By Laura Pasley
With the exception of my former counselor, the names in my story are real. My attorney's name and firm have been used with his permission.
It was Monday, November 18, 1991. My appointment was for 4:00 p.m. I arrived early as I always do. Simpson & Dowd is a law firm in Dallas, Texas, specializing in mental health issues. I was to meet with Skip Simpson, Attorney at Law, along with a couple of other families who had been polluted by a perverse group of therapists. Here I was, meeting a family that I had heard for years were Satanists. Imagine my shock when I read their story in a popular magazine - false accusations, devastation, hurt, pain, humiliation, the separation from their only daughter, a daughter they professed much love for, a daughter I knew well. She was a woman in the same sort of circumstances I was in, needing a reason why she felt so "abnormal." She was a daughter that I watched accuse these people before the rest of the group, to her therapists, to anyone who would listen, just as I had done. Now here I was with her parents in the office of an attorney, attempting to sort out the mess and to help put an end to this senseless destruction of the family system.
As I look back, I wonder how it got this far. How could a relationship with a therapist become the sole focus of my life for four long years? How could I have sold my soul to a mere human being? - a man, who it turns out, has untouched problems in his own life; a man so sick he needed me and other women to stay "sick" in order for him to excel. I trusted this man with my innermost soul. I shared my dreams with him, confessed my sins to him. "Steve" was my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my best friend, my husband, boyfriend, decision maker, choice maker, teacher and pastor. He had become everything to me. If Steve said it, it was so. My life became so enmeshed and intertwined with his life, my ability to think for myself disappeared. I thought what he wanted me to think. I believed what he wanted me to believe. I became what he wanted me to become. Skeptics might call this a "therapy cult." By any other name it was destructive. How in the world did I allow therapy to become the most important function in my life?
Beginning of treatment
My ordeal began on Friday, December 20, 1985. Steve was supposed to be a specialist in treating eating disorders and I had one in a big way. Since I was ten years old I would eat and then force myself to throw up. By the time I got to Steve I was nearly 32 years of age. For 22 years I had been forcing myself to vomit. When I began therapy, I was binging and purging sometimes 15 to 20 times a day! I would gain weight, lose weight, then gain weight again. I abused laxatives, diuretics and diet pills. I could not deal with feelings of any kind. Any emotion would trigger a binge, then a purge. Food was my best friend and my worst enemy. My parents did not know I had bulimia. I did not even know it had a name until 1981. I read an article in the paper and it said this disorder was coming out of the closet and was a widespread problem. At first I was relieved because I had felt so alone and different from other people. Then I became frustrated because there seemed to be no one out there who knew how to treat it.
Then I heard about Steve. He was supposed to be the expert. I was told, "Steve will save your life." "Steve is your answer." "Go to him, trust him, do whatever he says and you will get well." God knows how badly I wanted to be well, how badly I wanted to feel "normal."
I began my journey with Steve by sitting on the couch in his office and spending the next hour with him staring at me. He was overweight and balding but seemed very confident and sure of himself. He seemed to be looking right into my soul. I was very uncomfortable. What few things I was able to tell him did not even seem to faze him. He seemed cold and uncaring and unfeeling. I told him I did not like him staring at me and he asked, "Why is that?"
I snapped back at him, "Hell, I don't know, I just don't like it." After that he only seemed to stare harder. I left my session feeling confused but I was so desperate and determined to end this terrible disorder that had plagued my life since childhood that I was ready to do anything to get my life in order. "Trust him, believe him, he s your answer." So, I put all my energy; all my money, everything into this therapy. Although much of the time Steve was staring, he also did something else. He was listening.
Hungry for someone to listen
I was so hungry for someone to listen to me, just listen. To hear what I had to say, no matter what it was. Nobody had ever done that. If I felt something when expressing my feelings I was used to hearing such answers as "You don't really feel that way." "That's not the 'right' way to feel." "You don't really think that." "If you think about those kinds of things, you're gonna make God mad." "He's ashamed of you, I'm ashamed of you, you should be ashamed of you."
