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MIND AND BODY : Persecution Complex

August 21, 1994|Ellen Alperstein

After seeing several of their peers charged with sexual malfeasance , getting sued for purportedly encouraging the recovery of false memories and just generally getting hauled into courts for any number of problems, real and imagined, many California psychotherapists are, well, paranoid.

And, perhaps, with good reason. There are 8,000 to 10,000 lawsuits against therapists pending in U.S. courts, according to the Philadelphia-based False Memory Syndrome Foundation, and at least 1,000 of them are in California. Orange County, says attorney O. Brandt Caudill, is the epicenter of recovered memory lawsuits.

"Maybe California has more of these lawsuits because we've got more touchy-feely therapists doing experimental things," suggests Newport Beach psychoanalyst Lawrence E. Hedges. "California has more therapists per capita than any other state, and many have limited training," he adds.

In an effort to educate the mental health community, Hedges, along with psychotherapists Robert Hilton and Virginia Wink Hilton, organized "Therapists at Risk," a seminar held earlier this year in Anaheim. More than 100 people came to learn about "the perils of the intimacy of the psychotherapy relationship in the current climate of accusation and litigation."

Plundering the past is a double-edged sword, says Wink Hilton. "Therapists should be very cautious about ever leading or directing a client into recovery of lost memories; at the same time, this brings about a reticence to explore the very issues the client might need to deal with."

This dilemma has resulted in several new support groups. The Los Angeles Society of Clinical Psychologists and the Los Angeles-based Professional Advocacy Network have both recently established groups for therapists who have been accused of an ethical or legal breach. The validity of the accusations is not at issue; the forums exist solely to allow participants to air their feelings about the perils of the psychic territory they mine, as well as the litigious nature of contemporary America.

The network is already reporting up to 100 calls a month--half from California.

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