Psychiatric patient tells of ordeal in treatment

Chicago Tribune/February 13, 2004
By Hal Dardick

When Elizabeth Gale sought psychiatric treatment in 1986, she suffered from depression, the most common of psychiatric illnesses.

But Dr. Bennett Braun and his colleagues convinced her that her family indoctrinated her as a child so she would make babies for sacrifice in a satanic cult, Gale charged in a malpractice suit she settled Wednesday for $7.5 million.

The therapists, she alleged, told her she needed their help to recover memories hidden beneath layers of rare multiple personalities that she had developed as a psychic guard against her childhood trauma.

Braun's attorney Martin Kanofsky said his client denies the allegations and declined to comment further.

On Thursday, Gale talked about how over an 11-year period she spent more than 2,000 days in psychiatric hospitals and cut off contact with her family. She said she changed her name three times, underwent sterilization and fled town to escape detection by the cult. She also gave up her job as a legal secretary at a Chicago law firm, quit her undergraduate business studies at DePaul University and distanced herself from friends.

"I never thought I'd want to go back in my life," Gale said. "But I would like to go back to the day in my life I stepped into that hospital and say, `No.' It's a tragedy I can't reverse."

Gale, 51, is living in the northwest suburbs, mending fences with family members and undergoing traditional psychiatric treatment. She has received her degree.

"It will never be the same," she said. "There are some things you can't get back."

Gale's attorney Todd Smith said that under the settlement, entered Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court, Rush North Shore Medical Center, where Braun was director of the dissociative disorders program, will pay $3.6 million. Psychologist Roberta Sachs will pay $3.1 million, and a corporation affiliated with Braun will pay $500,000. Dr. Corydon Hammond will pay $175,000, and Rush University Medical Center must pay $150,000. No wrongdoing was admitted by the hospitals, the doctors or the psychologist.

Hammond's attorney Scott Thomas declined comment.

Sachs' attorney, Richard Donohue, said the payment by his client was so high because "she's the one who had insurance coverage." He described her involvement in Gale's treatment as "small potatoes," a characterization with which Gale took issue, saying "she ran the program."

"As far as the hospital and its administration knew, Dr. Braun and his team, who were considered national experts, were using accepted treatment at that time," said Rush attorney Mary Ellen Busch. "That treatment is now undergoing scrutiny and is becoming increasingly controversial."

Braun and his associates specialized in treating multiple personality cases with recovered memory therapy, which was popular in the 1980s and early 1990s but later came under intense criticism.

Elizabeth Loftus, professor of psychology and criminology at University of California, Irvine and a well-known debunker of repressed memory theories, said Braun "was a major figure in the multiple personality world" that espoused repressed memory theory.

There's "a severe dent" in repressed memory theory "because of the many, many [patients] who have retracted their claims and know now they were false," she said. "A lot of the hospital dissociative units have shut down."

In 1997, west suburban resident Patricia Burgus received a $10.5 million settlement in a suit filed against the hospital, then known as Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's, and two therapists, including Braun. Burgus and her sons were hospitalized at Rush in the late 1980s.

Braun later sued his insurance company for allegedly settling the case without his consent.

Burgus, under Braun's care, said she came to believe she had more than 300 personalities and had cannibalized children as part of a satanic cult.

Rush ended its relationships with Braun and Sachs, and in 1999 Illinois suspended Braun's medical license for two years. At the end of that period, he was barred for five years from treating dissociative identity disorders, including multiple personality.

A spokesman for the Montana board of medical examiners said Braun was issued a medical license in that state in June. Sachs is believed to be living in Maryland.

Gale said she was feeling suicidal in 1986 when she sought treatment. She said she was referred to Braun and was hospitalized in September of that year and remained there until November 1990. Between then and 1997, during which she was under Braun's care, Gale said she was hospitalized 17 other times.

She was told her parents and four siblings were part of a cult and she was raised as a "breeder" to produce babies for pornography and sexual abuse, among other things, before they were sacrificed, she said.

In 1991, she underwent a tubal ligation with Braun's support, she said. "I didn't want to have any more children," said Gale, who has never been pregnant. "I didn't want to offer them up to the cult."

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