Two years after Lisa Nasseff accused psychologist Mark Schwartz of implanting her with false memories of sexual abuse and satanic cult activity, her lawsuit against Castlewood Treatment Center and its former director will be dismissed Friday, according to filings in St. Louis County Circuit Court.
Attorneys say Nasseff’s case was resolved favorably for both sides. Few details were available. The case appeared headed for settlement, then last month the court file indicated the case would be dismissed.
Separate lawsuits from three other women with similar claims of brainwashing, hypnosis and concocted memories during their lengthy stays at the eating disorder treatment clinic on the outskirts of Castlewood State Park in Ballwin appear headed to the same conclusion.
But an additional 25 to 30 families across the country who have formed the group Castlewood Victims Unite say the dismissal of the cases and the expected confidentiality agreements are disappointing, because Schwartz and other staff members won’t have to testify under oath. None of the women would give interviews to the Post-Dispatch, according to their lawyer.
“I wish they would have gone to trial,” said Lisa Krug, whose daughter stayed at Castlewood in 2010 and 2011 and came home with memories of torture and sexual abuse by a neighbor and a family member that logistically could not have occurred, according to Krug. “I just feel bad for girls who are going to go there in the future. The therapy is still there, and it’s just going to keep happening.”
OPENING THE DOORS
Castlewood staff deny the allegations of brainwashing and say no therapist has ever created false memories or hypnotized clients.
Since the fourth lawsuit was filed by Colette Travers in late 2012, Castlewood has made sweeping changes to its leadership team and public relations strategy. Gone are Schwartz and his wife, Lori Galperin, who co-founded the treatment center a dozen years ago and remained consultants until April. The couple also resigned from a Castlewood affiliate they opened in California. Schwartz declined to comment when reached by phone.
The decision for Schwartz and Galperin to step down was made by the couple, the Castlewood board of directors and the owners, Trinity Hunt Partners of Dallas, which bought the sprawling treatment center in 2008. At the time of the agency’s $25 million move into behavioral health, Trinity Hunt referred to Schwartz and Galperin as “highly regarded clinicians with extensive experience in treating individuals suffering from eating disorders and psychological trauma.” Their departure is not related to the lawsuits, according to Nancy Albus, who has worked at Castlewood for 10 years and was promoted to CEO a year ago.
Albus said while she is grateful for the foundation the couple built, “it was always the evolution of this company to grow beyond the faces of Mark and Lori ... so Castlewood would no longer be associated with the founders.”
Castlewood has hired at least three public relations agencies in the last two years. The latest, Blick and Staff of Clayton, started a campaign over the summer highlighting Castlewood’s increase in male clients and other trends in eating disorders. Castlewood staff have recently been more visible at conferences nationwide and have welcomed media to the campus. In September, Castlewood earned new accreditation from the Joint Commission, which certifies U.S. medical facilities.
“It’s time to really address some of the misperceptions and misrepresentations and show the quality of care we provide,” Albus said in a recent interview inside the spacious home where 16 men and women can live while undergoing intensive therapy for eating disorders. Castlewood’s properties include space for 26 residential clients as well as outpatient services.
The number of clients coming to Castlewood initially declined after the media coverage of the lawsuits but rebounded to a record high in November, Albus said. Referring mental health professionals, parents and potential clients are invited to visit the campus and ask about concerns.
“I’m passionate about this work and any opportunity to showcase that,” Albus said. “No other program in the country is going to provide the one-on-one care that we do.”
The founder of Castlewood Victims Unite said he was investigated and cleared by New York state police when his daughter accused him of “horrific, horrible, heinous” abuse after her stay at Castlewood in 2011. The man asked to remain anonymous because he is trying to repair the relationship with his estranged daughter. This will be the third Christmas without his daughter, whom he calls the “magic” of their family.
After seeking treatment at Castlewood for an eating disorder, the now 20-year-old woman accused almost 100 people, including teachers, coaches and police officers, of raping or abusing her, according to her father. He started Castlewood Victims Unite after the publicity surrounding the lawsuits and was both relieved and mortified to find other parents had similar stories of “shattered families and broken daughters” after their children stayed at Castlewood.
Nasseff, who filed the first malpractice lawsuit, said in previous interviews that during her 15-month stay at the center for anorexia treatment she was brainwashed into believing she had multiple personalities and implanted under hypnosis with false memories of sexual abuse and satanic activity. According to the lawsuit, Schwartz wanted to keep Nasseff at the treatment center because she had good insurance that would pay her medical bills totaling $650,000.
Leslie Thompson, who filed the second suit, said she was led to believe she had been possessed by the devil and helped murder a baby. The third woman to file, Brooke Taylor of St. Louis, has said “a lot of demons were put in (her) head” about nonexistent sexual abuse when she was overmedicated, bullied and hypnotized during her three-month stay in 2010.
In a previous interview, Nasseff said that she sued to protect future residents of Castlewood. “I just don’t want anyone else to get hurt, “ she said. “I don’t want to see families destroyed.”
MEMORY AND THERAPY
Castlewood has advertised that its residential stays cost $1,100 a day. Albus said the center has frequent battles with insurance companies to get reimbursed for an average 40-day stay, and that scholarships and payment plans are available. More than 1,000 clients have been treated at Castlewood since it opened about 12 years ago.
Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness. Some residents of Castlewood are so ill that they require feeding tubes, and others are so weak that they use wheelchairs. Almost all are also dealing with anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. About half of the people who come to Castlewood have been deemed treatment failures by other facilities, according to staff members.
Much of the debate surrounding Castlewood has been its use of a therapy called internal family systems, which involves encouraging patients to improve the parts of themselves that are destructive. Several experts in eating disorders have said internal family systems is not the standard of care because malnourished patients and those on psychotropic drugs are particularly vulnerable to having their memories and personalities twisted.
Jim Gerber, Castlewood’s clinical director, said internal family systems is just one of the options available to residents, and that accessing painful memories is a part of the healing process. People who have compartmentalized memories might need help to access them during therapy, but it’s not a “fishing expedition,” he said.
“We have to deal with a person’s past experience,” Gerber said. “The goal is for a person to come to an understanding of their life to deal with what they struggle with in the present. In no intervention does someone say ‘this happened to you.’”
Several alumni and current residents who agreed to recent interviews at the facility say they credit Castlewood with saving their lives and could not relate to the experiences detailed in the lawsuits.
“It’s scary when memories come up but they need to come up to heal,” said Olivia Frank, 19, of Rhode Island, who is in her second stay at Castlewood for restricting her food intake and other unhealthy behaviors. “I absolutely adore Castlewood. They want you to feel empowered by making healthy decisions for yourself.”