Now I had met a man, a parental figure, an authoritative figure who would listen to anything I had to say and not once did he say, "You should be ashamed." With this strategy he won my trust. I began seeing him every week, then twice a week. Steve would have me close my eyes. He would make me keep them closed throughout most of the session. Before long I was saying anything and everything that came into my mind. There were thoughts, ideas, images, and feelings that I had never shared with anyone until now. I never believed I was worth listening to. My heart was so empty and lonely, and for so many years the only comfort I had found was in binging and purging and then binging and purging some more. But now it appeared that someone who could help me cared.
In the beginning of my therapy, I brought with me some very real hurts and disappointments. I had spent five years of my life with a man, loved him deeply, had his child and then he was gone. Not only gone, but he discounted what we had shared for five years. The loss of this relationship alone had put me into a deep depression for several years. Add to that, recurring female problems, financial difficulties, raising a child as a single parent and many other things that had my life out of control. Steve was not concerned with those things. In four years of therapy, we never dealt with issues that had occurred in my adult life. Steve was not concerned with those and discounted their importance when I brought them up. He said the pain was "deeper," and that it had been buried, or "repressed." According to Steve, my bulimia was "slow suicide." To have such a "death wish" to the magnitude I had, Steve explained, I had to have repressed something so horrible and so traumatic that only a lengthy therapy, hypnosis, and hard work were going to make me better.
By this time, Steve controlled me. He had bought my loyalty and dependence by giving me the one thing that I was starving for attention. It was attention with absolutely no boundaries, but plenty of control. I called him anytime I wanted to, day or night and we talked as long as I needed it, unless he got mad at something I said and hung up in my face. If I showed any concern for my family, he got mad. He said I was hurting myself to protect them. If I was at home when I called him and I was upset or crying, he would have me take a broom and beat the hell out of my bed while he listened on the phone. At times, I would voice concern that my six-year-old daughter was in the house and it might frighten her. He told me I was "showing her how to exhibit anger in a healthy way." I found out years later that this behavior terrified her.
Week after week, session after session, through hypnosis and going deep within myself, strange images began to appear. At first they were images of this tiny blond with the biggest and saddest eyes I have ever seen. Steve said it was my "little girl" the child within. It was as if I were sitting on a chair as high as the ceiling watching her. Steve wanted me to reveal to him each and every image or movement the "little girl" made.
My first "flashback" came while I was home vacuuming the floor. I had been to therapy earlier in the day. All of a sudden, I broke out into a sweat and I could not breathe. I was in a total panic. It was like a nightmare, only I was awake. I had images of a young boy holding a pillow over the face of an infant. It was a terrifying experience. I called Steve and he "walked" me through the "flashback." After I was calmed down, he literally put me to sleep on the phone. I went to see Steve the next day and my session was very uncomfortable. Steve kept drilling me, "When are you going to accept the fact that your brother tried to kill you?" I argued with him that this was not my brother, it could not have happened in my family. Over and over he said, "You'll have to accept the fact that your brother tried to kill you."
This flashback got Steve's attention, as did all the others. The images in my head got more and more bizarre. I began going to therapy more. I was going to the group room to write a place where Steve said I would be "safe." Every flashback I had was judged to be actual, factual data from my past. Every dream, no matter how bizarre, was what had actually happened to me. The images grew. The scenes became more and more horrific. Had all of this junk really been hidden in my mind? Were these horrible scenes things that really took place in my family? Was this reality? What was reality? I got caught up in a full circle of flashbacks. They would reach out and snatch me up and engulf me in them at almost any moment. I cannot say where my logical mind was at this point. The flashbacks took control.
A game of Russian roulette
Steve told me to ask my doctor for a drug called Xanax, a sedative. I did. I began taking them, as Steve put it, "to take the edge off." I was swallowing them left and right. Soon I needed two, then three, then more. I was playing Russian roulette with my life. I would take a few too many pills and end up in the emergency room and guess who I called? Steve.
What was Steve giving me? The worse the flashback, the more self-destructive I was, the more attention I was getting from the main source for all things in my life. Steve kept telling me, "You have to get worse before you get better." Well, I was definitely getting worse. I was overmedicating myself, vomiting more and more, my weight was climbing. I got no exercise, and my life seemed more out of control than ever before.
