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Rocky Mountain News (CO)
November 5, 1995
Author: SUE LINDSAY ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS STAFF WRITER
Jane Brennan once ran a successful day care center in which she oversaw the care of 50 children.
But after a year of therapy with Beverly Nussbaumer, Brennan was gripped by a depression so deep she couldn’t care for her own three children and could barely get out of bed to care for herself.
Brennan went to Nussbaumer for help with post-partum depression, but says she became the victim of Nussbaumer’s zealous search for memories of incest by her father that never happened.
“She didn’t know what she was doing, but she was too arrogant to say maybe I made a mistake,” Brennan said of Nussbaumer. “If she had ever acknowledged that, this lawsuit never would have happened.”
Last week, a jury awarded Brennan $120,000 in her lawsuit against Nussbaumer and supervising psychiatrist Henry Bible. Jurors said the verdict was designed as a compromise after one juror rejected the claim that Nussbaumer planted false memories of incest in Brennan’s mind.
A million dollars in damages was sought. Under the compromise, the jury awarded much less, found Nussbaumer guilty of professional negligence and cleared Bible of negligence.
Brennan, 36, said she understands how the dissenting juror felt. “When I was her age – young and single – I probably would have done the same thing. No one could have talked me into anything.”
Brennan is still baffled by what happened. How could a head-strong, energetic, healthy person be talked into believing that her father had abused her?
“If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone,” Brennan said. ”That’s the danger and that’s the reason I did this lawsuit. I was so sick and vulnerable and this therapist took advantage of me. I don’t think therapists realize the power they have.”
Defense attorneys said both therapists simply tried to help Brennan, using accepted techniques. They contend that Brennan, who returned to college for a master’s degree after therapy, is better off now.
But Nussbaumer’s attorney, Gilbert Dickinson, admitted that therapists view recovered memories of incest much differently now than they did five years ago, when it seemed that such cases were popping up like weeds.
Nussbaumer was “caught in the middle” of changing philosophies about such
memories, he said, but never purposely set out to give Brennan false memories, Dickinson said.
Brennan was referred to Nussbaumer after she told leaders of a premenstrual syndrome group that her grandfather had exposed himself to her when she was four years old. Dickinson argued that Nussbaumer had to explore the issue of incest.
But Brennan describes her therapy differently. She said she never viewed the incident with her grandfather as sexual abuse and never thought it contributed to her depression.
Her condition declined dramatically during therapy that included hypnosis and a variety of trendy but unproven techniques that focused on recovering
memories of incest.
Eventually Brennan had dim glimmers of memories, then detailed recollections of weekly sexual assaults by her father. Soon she believed she was sold into prostitution by her parents as a young child.
Brennan says Nussbaumer was obsessed with steering her to recover memories and dismissed Brennan’s doubts as proof of the severity of the trauma.
“She told me that one of every three women are incest victims,” Brennan said. “I questioned everything. Even though I was sick, I’m not stupid.
“But she would get angry and say, ‘Why don’t you just accept this? You want to get better, don’t you?’ That kind of disapproval is very powerful in a therapy session.
“Little by little, I began to believe it.”
By the fall of 1992, Brennan had cut off relations with her parents and siblings. She was barely functioning, spending most of her time in bed or sobbing on the sofa. Her behavior scared her older daughter, then 3, who ran for comfort to her nanny, not her mommy.
In October 1992, Brennan became suicidal and was hospitalized twice.
“By then, I wanted to die,” she said. “If my father did this to me, I didn’t want to live.”
Six months later, her distraught husband Kyle, convinced that his wife’s medications were making her psychotic, began giving her placebos. And she began to improve. At the same time, she read news reports about the controversy over false memories in the mental health community.
She had stopped therapy with Nussbaumer and was evaluated by another psychologist. He doubted that abuse had ever taken place.
Brennan is disappointed that Bible wasn’t found negligent, but says she feels vindicated by the jury’s verdict because jurors agreed that what Nussbaumer did was wrong.
“The most important thing is that our family is back together,” she said.
Record Number: 9502270265
Copyright (c) 1995 Rocky Mountain News