Expert blasts therapy

Denver Post/April 11, 2001
By Kieran Nicholson

Golden, CO -- Therapist Connell Watkins used brainwashing techniques on 10-year-old Candace Newmaker during an intensive two-week therapy session, which ended in the girl's death, according to a local psychiatrist's testimony Tuesday.

Susan Van Scoyk likened the videotaped therapy sessions to what kidnap victim Patty Hearst experienced in the 1970s. Citing "Stockholm syndrome," she compared Candace to Hearst and the therapists to Hearst's kidnappers.

"Candace really had no say"

In Stockholm syndrome, victims are "led to believe they're always wrong and the people who are in authority are always right," said Van Scoyk, who was called to testify by prosecutors.

"Candace really had no say in anything," said Van Scoyk. Watkins and co-defendant Julie Ponder are being tried in Jefferson County on charges of reckless child abuse resulting in death.

The girl's answers to most of Watkins' questions were typically found to be wrong, and her explanations weren't right either, Van Scoyk said. Watkins attempted "to make her feel as if she knew nothing and everyone around her knew the right answers."

Van Scoyk, who works with the Kemp Center in Denver, a national treatment facility for abused and neglected children, watched the videotaped sessions, read court transcripts, reviewed Candace's medical records and history, and pored over ethical and legal guidelines as part of her research in the case, she said.

Van Scoyk said the sessions broke ethical guidelines established by the National Association of Social Workers. Watkins has a master's degree in social work.

"In general, the key word is respect for your client," Van Scoyk said. "Not treating them in a derogatory way and not putting them in harm's way. "The emotional well-being of the client was not cared for," she said.

The defense says Candace suffered from reactive attachment disorder, among other psychological illnesses, and that the therapy sessions were an effort to bond Candace with her adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker. "Intensive" measures, the defense says, had to be taken because traditional therapies, together with medications, were not working.

Van Scoyk labeled the rebirthing, "holding" and "compression" sessions carried out on Candace last April as "experimental or fringe" therapies with no "scientific" validation.

Contact questioned Watkins violated a physical-contact prohibition between client and therapist when she repeatedly grabbed the girl's face, cupped her mouth and squeezed Candace close to her chest, said Van Scoyk.

The physical contact - including a compression session in which Jeane Newmaker followed Watkins' instructions to lick Candace's face - resulted in "emotional harm" and was counterproductive in treating the child, said Van Scoyk.

Van Scoyk said the sessions seemed geared to benefit Newmaker more than Candace. Newmaker received most of the support and most of the sympathy.

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