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Bizarre Claim Against Eating Disorder Clinic

CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) - A woman claims a psychologist at an eating-disorder clinic hypnotized her while she was on psychotropic drugs, inducing false memories of being raped and belonging to a satanic cult. She claims he did this recklessly, "based partly on her ability to pay for long-term continuous inpatient services," and told her that that if she sued, "her perpetration of various criminal and horrific acts of abuse would be revealed".

Lisa Nasseff sued the Castlewood Treatment Center and Mark Schwartz, Sc.D., (Doctor of Science) in St. Louis County Court. She seeks repayment of $650,000 in medical expenses, much of it unnecessary, which she says she laid out during more than a year of inpatient treatment.

Nasseff claims her false memories were a result of Schwartz's use of hypnotic therapy while she was under the influence of psychotropic drugs. She claims the false memories caused her to believe she was the victim of sexual abuse, rape and satanic ritual abuse; caused her to believe she was a member of a satanic cult that had committed crimes; and that she had 20 different personalities.

"We're not talking about memories from when she was a little kid," Nasseff's attorney Kenneth Vuylsteke told Courthouse News. "We're talking about a 28-year-old woman who believed that a couple of years ago that she participated in satanic abuse and sacrificed babies. ... These aren't memories that happened to little kids. These are memories that supposedly happened two or three years ago that this woman was brainwashed to believe."

Vuylsteke said a series of similar cases occurred in the 1990s. He said the issue became so prominent that it caused the psychological community to re-evaluate the standard of care, including that of hypnosis therapy.

"Clearly, the mainstream psychological community says this isn't the standard of care because of the history of this happening," Vuylsteke said.

Vuylsteke said Schwartz targeted women from states that require insurance companies to cover long-term treatment for eating disorders; those states include Nasseff's home state of Minnesota.

Nasseff alleges medical malpractice and intentional infliction of distress. She claims that Schwartz played upon her mental instability to continue the treatment.

She claims: "That defendant Mark Schwartz singled out and targeted plaintiff for the aforesaid intentional and reckless acts based partly on her ability to pay for long-term continuous inpatient services and said conduct by defendant was done to plaintiff at a time when she was vulnerable to hypnotic suggestion due to plaintiff's ongoing battle with an eating disorder and her ingestion of numerous medically prescribed drugs.

"That on or about October 3, 2010 defendant Mark Schwartz contacted plaintiff by telephone and told her if she did not return to Castlewood Treatment Center for additional psychological counseling and treatment she would most assuredly die from her eating disorder.

"That on or about October 8, 2011 defendant Mark Schwartz, left a telephone message with plaintiff threatening that all her 'memories' of satanic ritual abuse, multiple rapes, membership in a satanic cult and her perpetration of various criminal and horrific acts of abuse would be revealed by this lawsuit and that all those individuals supposedly involved with her in said acts would necessarily be subpoenaed and deposed by her attorney and as a result thereof she would be further psychologically and mentally damaged."

Nasseff claims she incurred more than $650,000 in unneeded medical bills due to the false memories. She seeks punitive damages.

Vuylsteke said he believes Nasseff is not the only victim and that more lawsuits will follow.

"Clearly, you can see this was partly motivated by money, because he targeted people with insurance plans that pay for long-term intensive care at facilities," Vuylsteke said. "Not only is he out of touch with his theory, but there is the money component, which goes from it just being reckless to intentional infliction of emotional distress."

Castlewood denies wrongdoing.

"We strongly believe that all of these claims are without merit and we intend to defend these claims vigorously," Castlewood Executive Director Nancy Albers told Courthouse News.

Castlewood's website describes it as a residential treatment facility for eating disorders. Castlewood says it offers residential treatment, a stabilization program, day treatment, outpatient programs and support groups. It specializes in treatment of anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating and other binge-eating disorders.

The website identifies Schwartz as Castlewood's clinical co-director. It says Schwartz earned his doctorate at Johns Hopkins and is an adjunct professor at the St. Louis University School of Medicine. The site states that Schwartz has achieved international recognition for his contributions in a variety of clinical areas, including intimacy disorders, sexual dysfunction, sexual trauma and eating disorders. Schwartz has published a number of articles and books, including "Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders."

Vuylsteke is a partner in Fox & Vuylsteke, of Webster Groves.

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