The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) is a mental health organization for professionals and students. The organization focuses on psychological trauma and the dissociative disorders, including dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder (MPD). The ISSTD has held annual international and regional conferences since its founding in 1984, with most presentations rewarding attendees with continuing education credits required to maintain clinical licensure. The organization promotes pseudoscientific recovered memory therapy, other dangerous treatment techniques, and fictitious conspiracy theories including ritual sacrifice, cannibalism, and widespread, abusive, Satanic cults. ISSTD members, speakers, researchers, staff, and board members continue to promote the long-disproven notion that these Satanic conspiracies have caused mental illness in thousands or even millions of people. As such, the ISSTD is the primary structure around which conspiracy therapists organize. But contrary to their assertions that they are healing the abused and traumatized, many prominent ISSTD members – including its founders and presidents – have been the subject of disturbing misconduct allegations and lawsuits from former patients (see Documented and Alleged Misconduct sections below).
This is the main page on the ISSTD. A review of ISSTD conference presentations since 1984 can be found here.
The 1984 founding of the organization that would become the ISSTD occurred in the context of increased popular and psychiatric interest in child abuse and MPD following the publication of The Three Faces of Eve in 1957 and Sybil in 1973, each of which purported to recount the mental health treatment of an MPD patient. Notably, Eve’s MPD was not thought to be a result of child abuse, unlike most later MPD cases. Sybil, on the other hand, was thought to have MPD as a result of abuse – sexual abuse in particular – perpetrated by her mother. And while Eve initially only had three personalities, Sybil had sixteen. Although Sybil would later be revealed by journalist Debbie Nathan to be largely fabricated, Cornelia Wilbur, the psychiatrist who treated Sybil, was considered a foremost expert in MPD following the book’s publication.
Soon after Sybil was published, Wilbur was hired by the defense in the trial of Billy Milligan (also known as “The Campus Rapist”), who claimed that an alter personality was responsible for the rapes of college students.(p. 70) Milligan became the first person to be found not guilty by reason of insanity due to a diagnosis of MPD, in part due to Wilbur’s assessment of the case. As a result, he avoided prison, instead undergoing psychiatric treatment predominantly under the care of psychiatrist David Caul. Caul’s treatment of Milligan was heavily criticized for affording Milligan “special privileges,” and a senior staff psychologist at the hospital believed Caul was using Milligan to achieve fame. Milligan later escaped and likely committed a murder before he was recaptured. Milligan may have been faking his symptoms of MPD to avoid prison; his success would soon inspire others to do the same.
In 1978, a psychiatrist named Ralph Allison chaired the American Psychiatric Association’s first MPD workshop for mental health workers. Allison was almost a decade into his specialty by then, and his favorite treatment methods included exorcism. But that wasn’t enough to stop the Association from inviting him back. He chaired the next MPD workshop in 1979(p. 12) which included, as experts, Wilbur and Caul. Two more psychiatrists, Bennett Braun and Richard Kluft, were invited at Wilbur’s request.(p. 12) Kluft delivered a course on the “successful treatment of MPD in an eight-year-old-boy.”(p. 82) This was the first meeting of Braun and Kluft, who would be instrumental in founding the organization that would become the ISSTD just a few years later.(p. 13-17) According to Kluft, he and his new partner discovered that they each had a habit of overturning the existing diagnoses of other mental health professionals.(p. 13) They saw this as clear evidence that they needed their own professional organization. Both Braun and Kluft would later find themselves accused of falsely diagnosing patients with MPD.
Around this time, Allison was hired to examine Kenneth Bianchi, one of The Hillside Stranglers, who claimed that an alter personality was responsible for raping and murdering women.(p. 49) A psychiatrist by the name of John Watkins – who would soon find himself a prominent member of the organization that would become the ISSTD – hypnotized Bianchi and, after suggesting to Bianchi that “there may be another part” to him, learned of an alter personality who Bianchi blamed for the crimes. Allison agreed that Bianchi had MPD, a finding contradicted by other psychiatric experts who examined him, such as Martin Orne. Allison later agreed Bianchi did not have MPD.(p. 49) It was later revealed that Bianchi had previously read The Three Faces of Eve and watched the film adaptation of Sybil prior to his evaluation by Watkins.(p. 132)
The American Psychiatric Association’s MPD workshop did not take place in 1980.
During this period of increased psychiatric interest in MPD, diagnoses were skyrocketing. From 1800-1970 a total of just 76 MPD cases had been reported in the literature, a rate of 0.44 cases per year. But in 1980, George Greaves published an article titled “Multiple personality 165 years after Mary Reynolds” in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease in which he identified 126 cases in the 1970s literature alone, a rate of 12.6 cases a year.(p. 578)
The American Psychiatric Association’s MPD workshop was revived by Braun and Kluft in 1981 when Allison was no longer able(p. ii) or “not interested in”(p. 12) remaining chair. Workshop faculty that year included Allison, Renate E. Braun (possibly a relative of Bennett’s), Caul, Roberta Sachs, Chris C. Sizemore (the patient known as “Eve”), and Wilbur.(p. 59) Hypnotherapy and “hypnotic inquiry” were heavily promoted,(p. 59) reflecting the prominence of such techniques in mainstream psychiatry at the time. Braun and Kluft also co-moderated a panel on “Concepts of Etiology in Multiple Personality” with participants Renate E. Braun, Sizemore, and Wilbur.(p. 28) Another panel on “Treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder” was moderated by Richard E. Hicks with participants Anthony Tsitos, Sizemore, and Wilbur.(p. 48)
But the 1981 conference of the American Psychiatric Association would go down in the history books for another reason. It was there that psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder coined the term “ritual abuse,”(p. 50) using the term to refer to the alleged Satanic abuse suffered by his patient (and later wife), with whom he co-wrote the book Michelle Remembers, published the prior year. Although Pazder’s patient wasn’t diagnosed with MPD, the one-year-old disorder would soon become closely linked with the concept Pazder introduced to his colleagues at this conference. This was the first major step in the Satanic Panic’s creep over the field of psychiatry.