In addition, no matter how many times I overmedicated myself or ended up in an emergency room, my doctor kept prescribing Xanax to me. Not only Xanax, but numerous other pills. There were pills to help me sleep, pills to relieve depression, pills to "mellow out my rage." If I had it there was a pill for it, and I took them all. My therapist would goad me, make me angry and push me over the edge and then the doctor would step in and medicate me so I would not be in such a rage. The therapy group in the hospital (I was hospitalized twice in a psychiatric hospital for 30 days each time) would get on a subject and harass me until I was livid and then the nurse would come get me and put me in a little room because I was angry. The nurses at the hospital said they had to take the "control" away from me; yet when I did what they said, I was tagged with being "over compliant." My mind was apparently gone, although at the time I was convinced this was the only way I would ever get well.
I lost control on so many occasions and Steve was the only one who could calm me down, make me "think right" again. I wanted more than anything in the world to be well, to be "normal." In spite of the still small skeptical voice inside of me, doubting, questioning, and wondering, I trusted this man to know the truth. That voice would soon fade over time. I believed in him so deeply I began telling other people, "Trust him, believe in him, he will make you whole." I trusted him so completely, in fact, that in 1986 I spent five months coordinating a retreat for women suffering from bulimia. In that period, I spoke or corresponded with over 350 people suffering from this disorder. I wanted them all to know about Steve. The retreat was held in a beautiful wooded retreat campground in East Texas. There were 77 women and one man in attendance. They came to hear the "truth." I wanted the world to come and hear Steve speak. If he said it I believed it.
'Repressed memories' begin to surface
It was not long until the "repressed memories" of child abuse began to come up. The visions in my head were of severe physical and sexual abuse. The images were so incredibly bizarre, yet they seemed so real. My picture of my family became distorted. Was it the drugs the doctors had me on, was it television shows or traumatic events I had witnessed over the years, or was it actual memories? I did not know, but Steve said they were fact and to deny them meant that I did not want to get well. He said I was in denial, I was running, I was "protecting" my family, I was staying sick to "cover up" for my family. He always had an answer. He was always right.
I was put into a group therapy situation. This is where my therapy team grew to include Steve's partner, Dave. I did not want to go but Steve said I was just transferring the fear of my family onto the group. He said I must go. At first we all just talked and I found a common ground with the other women. Then, slowly, right before my very eyes, the group emerged into a room full of "victims." We began as Eating Disorders (EDs), then on to Sexual Abuse Victims (SA), then on to Incest Victims (where family members became the perpetrators), then there was Satanic Ritual Abuse Victims (SR\s), and then on to Multiple Personality Disorders (MPD). It was a veritable "disease-of-the-month" laundry list. All of the women systematically had similar flashbacks, uncovered repressed memories and severe abuse. It was eerie at times. Each week we sat in a group and the stories were enough to make a strong stomach sick. One woman might have a flashback one week about her parents or someone else in the family and then the next week another one would have a similar memory come up. My mind became so confused and tormented. It was not long before my own flashbacks got even more bizarre. There was "group sexual abuse," a dead man hanging from a rope, killed by my grandfather: being sexually abused by animals, and much more.
Most of the time, members of the group were advised to stay away from their families and/or anyone who challenged their therapy. There was much anger aimed at all of the parents. If someone had some doubt that a flashback or memory was reality, Steve and Dave would goad them, then the whole group would join in "You're in denial," "You want to stay sick for your family," "You don't want to get well." This type of input from people we trusted so very much and were so very dependent on kept us enmeshed in their treatment program.
There were many times when a group member was instructed to write her parents (the perpetrators) very hostile and mean letters, divorcing them, accusing them of terrible acts they believed they had done to them. These letters were coached by the group and group leaders. They were always read out loud to the group to get support. In many cases, such as mine, Steve said it would be too dangerous to send my mom a letter with accusations. Some were encouraged to send them and cut off all ties with their families. In my case, because I lived so close to my parents and refused to move, Steve and Dave felt I was in more danger than some of the others.
Releasing repressed anger
Once Steve instructed me to write my mother and list every mean thing she had done to me (that is, what I believed she had done at the time). Then, he stood beside me reading every horrible word in the most hateful, hostile tone imaginable. I was standing there with balls of clay, throwing them against the wall. The louder and meaner he read, the harder I threw those balls. It was a very intense session. This was supposed to release my repressed anger. After each session such as this one I was exhausted. I believe if you constantly fill your head with vile images, it will spit out vile images. Being placed in that situation had my mind being filled with a constant flow of it. Drinking blood, killing babies, sexual abuse of everything imaginable incest, torture, murder, you name it.
