Psychiatrist accused of negligently implanting false memories testifies

Associated Press/August 17, 1999
By Robert Imrie

A psychiatrist accused of giving a woman false memories of sexual abuse and a cult testified on Monday that no doctor could implant such thoughts into someone under hypnosis without intentionally doing it.

Psychiatrist Juan Fernandez III was not directly asked if he had implanted such memories after he took the witness stand as a trial on a malpractice lawsuit against him began its fourth week of testimony. His testimony was expected to continue today.

Joan Hess, the ex-wife of former Wausau Mayor John Hess, alleges Fernandez was negligent in his treatment of her.

She accuses the psychiatrist of implanting false memories, leading her to believe she was sexually abused by her father, that she had more than 75 personalities, and that her parents were members of a cult that forced others to have sex with animals and witness human sacrifices.

A seven-man, seven-woman jury is hearing the evidence in a trial expected to last five weeks.

Hess contends Fernandez's care destroyed her marriage, alienated her from her family, made her unable to work and ruined her life. She seeks unspecified damages.

Fernandez's attorney earlier told the jury the woman's treatment was reasonable.

The dispute focuses on repressed memory therapy and the diagnosis of multiple personality disorder.

Repressed-memory therapy contends victims of childhood trauma can forget the abuse for decades and later be cured of adult disorders by recovering their memories of the trauma.

Psychiatric experts say the development of multiple personalities can result because the mind creates a separate place to store the horrible memories so the child doesn't have to accept their existence.

Fernandez began the defense portion of the trial Monday by testifying that false memories of abuse could not be implanted in someone's mind under hypnosis without intentional actions by treatment providers and it could not be done by accident.

"Absolutely not," he said. "Psychotherapy's purpose is to never harm a person."

Could the memories be planted by accident? the doctor was asked. "No. It is not possible," Fernandez told the jury.

Fernandez testified he began seeing Hess in February 1991, only as a doctor to monitor the drugs she was taking for depression. Another therapist, not affiliated with Fernandez, did psychotherapy with Hess as part of the treatment, he said.

That therapist had hypnotized Hess numerous times, causing her to have flashbacks about being sexually abused by her father, Fernandez said.

The flashbacks caused such anxiety for Hess that she was hospitalized in

Among the stresses in her life at the time was her husband's first campaign for mayor, the doctor said.

Fernandez said he hypnotized Hess for the first time during the November 1991 hospitalization.

"It was the appropriate thing to do at the time. She was in great distress," Fernandez told the jury.

Asked whether he had used hypnosis to go after memories Hess had not recalled, Fernandez said, "I do not recall doing it with Mrs. Hess or any other patients."

Fernandez said he came to Wausau as a psychiatrist specializing in childhood and adolescence in June 1990. He worked for North Central Health Care Facilities, and then set up a private practice several months later. Hess became one of his first patients in his practice in February 1991.

She once sought a psychic for treatment of her problems, as well as new-age therapy and dream-making therapy, Fernandez said.

Fernandez said he never learned about those decisions until after they occurred.

By March 1992, Fernandez said he was actively involved in treatment both to monitor her medication and do therapy with her. Fernandez ended his treatment of her in May 1994.


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