On top of the 126 cases of MPD in the 1970s identified by Greaves, a 1982 paper by Myron Boor identified 29 more cases in the literature from 1970-1981.(p. 302) Like Greaves, Boor also noted that more recent cases of MPD tended to feature a greater number of alter personalities.(p. 303)
Also in 1982, Deni Elliot published an article on state intervention and MPD in The Journal of Psychiatry and Law arguing that “the diagnosis of multiple personality in a child ought serve as prima facie evidence for child abuse, even if compelling physical evidence is lacking.”(p. 441)
The founding of the organization that would become the ISSTD coincided with the beginning of a moral panic in the United States concerning alleged child sexual abuse perpetrated by secret Satanic cults. The panic was primarily a result of reckless actions by law enforcement and therapists, whose leading questioning of children resulted in them “confirming” their parents’ suspicions of abuse in daycare centers. There was also a significant role played by physicians who believed they had detected signs and symptoms of sexual abuse when nothing of the sort had occurred. The hysteria began in 1982 in Kern County, California, in a series of cases whose central allegations notably did not occur in a daycare, and quickly spread to other states and countries. Simultaneously, movements devoted to raising awareness about sexual abuse, incest, and the effects of childhood trauma on (primarily women’s) mental health in adulthood were reviving Freud’s concept of repression – the notion that memories of sufficiently traumatic events may be blocked from conscious recall but will nonetheless cause mental illness. The theory is closely related to MPD. Treatment often involves recovering the memories – allegedly stored within alter personalities partitioned by barriers of amnesia – using hypnosis or similar methods now known to produce false memories. Although Freud eventually abandoned repressed memory theory, many conspiracy therapists insist on its validity, believing that memories of abuse (including Satanic cult abuse) are often buried in the unconscious until recovered during therapy. One may consider it inevitable that Satanic abuse would become a focus point within the ISSTD.
In 1983 and 1984, four journals – American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, Psychiatric Annals, Psychiatric Clinics of North America, and International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis – dedicated entire issues to the topic of MPD.(p. iii)
Corbett Thigpen and Hervey Cleckley, the two psychiatrists who treated Sizemore – the patient known as “Eve” – reported in 1984 that they had seen only one genuine case of MPD since their experience with Eve despite many patients contacting them claiming to have the disorder. But Thigpen and Cleckley’s skepticism around skyrocketing MPD diagnoses had little effect in slowing down the movement.
Though the steering committee for the founding of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality (ISSMP) was organized by Greaves in 1982,(p. 3) the fledgling organization gained traction due to a conversation at a restaurant in New York on April 30th of 1983, during the American Psychiatric Association conference that year.(p. ii) Present at the restaurant were Caul, Kluft, Frank Putnam, Greaves,(p. ii) Sachs, Jane DuBrow (who would later become Braun’s wife), Boor, and Braun.(p. 52) Putnam and Kluft(p. 11-12) would later characterize the ISSMP’s founding as the merging of multiple dissociative disorders groups, one stemming from the American Psychiatric Association course faculty and headed by Braun in Chicago, Illinois, and the other by Greaves – who would become the organization’s third president after Braun and Kluft – in Atlanta, Georgia. Caul was a member of both groups.(p. 12)
While Braun had already laid much of the groundwork for an MPD conference with the support of the medical school that employed him, Greaves had a mailing list and a newsletter.(p. 12) The mailing list was the result(p. 11) of a number of clinicians interested in MPD contacting him following the publication of his 1980 article.
The ISSMP’s first annual conference was held in 1984. According to Braun, the turnout was 125 attendees. Braun, who organized the first decade of annual conferences, obtained support from Jan Fawcett, head of the Department of Psychiatry at Rush University where Braun was on staff.(p. ii) Conferences were originally co-sponsored by The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and eligible for continuing medical education credits as well as continuing education credits for psychologists. (For extensive details on presentations that have taken place at these conferences over the years, see the page dedicated to the topic here.)
Early Years: 1985 – 1989
Georgia psychiatrist George Ganaway reported that when he went to the conference in 1985, most clinicians in attendance had barely seen any cases of MPD, but after the conference they learned to see their patients in a new light, “…and when we came back the next year, we each had many more MPD patients to talk about.”(p. 7)
In 1985, Chicago Magazine reported that school teacher Jane DuBrow had “met six students … who claimed to belong to a Satanic cult and to have victimized children.” Shortly thereafter, DuBrow married Braun. By the end of the year, Braun had seen his first seven cases of alleged Satanic ritual abuse (SRA).
The first textbook on MPD was edited by Kluft and published in 1985, with contributions from Wilbur, Braun, Sachs, Jean Goodwin, Putnam, and Coons, among others. This was followed the next year by a book edited by Braun with contributions from Kluft, David Spiegel, Wilbur, Caul, Sachs, and Putnam.
In 1986, the organization changed its name to the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality & Dissociation (ISSMPD). This would be the first of three such name changes.
Just a few years after its founding, the ISSMPD would demonstrate significant sway over the psychiatric profession’s definition and understanding of MPD. Three co-founders – Kluft, Braun, and Putnam – were invited to join the Advisory Committee for Dissociative Disorders for the DSM-III-R, published in 1987, which placed MPD first in the dissociative disorders section and no longer referred to the condition as “extremely rare.”
In June 1987, the Ridgeview Institute in Georgia opened the first dissociative disorders inpatient unit, headed by Ganaway.(p. 52) Braun and Sachs opened the second the following month.(p. 52)
In March of 1988, Caul, an ISSTD co-founder known for his questionable treatment of serial rapist Billy Milligan, died unexpectedly. He was president of the ISSMPD at the time of his death.(p. 1)
That same month, the Society published the first issue of their journal Dissociation: Progress in the Dissociative Disorders. The journal’s editor-in-chief was Kluft, with Braun serving as associate editor.(p. 2) The editorial board(p. 2) included Goodwin, Greaves, Richard Loewenstein, Putnam, Sachs, Spiegel, Bessel van der Kolk, Watkins, and Wilbur, several of whom remained on the board through the journal’s final issue.(p. 2) The journal was sponsored by the Ridgeview Institute.(p. 2) In his editorial in the journal’s first issue, Kluft reported that “many thousands” of MPD cases had been identified since 1980,(p. 2) a profound increase from the less than 200 cases in the 1970s reported by Greaves and Boor.