Out of the women in my particular Monday night group, nearly all of them have since realized their "flashbacks" were not reality. Most will not speak out. I am not sure if it is loyalty to Steve and Dave or maybe lack of courage, or an inability to stand up for something that is right. Whatever the reason, it makes me angry because if they would come forward and be outspoken, more people would come out of this delusional state much more quickly.
One woman who was one of my very favorites accused her family of being Satanist. She "divorced" her parents, and her in-laws helped her through the toughest parts of her therapy. She had some horrible flashbacks, including of a baby, supposedly her twin, being hung in a tree and one of herself severely abused by most of her family members. She did question Steve and Dave about the fact that her birth certificate had "single birth" on it. Steve said that the coven had people who took care of all of those things to cover up reality. Later on in her therapy when she seemed to be doing well, she said she wanted to drive to the nearby state her parents lived in and talk to them about all of her "memories." Steve was livid in group and kept trying to talk her out of going. "What about the coven?" he said. He was furious and yelled at her that her life was in danger. This beautiful, petite woman said, "I don't care, I've got to find out." She went home to her parents, talked everything out and made peace with them. Shortly afterward, her mom died of a heart attack. I talked with her just recently and she told me when she went home that time there was absolutely nothing to substantiate her claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse. She said to me, "You know, I live with guilt each and every day of my life about what I did to mom."
A troubled relationship with family
My relationship with my family became extremely troubled. My sister would not allow my nephew to spend the night in my home. I looked at my parents with suspicion. Steve had me believing my mother had been trying to kill me for years. Not in an obvious attempt, but in the things she would do for me. I was bulimic. If Mama bought us groceries and any of them were easily ingested "binge foods," Steve said it was to kill me. At one point, I took some badly needed groceries back to her, threw the bag and asked if she was trying to kill me because there were some cookies and chips in the bag. I looked at her with disgust. I suspected her every move, her every motive. I questioned every remark. I missed many family functions and at the ones that I did attend, I was cold and suspicious of everyone there.
For years, I was consumed with suspicion, anger, fear, confusion. Could anyone in the world be trusted? Even my pastor, who was also my dear friend, became suspect when he began "doubting" my therapy. I called him when I was admitted into the hospital in 1988 and he was really upset. He said, "Pasley, you don't belong in a nut house and I will not support this therapy any longer." After that, Steve began telling me that he was using me and wanted to keep me sick. I was losing everyone and everything who meant anything to me.
Police officers who were friends of mine that I worked with (I am an employee of a large police department in Texas) would tell me I was turning into a "pill head." One officer took my purse one night and dumped all of the pills out into the trash. I became so enraged, I jerked the phone out of the wall in the jail and threw it at him. I screamed, "I have to get worse before I get better. This therapy is going to save my life." He told me they were quacks and after my money. Other officers told me I was not acting normally, I was not myself any longer, and that they missed the person I used to be. Steve and Dave would tell me, "The group is your 'new family.' Move away from your family of origin, divorce them, they are dangerous, you will never get well living near them." They even wanted me to quit my job with the police department because they said I was trying to shut my "little girl" up with the violence.
Feelings of rage continue
Desperate to be normal, feeling so abnormal, I was in a constant rage for years. I was furious with every single thing that had ever happened to me, or that did not happen to me. My family members had become my enemies - people placed on this earth to destroy me. I could not distinguish memory from reality. Nothing seemed real anymore.
To be sure my parents made mistakes, plenty of them. But, let's be real. Is there any human being, parent or child, who has not made mistakes? I make them every day with my daughter. I believe the key is to acknowledge them, ask for forgiveness, and move forward. I also believe it is important for our children to see us as human, not to continually profess perfection. The question here in my case is, were my parents intentionally trying to destroy me? Of course not. But this is precisely what my therapy team, my group family made me believe.
