Woman files `repressed memory' suit

Case alleges therapist led patient to believe she was victim of abuse

May 06, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

In 1989, Regina Moran signed up for a weight reduction program at Sheppard & Enoch Pratt Hospital hoping to shed a few pounds.

But in a lawsuit in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Moran says a psychologist spent the next eight years convincing her that she had been sexually abused as a child and was repressing memories of it.

As part of her treatment, Moran experienced nightmares and "flashbacks," and went through hypnosis and guided image therapy to recover "repressed memories" of abuse by her father, his friends and two of her brothers, according to court papers.

Moran, 48, of Rosedale, filed a $5 million negligence suit this week alleging that her therapist, Steven L. Shearer, misled her into creating "repressed memories" that didn't exist.

Shearer also encouraged her to cut herself off from disbelieving family members and aggravated her psychological problems, the suit alleges.

"It really is absurd if you think about it," said Thomas Pavlinic, Moran's lawyer. "You go to a hospital to lose weight, and they try to convince you it's because you were sexually abused as a child."

The suit names Shearer, the Anxiety & Stress Disorders Institute, where he treated Moran, and Sheppard Pratt, where the institute was based, as defendants.

Daniel J. Moore, a lawyer for the hospital, said yesterday that he could not comment on the suit because he had not seen it. Shearer did not return calls, and an institute spokesman declined to comment.

The suit alleges Moran's anxiety increased during her treatment.

From 1989 to 1997, Moran was hospitalized for about 20 months, gave up a job with the former C&P Telephone Co. and isolated herself from her 11 brothers and sisters, Pavlinic said.

Shearer convinced Moran that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said was a necessary part of healing as the painful memories came back to her, the suit alleges.

But it was all unnecessary, and did more harm than good, the suit says.

"Mrs. Moran had no memories of sexual abuse by anyone prior to entering `repressed memory therapy' at Sheppard Pratt, and in fact she was never sexually abused as a child," the suit says.

Pavlinic said that Moran realized the therapy was hurting her when she left the program in 1997 and sought help from other therapists.

Pamela Freyd, executive director of the Philadelphia-based False Memory Syndrome Foundation, said some therapists began encouraging patients to "recover" false memories about childhood sexual abuse in the early 1990s after several highly publicized cases involving children.

She said it is easy for a patient to be fooled into creating false memories.

"You have someone who is distressed enough to go to a professional for help, and, being a good patient, is going to do what the professional tells them they should do," Freyd said.

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