The 1988 conference of the American Psychiatric Association included a debate on MPD, with Kluft and Spiegel on one side and Fred H. Frankel and Orne on the other.(p. 114)
Although strange presentations on MPD and cults could be found at ISSMPD conferences since the very beginning, dubious conspiratorial narratives of secretive Satanic cults abusing children for the purpose of creating MPD – or even sacrificing their victims and using mobile crematoriums to cover up their crimes – became accepted canon within the ISSMPD when Braun, the most prominent member of the organization, began delivering his own presentations on the topic. At the ISSMPD conference in October 1988, just three years after he became convinced of SRA, Braun blamed Satanic cults for the epidemic of MPD cases.
That same month, ISSMPD members Braun, Sachs, Walter Young, Kluft, Goodwin, Roland Summit, Catherine Gould, and D. Corydon Hammond – the first president of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis – were interviewed for a Geraldo Rivera special titled Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground, during which they told of alleged threats to therapists, including themselves, for treating proclaimed survivors of SRA. The special contributed significantly to the ongoing Satanic Panic, and Geraldo later apologized for it.
1989 saw the publication of two textbooks on the diagnosis and treatment of MPD: one by Putnam and another by Colin Ross.
That year, Cavalcade Productions released a training video entitled Ritual Abuse: A Professional Overview, featuring the same ISSMPD members sitting on the same couch and wearing the same clothes as in the Geraldo special. The ISSMPD members discuss blood rituals, human and animal sacrifices, and forced murder. Braun says that patients are trained “to self-destruct if [they] should remember too much,” though he does not clarify how his treatment methods – which involve recovering memories – can be considered ethical under such circumstances. They decry skepticism and the possibility that any of these bizarre memories might be false. Then Braun says he does not know if claims of Satanic cults abusing children, sacrificing animals, drinking blood, and participating in cannibalism are true, but “we need to take a look at this whole thing.” A few minutes later, his restraint vanishes: “When I hear [about Satanic abuse] enough times I can’t deny it. … Then what happens is I get paranoid; I get scared.” Braun closes, rather ironically, by cautioning against mass hysteria: “[A]nother Salem witch trial is not going to do us any good.” Yet, immediately after, the narrator announces, “the observations of experienced therapists leave little doubt that children in our society are at risk of being ritually abused.”
Early issues of Dissociation included articles on diagnosing and treating MPD in patients as young as three years old. The journal also quickly published numerous articles promoting theories of massive Satanic crimes hiding in plain sight; one of the first was written by Goodwin and Hill, titled “Satanism: Similarities Between Patient Accounts and Pre-Inquisition Historical Sources,” and published in March 1989. The paper, substantially similar to one presented by these authors at the 1988 conference, aimed to confirm the veracity of claims of cannibalism and human sacrifice by comparing disclosures during therapy with historical accounts of Satanic cults, and was widely cited as bolstering the credibility of subsequent case reports of patients allegedly victimized by SRA.
Colin Ross and coauthors reported in an article published in June of 1989 an analysis of 236 cases of MPD that the mean number of alters was 16 – the same number Sybil supposedly had.(p. 414) By this point, Sybil had been read widely, selling over 6 million copies. It would be years before it was uncovered as a fraud.
The ISSMPD’s annual conference in 1989 included presentations on Manchurian candidates, Satanic cult sacrifices, MPD in two-year-olds, multigenerational MPD, exorcism, and animal alters in MPD patients. According to Greaves, Loewenstein stated at this conference, in reference to MPD: “Never in the history of psychiatry have we ever come to know so well the specific etiology of a major illness, its natural course, its treatment.”(p. 81) Within less than a decade of the disorder’s formal recognition in the DSM, the supposed experts declared a near-complete understanding of its cause (primarily child sexual abuse), its manifestation, and how best to treat it – a mastery that simply does not occur in psychiatry.
Two issues after the publication of the Goodwin and Hill article, Dissociation printed a scathing letter to the editor from Richard Noll, a psychologist and historian of science. Noll charged that the Goodwin and Hill article relied on weak sources, ignored important context, and evaded the fact that their examples were almost invariably hoaxes, rumors, and forgeries. ”The truth of the matter is this: distinguished historians of witchcraft and of ritual magic… do not find evidence that satanic cults practicing the Black Mass, with cannibalism, ritual murder, worship of Satan, etc., have ever existed.”(p. 251-253)
Nevertheless, in the same issue, Kluft defended Hill and Goodwin’s article, expressing a fear of a “hidden holocaust” perpetrated by Satanic cults.(p. 192) The journal also published an article by Ganaway in which he raised doubts about the reality of cannibalism and human sacrifice perpetrated by Satanists, offering alternative explanations for patient accounts. One of these explanations included that these memories are false, referencing the preliminary report on ritual abuse authored by FBI Supervisory Special Agent Kenneth Lanning published in late 1988.(p. 212)
At the 1990 conference, Putnam decided to break his silence regarding his skepticism of claims of SRA circulating within the ISSMPD. To that end, emboldened by the publication of FBI Supervisory Special Agent Kenneth Lanning’s preliminary report on ritual abuse, Putnam invited Richard Noll and Sherrill Mulhern to participate in a panel on the topic alongside Ganaway and Putnam. While Putnam and Ganaway delivered carefully-worded arguments so as not to offend their colleagues, Noll and Mulhern were strident in rejecting SRA claims. Following the panel, several ISSMPD members accused Noll of being a secret witch or a Satanist, and Gloria Steinem – a famous women’s rights activist and admirer of Braun’s – attempted to persuade Noll that Satanic abuse is real. Putnam claimed there was a “shouting match” and that he, too, was “called a Satanist many times.” He was subsequently alienated from the Society that he helped found, stating, “I got a lot of grief. Some of it very inappropriate – intended to be physically intimidating.” Noll reported that he attended Braun’s SRA workshop at the same conference, where Braun exclaimed, “See the Satanism!” and pointed to a patient’s red crayon scribble on a sketch pad.
