. For the next three years on the ward, they received stickers for telling "yucky secrets," fantastic tales of participating in ritualistic sacrifice and human torture.

"It was (Braun's) belief that the boys were genetically predisposed to multiple-personality disorder," Glasgow said. "He believes there's a worldwide trans-generational satanic cult where he had the patient believing she had participated in cannibalism, ritualistic killings and child pornography."

It wasn't until the Burgus family's $3 million insurance policy started drying up, her medication levels were lowered, and a few trips back home to her native Des Moines that the soft-spoken, 42-year-old gradually realized her recovered memories couldn't be true.

"That's when my head began to clear," Burgus said, "I began to add a few things up and realized there was no way I could come from a little town in Iowa, be eating 2,000 people a year and nobody said anything about it.

"It ruined my boys' childhoods, and this is something that will continue to shake them. We still have problems, but we're rebuilding our lives."