Defense aims to discredit therapist in abuse case

July 18, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A Circuit Court jury will be asked tomorrow to decide the fate of a Grasonville man charged with sexually abusing his three daughters, ending a trial that focused on the power of a therapist's suggestion.

The four-day trial before Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. began Tuesday with the daughters -- now in their 30s -- testifying that they recalled repressed memories of being abused up to 30 years ago after all three came under the care of the same therapist.

The defense has used a gynecologist, a pathologist, a psychiatrist and a psychologist to try to discredit the therapist, Patricia Hartge of Annapolis, and show that she might have planted the suggestion of abuse in the victims' heads.

"They entered a suggestive treatment regime that says if you are to get better, you must acknowledge that you were abused," defense attorney George Lantzas told jurors last week.

Conflicting opinions by professionals in child sex abuse cases are not unusual in Circuit Court. But attorneys say cases of victims with repressed memories are.

The 59-year-old defendant, a former marketing representative for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., sat expressionless as his daughters gave horrifying accounts of abuse they said they suffered in the family's Severna Park rancher in the 1960s.

The two older daughters told of walking with their father to some woods near the house, being tied together with their backs to a tree, then untied and raped individually.

They also said their father raped them while tied to a pole in the basement.

The youngest daughter said that, as a 6-year-old, she would often line up her stuffed animals in her bed, trying to convince her father there was no room for him when he came in to tell her bedtime stories and play "cuddle partner."

But he would crawl in anyway, abusing her to a point where her pillow and hair were soaked with tears, she testified.

The youngest daughter was the first to see Ms. Hartge.

She was depressed, suffering from bulimia and feeling guilty because her marriage wasn't working out and she was having an extramarital affair, according to testimony.

Ms. Hartge and doctors at a Washington eating disorders clinic that the woman later checked into helped straighten her out, she testified.

"It was the first time in my life I felt safe," she said.

Ms. Hartge, an unlicensed therapist with a master's degree in counseling, testified that she used three recognized methods of therapy to help the sisters cope with their problems: the empty chairs method, guided imagery and talk therapy.

Talk therapy is simply that -- talking with the patient to get their background and family history.

In the empty chairs method, the patient sits in one chair and talks to the other empty chair, asking questions as if the patient were talking to herself when she was a child.

In guided imagery, the patient is put in a relaxed state and guided by the therapist back into her childhood dilemmas, almost as if she had been hypnotized, according to testimony.

But a psychiatrist and psychologist debunked the counselor's methods.

"There's no scientific evidence that memories can be pushed to the back of the mind and come up later. That's just a hunch, a supposition that one psychologist may share with another," said Dr. David Shapiro, a Timonium psychologist who often testifies for the state in abuse cases.

He called the empty chairs method "pure gimmickry."

Dr. Michael Spodak, a psychiatrist, said a review of the medical records in the case of the youngest daughter -- who brought her sisters to see Ms. Hartge -- indicated a sudden flip-flop on whether she was abused that made her case hard to believe.

"One week, she has no recall of her father abusing her and then a week and a half later, she has all these details," he said, referring to the record.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled to be heard tomorrow morning.

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