Braun and his organization’s paranoid campaign against a non-existent Satanic conspiracy showed no sign of stopping. The warnings from a minority within the ISSMPD reduced neither the explosion of SRA cases nor the tsunami of MPD diagnoses.
In part due to the ISSMPD’s Dissociation journal, the annual output of publications on MPD continued to increase dramatically. In addition, the Satanic Panic was in full swing, with widespread allegations of Satanic cults operating daycare centers and abusing children. Talk shows aired specials on the scourge of SRA; law enforcement agencies held trainings on uncovering secret Satanic cults; Christian ministers “decoded” secret Satanic brainwashing lures by playing records backwards; and therapists “recovered” memories of Satanic cult abuse, using ISSMPD-approved techniques like hypnosis.
Despite having their own journal beginning in 1988, many ISSMPD members continued to publish articles elsewhere to further their reach. These included numerous articles promoting the most outlandish claims of Satanic cult activities. For example, ISSMPD co-founder Sachs published an article in Pre- and Peri- Natal Psychology on the alleged role of sex and pregnancy in transgenerational Satanic cults, writing that “[i]n Satanic cults, the primary function of sex is to form a bond between some type of painful stimulation and physical pleasure. Pregnancy, while also a means of perpetuating the gene pool of cult members, is also viewed as a method for offering new souls to Satan.”(p. 6-11)
In 1992, Hammond delivered the infamous “Greenbaum Speech.” The speech, given at the Fourth Annual Eastern Regional Conference on Abuse and Multiple Personality, baselessly argued that techniques used to install mind control programs were brought to the United States by a Satanic Hasidic Jewish Nazi named Dr. Greenbaum. Featured speakers included all the major figures within the ISSMPD at the time, and the ISSMPD advertised the conference in their journal, Dissociation.(p. 4)
It was announced at the 1992 conference that ISSMPD membership had reached 2,641.(p. xv) The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF), founded that same year, quickly became the ISSMPD’s chief adversary. Around this time, the ISSMPD set up a task force, headed by Kluft, to “negotiate peace between cult-believers and cult-skeptics.” Kluft resigned without ever holding a meeting.(p. 117)
An episode of The Fifth Estate on MPD aired in January 1993, featuring accounts from patients falsely diagnosed with MPD. Ganaway openly denounced the treatment methods utilized by his colleagues: “There’s an expectation on the part of the therapist and the patient that there must be perhaps another personality with an even worse trauma memory in there somewhere … and so there’s this search and seizure process that goes on … they may find themselves becoming increasingly dysfunctional and remain in treatment for years chasing an endless horizon of trauma memories.” The episode contains interviews with Colin Ross, then-president of the ISSMPD, in which he attempts to defend his claim that MPD is a CIA conspiracy. Clips are shown of Ross in therapy with clearly distressed patients, including patients allegedly victimized by SRA with demonic alter personalities. Ganaway, when asked his thoughts on Ross’ assertion that those skeptical of his conspiracy theories are CIA mind control programmers, scoffed: “Are you serious? Does that deserve a response?” Around the time the episode aired, Ganaway joined the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the FMSF, an organization dedicated to supporting parents falsely accused of sexual abuse by their children.
In an address at a regional ISSMPD conference in May 1993, Ross stated that “[i]n a sense, the whole line of scientific development [of MPD research] is just fleshing out and validating the original perceptions of clinicians like Cornelia Wilbur, the clinician for Sybil.”(p. 5) But Wilbur’s treatment of Sybil was often unethical and sometimes bizarre. As described by journalist Debbie Nathan, Wilbur shared personal details about her life with Sybil, offered to get Sybil a job as an art therapist, tried to help Sybil sell paintings, and suggested using her connections to help Sybil get into psychology classes at New York Medical College. Wilbur also offered to get Sybil into medical school and pay her tuition and living expenses. In their later years, they even lived together.(p. xviii) But it was Wilbur’s therapeutic methods that should have raised questions in the minds of her mentees: She prescribed larger-than-customary doses of drugs; injected patients with sodium pentothal, a drug known at the time to be addictive and known today to produce false memories; and actively encouraged Sybil to display her alter personalities. Sybil later admitted to “essentially lying” about her MPD, telling Wilbur what she wanted to hear.
In the 1993 speech, Ross also declared: “There is no treatment outcome in psychiatry that comes anywhere near the efficacy, or the clinical meaning, or the drama of a successfully treated case of MPD.”(p. 8) In Ross’ introductory remarks to the annual conference in November that year, he reported that attendance at the annual meetings is usually in the range of 800-1000.(p. v)
The fourth version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was published in 1994. The DSM-IV replaced the multiple personality disorder diagnosis with dissociative identity disorder (DID), a decision spearheaded by Spiegel as chair of the dissociative disorders task force.(p. 2) Accordingly, the organization changed their name to the International Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD).
Prior to the publication of the ISSD’s DID treatment guidelines, the textbooks edited by Kluft, Braun, Putnam, and Ross served as the authoritative texts on diagnosis and treatment of DID. In 1994, the ISSD published the first version of their “Guidelines for Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder.” The guidelines encouraged the use of hypnosis and amytal for the “processing of traumatic memories and imagery” in therapy during sessions lasting longer than 90 minutes, and acknowledged that most therapists use hypnosis in the treatment of DID. The guidelines emphasize the role of recovering memories in DID treatment, stating that while most DID patients enter therapy with memories of abusive experiences during childhood, most will also “recover memories of additional previously unknown abusive events,” including during therapy. Moreover, they state that “[d]iscussion of this material and its relationship to present beliefs and behaviors is a central aspect of the treatment of DID.” For whatever reason, the authors of the original guidelines felt it necessary to note that “[s]imulated breast-feeding or bottle feeding are unduly regressive techniques that have no role in the psychotherapy of DID.”