My family's response to accusations I made would not have mattered. If they said nothing, it was because they were guilty. If they cried innocence, they were trying to hide something. If they did not remember something the way I remembered it, they were in denial. There was always an answer. This was ingrained into every conversation and thought I had. I was told to read books about evil, sexual abuse, dysfunctional families, co-dependency, etc. Some of the required reading was, People of the Lie, Courage to Heal, Healing the Shame That Binds You, On Becoming a Person, and The Child Within. I "lived" therapy seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When I was not at therapy, I was calling my therapist. When I was not talking to my therapist, I was thinking about my therapy. The entire ordeal consumed every ounce of energy I had and every penny I could get my hands on. All of this was "necessary" for me to "get well." Steve repeatedly told me, "You have to get worse before you get better." I continued to get worse believing this was progress.
One lesson from this experience is that we can never underestimate what a desperate person will do. Any person, no matter how bright or intelligent, if they are desperate enough, can fall into the same pit I fell into. I had worked in a jail for a large city in Texas since I was 19 years old. I knew the correct name for every charge in the Texas Penal Code, the Penal Code number and the penalty class. I could tell you what kind of time you could get for nearly every crime listed in our penal code. I could catch an error on an arrest report with a simple glance, book a drunk in 30 seconds, and usually determine the elements of arrest if I chose to read the report. I mastered county and city computers. I could research a criminal history and "find" just about anyone. I know literally hundreds of police officers, most of their badge numbers, and most of them would do nearly anything for me. Before entering this therapy situation, I had many commendations and was nominated by my sergeant for Non-Sworn Employee of the Year. After getting into therapy, I was still good at what I did, but my work, the officers, my daughter, everything took a back seat. By the time I left therapy, I had expended all of my sick time, my vacation time and came close to being fired over one of my stays in the hospital. I was also on the verge of losing my home. Was this progress?
I believe the worst part of this type of therapy is living through the flashbacks. It was frightening and left me empty and drained. I would literally "feel" pain of the things I was seeing in my head. My mother became my sexual abuser, then my brother and grandfather and a neighbor. The sexual abuse was vivid and seemed so real. Ordinary objects terrified me because they were sexual abuse tools in my flashbacks. It started out with simple fondling or molestation, it ended with torture, torment and indescribable pain.
I would emerge from one of these flashbacks and feel such rage. At times, I believe I was homicidal. My nostrils would flare and I would throw things, rant and rave, chain smoke, sometimes two cigarettes at one time, lock myself in the bedroom and pace back and forth. I used to scream and pray to God, "Why did you let these things happen to me?" "What did I ever do to anyone to merit this kind of pain?" Confusion at this point was a way of life for me.
My anger was constant. My therapy also included "rage reduction." It consisted of throwing things like clay, bean bags, etc. I was ripping phone books, beating with bataaka bats and screaming into pillows. I personally got more relief from breaking glass. I would drive down the street and throw coke bottles into the ground. When they would shatter, it was like a sedative, temporarily. These things were suppose to decrease my "repressed anger." In essence, the more anger I expressed, the madder I got. I was in a constant state of rage. After a flashback, Steve would have me direct that rage at Mama. He literally hated my mother. He would insult her, distorting everything that she said or did. Once, she wrote a check for my therapy because I simply did not have the money and he tore it up in my face. "I don't want her money," he said. (He then added it to my bill.) My mother knew better than to speak against Steve. I would not tolerate that. He was going to save me.
I spent four years with this therapy team. After four years, I wanted to do more. I wanted to be more. I was at the point of feeling like I would never get well. There was no hope for me, I was too far gone. I wanted to make the best of my life. I called Steve on December 20, 1989, exactly four years after I had walked into his office. I said I wanted to write a book about my experiences in the jail. I had contacted an author of a book about police and felt sure he would help me get started. Steve was quiet. I asked him if he thought I could do this. I waited, listening like a child waiting for approval from a parent. The words that followed tore into me, stinging me to the core of my being. "You are not through with flashbacks."
Disenchanted. Angry. Frustrated. I terminated my therapy. I grieved so much for them I had to enter therapy with another counselor to get through it. I went to her, telling her the same stories I had come to believe in therapy about my family. I spent the next 22 months still convinced these things had happened to me.
