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December 12, 1997


A Chelan mental-health therapist accused of inducing a client’s false memories of sexual abuse and satanic-ritual involvement has been placed on probation by state officials, fined $5,000 and ordered closely supervised by a physician

The state Medical Quality Assurance Commission yesterday suspended for eight years the license of John W. Laughlin, a physician’s assistant and licensed mental-health therapist who was charged with unprofessional conduct. But the board will not suspend him on the condition he not use hypnosis, be closely supervised, report regularly to the commission and pay the fine.

Laura Deck, of Enumclaw, won a $375,000 settlement in a civil lawsuit against Laughlin. Deck said she was devastated by his two years of treatment and many times contemplated suicide.

The civil case was the first in Washington state dealing with the controversial technique of “recovered memory therapy.” Another complaint against Laughlin was filed with the commission in November 1996 and is under investigation. Attorneys in the case say it is similar to Deck’s.

Laughlin agreed to the presentation of the evidence. Despite the agreement, he said in a hearing yesterday at a SeaTac hotel, “I don’t believe I did these things.” After the hearing, he rushed out of the building, avoiding reporters and others.

Deck, 40, said angrily after the hearing that the commission “didn’t do anything.”   “Nothing has changed. It doesn’t address the problem,” she said.

Doubts about treatment

Deck was referred to Laughlin in May 1990, primarily for depression and insomnia, when he was practicing in Enumclaw.  The commission and Laughlin agreed that during two years, he prescribed ever-increasing doses of antidepressants and used hypnosis, which he believed revealed a history of sexual abuse and involvement in satanic-ritual abuse.

“Subsequent therapy by other health-care providers cast doubts on (Laughlin’s) treatment and the reliability of the information obtained . . . by means of hypnosis,” the commission said.

The commission said Laughlin repeatedly told Deck that she had to be very careful because “cult members” might be watching her and that he knew she was participating in cult activities at night.

Laughlin offered to perform an exorcism on Deck “because evil had been programmed into her” and told her she would be in great danger if she terminated therapy, the commission said.

The medical board said Laughlin practiced psychiatry at a level beyond what his training would safely allow and practiced without the appropriate physician supervision for nearly eight months in 1992.

No longer uses hypnosis

The board closely questioned Laughlin, his current supervising physician, and his attorney, Philip VanDerhoef, for nearly 45 minutes about his past practice and about how he is being supervised at the Center for Emotional Trauma Recovery at Lake Chelan Community Hospital.

Laughlin said he now believes that trying to evoke patients’ repressed memories is not a good technique because “they may be remembering things that aren’t there.” He also said he no longer uses hypnosis. “It’s too risky for patients and too risky for me,” he said.