As of 1994, ISSD conferences appeared to no longer be sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. The conference remained eligible for continuing medical education credits for physicians, but attendees in other disciplines were required to submit a certificate of attendance to their corresponding professional association in order to receive continuing education units.(p. 2)
Although the ISSD quickly became the organizational authority on DID in the 1980s, workshops and presentations on the disorder continued at annual American Psychiatric Association conferences until 1996, after which they appear to have ceased altogether. This roughly coincides with – and may result from – multiple lawsuits against Braun filed by former patients (see below).
In 1997, Cavalcade Productions released another training video featuring prominent members of the ISSD. The video focused on Treating the Dissociative Client, with presentations from Peter Barach, then-president James Chu, Christine Courtois, Kluft, and van der Kolk.
The ISSD’s DID treatment guidelines were revised in 1997. This version of the guidelines states that a patient’s symptoms of DID “might also be unexpectedly revealed during hypnotherapeutic treatment of another condition.” In addition, the guidelines encourage therapists to utilize hypnosis and amytal interviews to diagnose DID when “alternative diagnostic measures have failed to yield a definite conclusion,” but warn that these interventions can produce symptoms that “mimic dissociative pathology in patients who do not have DID.” Like the original guidelines, the 1997 revised guidelines also encourage the use of hypnosis and the drug amytal.
In December 1997, after 39 issues, Dissociation ceased publication. In an interview, Kluft implies that the journal came to an end because the Ridgeview Institute “came under the sway of the false memory movement,” apparently in reference to Ganaway leaving the ISSD and joining the FMSF.
By 1997, the ISSD had a “Therapists Under Duress Task Force,” and a 1998 presentation by Laura Brown discussed how to avoid being sued by former patients as a “Trauma Specialist in the Age of False Memory Litigation,” laying bare the organization’s growing concern with being sued for implanting false memories. In addition, a presentation by Alan Scheflin explained “How Professional Organizations Can Affect the Media and the Courts,” revealing the organization’s preoccupation with regaining control of the narrative surrounding trauma and memory. But those growing concerns didn’t stop the ISSD from including in the conference a workshop by Randy Noblitt on the “Clinical and Forensic Considerations” of ritual abuse.
By 1999, the ISSD was in the midst of what then-president Barach referred to as a “crisis,” and some employees of the organization were laid off.(p. 110) Half of the ISSD’s membership had left during the preceding five years, with only 1,500 remaining.(p. 110) Many had joined the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), perhaps introduced to the organization by the ISSD’s 1997 conference, which included a joint session with the ISTSS. The ISSD proposed that the two organizations join forces, perhaps as an effort to stop the bleeding, but the proposal was rejected.(p. 110)
In 2000, the first edition of the ISSD’s second journal, Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, was published. The Presidential editorial, written by John Curtis, listed “Sadistic Ritual Abuse” as a topic to be covered in the journal, characterizing it as the ISSD’s “nemesis” and conceding that many who report being victims of it “may be remembering that which did not happen.”(p. 3)
The journal’s editor has primarily(p. 1) been Jennifer Freyd, a psychologist who accused her father of sexual abuse – the father, Peter, and his wife, Pam, subsequently founded the FMSF. Unsurprisingly, numerous articles in the journal denounce the FMSF and the fact that people sometimes experience false memories of child sexual abuse. The editorial board of the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation has included Putnam, Hammond, Chu, Ross, Spiegel, Loewenstein, and Goodwin, among many others.
In February 2000, the state of Illinois dissolved the ISSD due to failure to file an annual report. The details surrounding this event are unclear. Another document states that the ISSD was reinstated in Illinois in 1999 and again in 2006.
Despite the myriad difficulties in part stemming from the ISSD’s less-than-credible image and lawsuits filed against members by former patients alleging malpractice, the ISSD continued to unapologetically promote SRA. In the early 2000s the ISSD had a webpage that recommended books on SRA and a database of articles about “Cult and Ritual Abuse.” To make matters worse, in 2002, Vedat Sar, who would later become president of the ISSD, surmised that Satanic cults may be responsible for an “epidemic of suicides” in Turkey.
Also in 2002, attorney and ISSD member A. Stephen Frankel had received so many inquiries from members concerned that they could be named as co-defendants in litigation brought by patients against their local ISSD study group members that he decided to write a letter offering advice for avoiding being named in lawsuits.
The child and adolescent treatment guidelines were developed in 2003 by Joyanna Silberg.(p. 119) Potential symptoms of dissociation listed in the guidelines include the extremely common experience of having imaginary friends(p. 123) as well as using a “passive problem solving style.”(p. 126) The guidelines mention medications as an aid in reaching a diagnosis(p. 124-125) but later recommend against their use for assessments;(p. 127) they also promote hypnosis for applications other than recovering memories.(p. 127, 137) The guidelines recommend EMDR for “working through experiences for which [the child has] very little or no explicit memory.”(p. 137) Even if a child fails to report a traumatic history, the guidelines say, they may still “display knowledge of [traumatic] events through sensori-motor modalities or somatic symptoms instead,”(p. 129) promoting a dangerous and false conception of memory for traumatic events.
The ISSD’s adult DID treatment guidelines were revised again in 2005.
In 2006, the organization became the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), as it is known today.
A January 2007 edition of ISSTD News included a proclamation from the treasurer that the organization was set to be “in the black” that year, following “a long siege of financial difficulties.”(p. 8) Later that year the ISSTD was incorporated in the state of Virginia. For the first time in nearly a decade the ISSTD had more than 1,500 members.
Despite membership numbers bouncing back, the ISSTD remained desperate to grab hold of the narrative around trauma and memory. A letter written in 2007 by ISSTD Executive Council in response to an article in Scientific American about DID included a denial of the very existence of a “recovered memory therapy” proper. But “recovered memory therapy” is not a trademarked technique; it is an umbrella term for various pseudoscientific treatment methods promoted and employed by ISSTD members.(p. 2)
In 2008, the ISSTD established a subgroup named the Ritual Abuse and Mind Control Special Interest Group. As of 2010, the group was led by Randy Noblitt. It would later be called the Ritual Abuse, Mind Control, and Organized Abuse Special Interest Group (RAMCOA SIG). The group, the largest and most active of the ISSTD’s special interest groups, welcomes the most zealous conspiracy therapists; members frequently hypothesize about secret Satanic cults, CIA and Illuminati mind control, and related conspiracy theories, without any pushback from fellow members.