In October, 1991, I picked up an article on a family who had been accused of horrible abuse by their daughter in therapy. I was at Kroger and never left the parking lot until I had read every single word. The daughter was in therapy with me. I had listened to her pain and suffering. Now, I was getting another side to this picture. Steve and Dave insisted these people were Satanists - the cruelest, meanest people in the world. They had committed indescribable acts on their children. What really interested me was that some of the "stories" I had heard from Steve and Dave were presented differently than those in the article. Could Steve and Dave maybe have lied to me? Lied to us all? I was glued to the article. Then, after I read it, I drove home and read it again. I wanted to know these people. I wanted to meet them and see for myself that they were not really what I had heard. In meeting them and seeing the severe contrast to what I had heard, I was able to begin to discern my reality. They had lied to me - the con job of all con jobs.
This therapy has snatched something from me that I can never get back. I lost years of my life where I was emotionally distant from my family and my daughter. There was pain, despair, humiliation, fear, and frustration. It caused me to be paranoid. I have had trouble trusting anyone. Professionals had me scared to death, even ones there to help me. My daughter and I had no financial security and nearly lost our home. I did not have a car that ran. All my energy, all my money, everything I had went to them. When I woke up, my daughter was 12 years old and I missed it. I missed some of her most precious years while searching endlessly for the next "memory."
With the help of Skip Simpson, his law firm, my faith in God and the support of family and friends, I have held these two men accountable for what they did to me and my daughter. They were responsible for unethical, unprofessional treatment of me and my child. They injured us and it will take a long time to undo the damage. On December 19, 1991, Skip filed a lawsuit on behalf of myself and my daughter, Jennifer.
We sued them, in part, for creating false memories, for giving me substandard care, for therapeutic negligence, and for fraud. It was extremely hard to trust anyone, especially an attorney. It was quite a while before I felt I could trust Skip but through his being trustworthy, I am learning to trust again. Now, however, I do it with my thinking cap on. I have learned through all of this that no one, not one single person in this world, has all of the answers. One of the quickest ways to turn me off is for someone to tell me "This is the only answer, the only way." I am now into critical thinking and proper skepticism. I look back now and see so many things that were just not logical, I will never again allow another person to control my mind or my life.
How Skip Simpson helped
On June 25, 1993, Skip Simpson called me at work. He told me they were having a meeting to possibly settle my case and for me to stay by the phone. When the call came, I went to his office. We talked and he gave me two options for a settlement. We decided which would be the best one for my particular situation and that of my daughter. He went downstairs and moments later came back up. He said, "It's over." Tears were streaming down my face. We hugged. I looked at this man who had taken my case before he knew it was a national problem, believed in me before I could believe in myself, and I said, "You helped me get my power back from those who took it from me. I have my mind back and for this, I cannot thank you enough." (As a condition of my settlement I cannot disclose the settlement amount, the location where I was treated, or the names of my counselors.)
My life has changed so drastically this past year. Since my case broke on the news I have been talking with people all over the country who have lost children to this therapy, and adults who have absolutely had their lives destroyed and lost everything by being in it. I was speaking in Illinois and we got picketed. The signs read, "We believe the children." I would like to ask at what point do they believe the children? Is it when they are insisting nothing happened, or, after they place them with a social worker, or therapist with an agenda, who spends hours, days, weeks and months trying to get them to say what they want them to say?
What happened to me is not about sexual abuse or child abuse by a parent. It is about therapeutic negligence and fraud. We must begin to think critically about this situation. If we do not do something to Stop this, the family structure as we know it will be gone. Families have been shattered and homes destroyed because troubled, hurting, vulnerable people sought out help and those who have taken an oath to do no harm abused the trust placed in them and did, in fact, harm. They not only hurt the patient, they destroy the patient's parents, siblings, their own children, and virtually anyone else who has been in their lives.
My life now is only getting better because I am not into the blame game any longer. I am no longer searching out "memories." After only one year with a good competent counselor, and two years working with an attorney who refuses to treat me like a "mental patient," I have begun to rebuild my life. Skip Simpson had faith in me and recognized my strength before I could see it. I responded to him because he treated me like I had a brain. He expected me to use it. The pain of what I went through is still there; however, I now take responsibility for my own life, for changing it the way I want it to be. I could sit forever and worry about the past and what this one or that one did or did not do, but the ultimate choice for my life is mine to make. I now take that challenge.