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Parents May Have Case Against ‘Hypnotherapist’

(CN) - A couple may show that their daughter's therapist used hypnosis to implant false memories of sexual abuse, a Michigan appeals court ruled.

Lale and Joan Roberts say they retained the therapist, Kathryn Salmi, after discovering in 2009 that a family friend had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with one of their two daughters, described in the court filings only as K.

Not long after Salmi began seeing K that July, the 17-year-old "purportedly remembered that her father had physically and sexually abused her since she was five years old," according to the ruling.

"K allegedly confronted her father with what Lale and Joan Roberts maintain were false allegations of sexual abuse" at a group counseling session that month, the ruling continues.

When Salmi went to the state with K's alleged "memories" in September, she also reported that the father had also abused his younger daughter, L, who had Down syndrome.

State investigators found no evidence, however, that L had been or was being abused, the Roberts contended. They said the allegations K made in an interview with an investigator were also notably similar to the description Salmi provided the department.

Though K and L's older, estranged sister, told the investigator that she believed her parents' fundamentalist Christian beliefs were emotionally abusive, she said she never saw anything that could be considered sexual abuse.

Lacking evidence to support K's accusation, the department decided not to prosecute the Roberts.

The couple sued Salmi for malpractice in Houghton County Circuit Court, claiming that the counselor used "hypnosis, age regression and other psychotherapy techniques" to "implant" false memories in K's mind, subjecting them to criminal investigations, and destroying their relationship with their daughter.

Salmi denies these allegations, and says she does not offer repressed memory therapy or "use suggestive techniques with clients." She also says she has not been trained in hypnosis.

The Michigan Court of Appeals revived the couple's suit on Dec. 18.

"Michigan's common law recognizes a duty of care to third parties who might foreseeably be harmed by the mental health professional's use of techniques that cause his or her patient to have false memories of sexual abuse," Judge Kirsten Kelly wrote for the court.

Recovered-memory therapy is a controversial method within the psychotherapeutic community, and many are skeptical of its validity, the court noted.

"Child sexual abuse is one of the most heinous offenses that a person can commit," especially when the perpetrator is a parent, Kelly added.

A therapist using this therapy must be extremely careful with the use of suggestion, given that it is "entirely foreseeable" that a patient might "remember" false memories, according to the ruling.

"Because a patient's parents are within the class of persons most likely to be implicated by the creation of a false memory, when a mental health professional elects to treat a patient using techniques that might give rise to false memories in the patient, the mental health professional must consider not only the patient's welfare, but also the possibility that his or her decision to treat the patient in that way might result in a false memory that directly harms the patient's parents," Kelly said. "The parent-child relationship is so fundamental to human relations that a parent cannot be equated with a third party in the ordinary sense. And when a therapist's inept use of therapeutic techniques causes his or her patient to have false memories and make false allegations of sexual abuse, the harm is foreseeable and strikes 'at the core of a parent's basic emotional security.'"

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