According to an audit report, the ISSTD had 1,250 members in 2009.(p. 6)
President Paul Dell’s 2010 report to the board raises the alarm around the organization’s financial woes, stating that members were leaving the organization, and suggesting a certification program as a potential “cash cow.”(p. 1) The difficulties were further illustrated in a membership committee report published later that year. President-Elect Kevin J. Connors emphasized the importance of increasing the organization’s revenue year-round by way of seminars, webinars, and online continuing education programs.
The third and most recent revision of the ISSTD’s DID treatment guidelines took place around 2009/2010. According to the ISSTD, the current guidelines “summarize expert consensus concerning safe and effective treatment for DID patients,” yet they “are not intended to be construed as or to serve as a standard of clinical care.”(p. 117) These guidelines urge clinicians to screen for dissociative disorders in “every diagnostic interview”(p. 124) and stress that symptoms of DID may be “hidden” or “denied” by the patient.(p. 124-125) The guidelines also warn of patients who “enthusiastic[ally] embrace and display […] their ‘identities,’’’ contrasting this “imitative DID” (growing more prevalent today on social media sites like TikTok) with the constellation of symptoms exhibited by “typical” DID patients.(p. 129) They further acknowledge that DID may be “factitious or malingered,” with patients sometimes seeking secondary gain such as escaping legal accountability or qualifying for disability insurance.(p. 130) Strangely, the guidelines encourage therapists of DID patients who have difficulties with medical treatments to “work with alternate identities who deny ownership of ‘the body,’ assert that they live in a different body, claim that their body is a different chronological age, and so on, in order for the patient to accept appropriate medical care.”(p. 132) They also claim that the Rorschach test can help therapists distinguish between DID and other disorders, and that it can assist with understanding the patient’s “personality structure.”(p. 128)
The current guidelines state, without citing any supporting evidence, that “[a] body of clinical experience has demonstrated that abreactions” – a release of pent-up emotion through reenactment – “both spontaneous and those facilitated by psychotherapy, have helped many patients make major symptomatic and overall improvements.”(p. 142) Following stabilization of the patient, the guidelines encourage clinicians to work with alter personalities that “experience themselves as holding the traumatic memories” but warn that doing so will likely worsen symptoms as memories are “transformed from traumatic memory into what is generally termed narrative memory” [emphasis in original].(p. 142) The clinician is instructed to access alter personalities and seek out traumatic memories stored therein before working to “integrate” traumatic experiences across alters.(p. 143-144) The guidelines encourage therapists to use “fusion rituals” – which may involve hypnosis – to join personalities together when a patient is “no longer narcissistically invested in maintaining” separate alters.(p. 144) They also encourage the use of hypnosis, EMDR, and sensorimotor psychotherapy as part of DID treatment more generally.(p. 146) To determine whether a DID patient is adhering to their medication regimen (if applicable), the guidelines suggest the therapist explore the patient’s alter personalities “for full elucidation.”(p. 151) The current guidelines state that amytal is rarely used, primarily due to regulations making the practice inconvenient for therapists(p. 163) – not because amytal is known to cause false memories.
The current guidelines promote hypnosis for the treatment of DID, in part because higher hypnotizability is allegedly linked with a greater likelihood of “therapeutic success,” but they do not cite a study to support that claim.(p. 156) The authors defend hypnosis from claims that the modality produces false memories but fail to substantially engage with any of the numerous studies on the topic. Instead they blame “misleading questions”(p. 157) for the false memories produced during hypnotherapy with DID patients before recognizing the statements from several professional societies on the topic.(p. 167) Though the guidelines encourage clinicians to remain neutral and avoid stating whether they believe a patient’s memories are based in reality, they also suggest clinicians can express confidence in a patient’s memory “if it appears credible and consistent with the patient’s history and clinical presentation,” or skepticism if not.(p. 167) The guidelines largely advise against the use of exorcism but rather tellingly note that some members of the task force that wrote the guidelines believe that exorcisms can be helpful.(p. 170)
On the topic of “organized abuse” – an umbrella term that includes “ritual abuse” – the current guidelines encourage clinicians to “consider the possibility” that a DID patient “may be currently being abused or may have renewed contact with abusers in the course of the treatment[.]”(p. 168) The guidelines proclaim a “divergence of opinion in the field” concerning ritual abuse and “covert government-sponsored mind control experiments,” with an unstated proportion of clinicians believing that recovered memories of such things are based in reality.(p. 169) The guidelines warn that clinicians who believe such reports to be false may harm their patients’ ability to progress in therapy.(p. 169) Instead, the guidelines suggest, a patient should be permitted to believe, for example, that their parents were cult members who forced them to commit human sacrifices and drink blood on a daily basis, because once the patient becomes “more integrated” (a process which, the guidelines state, may take years or may never be completed), they may “clarify for themselves the relative accuracy of their memories.”(p. 169)
In recent years, ISSTD conferences and materials available on their website have continued to display a strong emphasis on alleged abuses perpetrated by Satanic cults. The annual conference in 2010 featured three presentations on SRA, including presentations by Alison Miller, Ellen Lacter, Adah Sachs, and Jane Wakefield. All of these presentations discussed “mind control” as an intended consequence of ritual abuse.(p. 59, 63) The conference program for that year includes specific mention of the meeting of the Ritual Abuse and Mind Control Special Interest Group, of which most or all of these presenters were members.(p. 22)
The 2012 conference included a presentation by Valerie Sinason on “Computers, demons and animals: Working with externally created dissociative states who do not believe they are human.”
A presentation by Rachel C. Thomas at the 2014 annual conference explored the “symbolic and literal” narratives told by clients subjected to trauma-based mind control. She told of a client who “reported lizard-alien abduction and torture on board a UFO.” According to Thomas, the alien abduction was a “real but hallucogenic [sic]” type of “trickery” employed by unnamed perpetrators aboard the “military vessel.”
