The memories that came flooding back were so horrific that Lisa
Nasseff says she tried to kill herself: she had been raped several
times, had multiple personalities and took part in satanic rituals
involving unthinkable acts. She says she only got better when she
realized they weren't real.
Nasseff, 31, is suing a suburban St. Louis treatment center
where she spent 15 months being treated for anorexia, claiming one
of its psychologists implanted the false memories during hypnosis
sessions in order to keep her there long-term and run up a bill
that eventually reached $650,000. The claims seem unbelievable, but
her lawyer, Kenneth Vuylsteke, says other patients have come
forward to say they, too, were brainwashed and are considering
"This is an incredible nightmare," Vuylsteke said.
Castlewood Treatment Center's director, Nancy Albus, and the
psychologist, Mark Schwartz, deny the allegations, and Albus
pledged to vigorously fight the lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 21 in
St. Louis County and seeks the repayment of medical expenses and
punitive damages. As in other repressed memory cases, which
typically involve allegations of child abuse, the outcome will
likely hinge on the testimony of experts with starkly different
views on how memory works.
Nasseff, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., stayed at Castlewood from
July 2007 through March 2008 and returned for seven months in 2009.
She was struggling with anorexia and as a resident of Minnesota,
which requires insurers to cover long-term eating disorders, unlike
Missouri and most states, she could afford to stay at the center,
which sits on a high bluff in the suburb of Ballwin overlooking a
park and meandering river.
In her lawsuit, Nasseff claims that Schwartz used hypnotic
therapy on her while she was being treated with psychotropic drugs,
and her lawyer says Schwartz gave her books about satanic worship
to further reinforce the false memories. She says she was led to
believe she was involved in a satanic cult whose rituals included
eating babies, that she had been sexually abused and raped multiple
times, and that she had exhibited 20 different personalities.
Vuylsteke said the trauma was too much to bear, and that Nasseff
tried to get hold of drugs to kill herself while she was at the
"Can you imagine how you would feel if you thought you had
participated in all these horrible things?" Vuylsteke asked.
Eventually, Nasseff learned from other women treated at
Castlewood that they, too, had been convinced through therapy that
they were involved in satanic cults, Vuylsteke said. And, he said,
those women were also from Minnesota, allowing insurance to pay for
"It seems like quite a coincidence that all of this cult
activity was in Minnesota," he said.
Nasseff returned to Minnesota, where she works part-time in
public relations and has her eating disorder in check, her lawyer
In her lawsuit, she claims that Schwartz warned her in October
2010 to return to Missouri for additional treatment or she would
die from her disorder. She says he left a phone message this
October warning that if she sued, all of her memories of satanic
rituals and abuse would be revealed.
Schwartz, reached by phone at the center, where he is its
clinical co-director, denied any wrongdoing but declined to discuss
the case further because he hadn't hired a lawyer yet. He
previously told ABCNews.com that he never hypnotized Nasseff, that
they had never discussed satanic cults and that she never told him
she had committed criminal acts.
Albus didn't respond to requests for comment, but she told
Courthouse News Service that Castlewood "strongly believes that all
of these claims are without merit and we intend to defend these
Repressed memory cases, which typically involve allegations of
abuse that happened during someone's childhood, became more common
in the 1990s. But some experts question their validity.
Elizabeth Loftus, a professor at the University of California,
Irvine, said there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the
brain can store away bad memories then have them suddenly
"Where is the proof you can be raped in satanic rituals and have
absolutely no awareness of it, then reliably recover those memories
later?" she asked.
Jim Hopper, a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard
Medical School, is of a different view, saying he believes memory
is much more complex.
"Something that happened years ago can be encoded in the brain
in various ways, and various combinations of those memory
representations may be retrieved, or not, in various ways, for
various reasons, at any particular time," he said.