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'Satan' Examines Psychiatric Therapies

October 24, 1995|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's unfortunate that psychiatrists and so-called experts in MPDs (multiple personality disorders) Drs. Bennett Braun and Roberta Sachs refused to speak on the record to "Frontline" producers Ofra Bikel and Rachel Dretzin for their report "The Search for Satan."

They have a lot to answer for.

Bikel has long been "Frontline's" chief investigator of exotic psychiatric therapies and their controversial and sometimes damaging effects. "The Search for Satan" is the natural extension of Bikel's last "Frontline" report on the recovered memory movement, "Divided Memories," and the victims this time appear to be patients of a highly esteemed medical institution.

Braun and Sachs practice at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center on Chicago's North Shore, where they have developed a specialization in diagnosing MPD in patients they claim are victims of ritual satanic abuse. As former patients Mary S. and Pat Burgis recall it, their entries into Rush became something like a fall into the pits of hell.

*

What began as a bout of depression for Mary turned into a nightmarish rending of her family and a dissolution of her own personality under an assault of heavy medications and aggressive therapy. Braun, Sachs and company allegedly persuaded Mary not only that she was part of satanic "royalty" but also that she was still programmed to kill. Pat began to believe she was a satanic high priestess controlling a nine-state network.

For outsiders watching this on television, it seems like collective madness, conspired by doctors trained to cure mental disorders. But what emerges is that the combination of fear, the desire to believe experts, megadoses of medication and year upon year of one-on-one sessions broke the patients' reasoning powers.

Partly because these doctors would or could not talk on camera, we are left with puzzling questions about them. What inspired their exotic study? Why the satanic link? What about their claims of links to the Nazis and medieval middle European cults? Where does all this come from?

Clinical psychologist Dr. Jack Leggett does go on camera with one explanation. As a mental health claims reviewer for insurance companies, Leggett found a pattern in the 1980s of hospitals such as Rush diagnosing MPD patients with rich benefit plans. Such diagnoses result in long-term care with a startling bill at the end of the day: in Pat's case, $3 million.

At the bottom of it all, this could be a money thing, not a devil thing.

* "The Search for Satan" airs at 9 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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