Around 2015, the ISSTD’s “find a therapist” page allowed users to find therapists with particular “skills/interests” such as hypnosis and ritual abuse. Similarly, a listing of “academic supervisors with trauma focus” included one with an interest in ritual abuse.
A paper on ritual abuse written by Colin Ross and published in the ISSTD’s Journal of Trauma & Dissociation in 2017 paradoxically advocates for therapeutic neutrality with regard to SRA claims while simultaneously promoting an approach to trauma therapy that presumes there was a “perpetrator” of abuse. Another paper published by the journal reported on a survey of self-identified ritual abuse victims and healthcare professionals in an attempt to “demystify” and “enhance the credibility and visibility” of ritual abuse.
In October 2017, a “RAMCOA” (ritual abuse, mind control, and organized abuse) webinar took place, featuring presenters Eileen Aveni, Lynette Danylchuk, Miller, Michael Salter, and Sinason. This webinar appears to have been Salter’s first ISSTD presentation. The abstract of Miller’s presentation boldly proclaims: “Victims of organized abuse, in particular mind control and ritual abuse, frequently have deliberately designed personality systems with parts trained to maintain the security of the perpetrator group.” Aveni’s portion of the webinar promises that viewers “will be introduced to both government (Monarch/MkUltra) and cult mind control programming.” It also warns that SRA and mind control can be “misdiagnosed” as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Objectives of the presentation include being able to identify “at least five presentation clues that indicate a possible diagnosis of ritual abuse, mind control, or organized abuse” and “describe some hallmark features of Monarch mind control.” Danylchuk’s lecture covered how to recognize patient “patterns” that indicate ritual abuse victimization and how to identify “the most common role reenactments that emerge during therapy.” Salter’s lecture explained how “dissociative symptoms and traumatic attachments can be manipulated by perpetrators to coerce vulnerable people into organised abuse.” Though Salter’s presentation denounces “simple dichotomies of ‘real’ and ‘imagined’ abuse,” his constant references to perpetrators and survivors lay bare his allegiance to believing alleged victims no matter how self-falsifying the narrative.
A presentation at the ISSTD conference in 2018, by Aveni, covered a “new approach to mind control treatment in ritual abuse clients,” referencing “Monarch programming, generational satanism, witchcraft groups, and others” as “common [mind control] systems.” Aveni’s “approach” is called “the migration model,” which involves “migrating” alter personalities away from “the dark side” and towards god. (In other words, away from “Satanism” and toward Christianity.) Another presentation by Sinason (who was introduced by Salter) discusses the “occult holidays,” such as Halloween and Christmas, during which she claims people who have been victimized by Satanic cults have a more difficult time. A “learning objective” of the presentation included being able to “name the key dates in the year that have been shown to have the most impact on clients alleging ritual abuse.”
The 2019 conference included a presentation by Adah Sachs and Salter titled “Organized abuse: Criminology, traumatic impact and implications for treatment.” During the presentation, in reference to the cases that ignited the Satanic Panic, Salter argues that “the evidence is pretty good that sexually abusive groups did start daycare centers for the purposes of producing child abuse material in the eighties. That was certainly the conclusion of David Finkelhor.”(47:30-48:00) But Finkelhor, a sociologist, hardly made such a claim. In a chapter on alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse of children in daycare settings in their 1988 book Nursery Crimes, Finkelhor and Linda Meyer Williams write: “How often do individuals establish centers for the express purpose of abusing children? Fortunately, this motive seemed to be present in only a handful of instances, usually involving multiple perpetrators and family day-care homes.”(p. 28) But even this claim, as watered down as it is from Salter’s characterization of Finkelhor’s position, relies on a heavily flawed methodology: Finkelhor and Williams deem an accusation of sexual abuse “substantiated” if “at least one of the local investigating agencies had decided that abuse had occurred.”(p. 13) Discussing Finkelhor and Williams’ work in her 2004 book The Day Care Ritual Abuse Moral Panic, sociologist Mary de Young explains that, “[g]iven the fact that a plethora of investigating agencies … were involved in many of the day care ritual abuse cases,” each with their “own threshold of suspicion before it can act … the criterion for inclusion is liberal, indeed.”(p. 102) Attendees of Salter’s presentation likely drew the conclusion that the daycare sexual abuse cases were not a result of moral panic but rather a legitimate reaction to pedophiles banding together to open daycares where they can abuse children. In reality, there is no legitimate evidence for such a claim, the source Salter appears to have used to justify the claim says something quite different, and the source used highly flawed methodology. But this was not an aberration for Salter: he routinely floats arguments based on shoddy evidence.
In the same presentation, Salter also credulously repeats numerous SRA tropes as fact, including people chanting in robes, bestiality, drinking blood, electroshock, ingesting feces, and the debunked claim that there were tunnels found beneath McMartin Preschool. In addition, he endorsed the notion that perpetrators of SRA utilize “specific tortures” to create “specific personalities” in their victims.
Prior to 2020, ISSTD conferences were eligible for continuing education credit via sponsors such as the Institute for Continuing Education, the Institute for the Advancement of Human Behavior, and CE Learning Systems, LLC. In 2020, despite the fact that their conferences feature numerous presentations promoting paranoid conspiratorial narratives of Satanic cults and covert government mind control, the ISSTD’s application for continuing education sponsorship was approved by the American Psychological Association. This means the ISSTD no longer requires the approval of a third party before conferring continuing education credits to attendees and presenters at their conferences. The ISSTD is also approved for continuing education sponsorship by the Association of Social Work Boards and the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.
In late 2020, as a result of years of efforts by Grey Faction to have continuing education units revoked from ISSTD presentations, the organization’s board of directors unilaterally declared that the RAMCOA SIG would be renamed the Organized and Extreme Abuse SIG. This was due to concerns that the name of the SIG would jeopardize the ISSTD’s ability to provide continuing education credits at their conferences; the board assured members that the name change would have no effect on their activities and discussions. The decision, revealed when Grey Faction publicly released numerous threads from the ISSTD’s internal forum, sparked significant backlash among ISSTD members.
As of 2023, Salter is president of the ISSTD. As expected under his leadership, the organization continues to promote bizarre narratives of Satanic cult abuse and ongoing CIA mind control experimentation. This includes at their conferences which are approved for continuing education credit by the American Psychological Association and other professional societies.
