- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- "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
- 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.]
Comment By Roy Bercaw
Subject: Massachusetts Firearms statute
- Concerning the electronic weapons described
by Eleanor White, Massachusetts is the only state which has a law which
prohibits possession of such weapons. It reads in part:
- Massachusetts General Laws. Chapter 140,
Section 131 J. SALE OR POSSESSION OF ELECTRICAL WEAPONS. PENALTIES
- n. No person shall sell, offer for sale
or possess a portable device or weapon from which an electical current
impulse, wave or beam may be directed, which current, impulse, wave or
beam is designed to incapacitate temporarily, injure or kill.