Documented and Alleged Misconduct by Current ISSTD Members
Eileen Aveni is a Michigan-based licensed social worker, Survivorship board member, and member of the ISSTD’s Organized and Extreme Abuse Special Interest Group. She has presented at several annual conferences, on topics like mind control and ritual abuse. Aveni, a devout Christian, specializes in survivors of “extreme abuse,” and she believes that all mental illness “is the result of sin.”(p. 30) Aveni‘s license was placed on probation in November 2019 after the licensing board received a complaint from a medical professional, alleging that Aveni was practicing under an expired license and “feeding into” a patient’s schizophrenic delusions. The board found that Aveni had convinced a patient that they were a victim of a sex-trafficking ring and that their life was in constant danger, but failed to contact law enforcement. They also found that Aveni provided negligent treatment by not treating the patient’s eating disorder or referring the patient to someone who could. Moreover, Aveni told a client she misdiagnosed with DID that they were suffering from “electronic stalking burns” caused by their cult “handlers,” and implied that they were the target of “electromagnetic weapons.”(p. 13) Aveni had done much of this on the authority of an expired license.(p. 12)
Sue Pease Banitt is a licensed social worker from Portland, Oregon, a member of the ISSTD’s Organized and Extreme Abuse Special Interest Group and a frequent presenter at annual conferences. Banitt practices pseudoscience, including “past life regression” therapy, recovered memory therapy, Reiki, and several other bizarre modalities such as “Starseed support.” She writes on her website that she treats ritual abuse and mind control and is available to provide supervision to other therapists working with such alleged survivors. Just days after the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, that killed 12 people, Banitt wrote on her website that the shooter, James Holmes, was a victim of mind control stemming from the CIA’s MKUltra program, and that “many of my colleagues” have treated similar patients. (Though MKUltra was a real CIA program intended to develop mind control, it was unsuccessful and there’s no evidence that the program continued past 1973 in any form.) Banitt has also stated that some victims of trauma develop psychic abilities. She’s written posts explicitly endorsing the most unhinged Satanic cult conspiracy theories, going so far as to claim that QAnon is correct about pedophile networks involving Hollywood, the CIA, “and anywhere else that power and money commingle.” After Grey Faction filed a complaint with Banitt’s licensing board detailing her dangerous therapeutic methods and disturbing statements, Banitt reported that she was “not particularly worried as my work is well known in this state (and the investigator complimented my website!)”(p. 1) and that she has “worked a bit with the [licensing board] head.”(p. 2)
Neil Brick, a Massachusetts-based licensed mental health counselor, member of the ISSTD’s Organized and Extreme Abuse Special Interest Group, and president of the ISSTD-affiliated organization Survivorship who also runs an organization called SMART (which, rather perplexingly, stands for “Stop Mind Control and Ritual Abuse Today”), claims to believe he was brainwashed by the Illuminati to become a Manchurian candidate supersoldier assassin, programmed to rape and kill “without feeling.” He claims that he murdered at least one person who the Illuminati did not want in power. He has also argued that Masonic and/or Satanic cults (to Brick they seem to be one and the same) torture fetuses in the womb in order to begin mind control programming prior to birth. Brick regularly holds conferences for “survivors” and mental health professionals in which he warns of the ease with which mind control programming can be activated (for example, by touching one’s face). One must wonder of the dangers of being in Brick’s presence, given that he claims to be programmed to rape and kill and has stated that mind control programming can be activated by innocuous hand movements. When the details of these disturbing claims were brought to the attention of Brick’s licensing board, the board dismissed the complaint without taking action.
Paul Dell, a licensed clinical psychologist from Virginia, was reprimanded by his licensing board in June 1989 after lying on top of a patient who was “lying face down on the floor in four-point leather restraints” in an attempt to “bring about an abreaction.”(p. 1) The board found this to be “contrary to sound clinical judgment.”(p. 1) He would nevertheless go on to become president of the ISSTD in 2010.
D. Corydon Hammond, a Utah-based licensed clinical psychologist and prominent member in the ISSTD’s early years, was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the criminal case USA v Peterson. The case, covered extensively in an episode of Frontline, involved the treatment of Mary Shanley, who, under the care of Braun and Sachs, became convinced that she was both a victim and perpetrator of SRA, including human sacrifices and cannibalism. In February 1991, Shanley met with Hammond, who concluded that Shanley had a dangerous “cult alter” and therefore could not be treated. She was immediately sent to Spring Shadows Glen in Houston, Texas for “deprogramming” under the care of Judith Peterson, where she remained in treatment for more than two years. Peterson was one of five indicted co-conspirators in the case, which eventually ended in a mistrial due to an insufficient number of jurors. Hammond was a subject of another malpractice suit – along with Braun and Sachs – brought by Elizabeth Gale. When the settlement was reached, Braun and Sachs each owed millions; Hammond owed $175,000. (For more details on these cases, see here.) Hammond’s most notorious claim to fame is his infamous 1992 “Greenbaum Speech,” in which he claimed that a widespread network of government agents and nefarious psychologists has been perpetrating mind control experiments on an unsuspecting public for decades. The techniques they employ, said Hammond, were all created by a Satanic Hasidic Jewish Nazi named Dr. Greenbaum.
Onno van der Hart, a prominent ISSTD member formerly registered as a psychologist in the Netherlands, allegedly admitted in 2019 to engaging in an improper relationship with a client for more than a decade, including excessively frequent and lengthy therapy sessions, home visits, text messages, emails, and physical contact. The client was allegedly made to believe that only van der Hart could help her heal from her trauma. Extensive information about the alleged severe malpractice is available in a Dutch article on the matter. These sources do not specifically name van der Hart as the psychologist in question, but others have revealed him as the offender. The board ruled that van der Hart would not be permitted to re-register as a psychologist.
Richard Kluft, a licensed psychiatrist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a founder and the third president of the ISSTD, has been sued for malpractice at least three times. One is under gag order with little public information available; another was quickly dismissed. The third lawsuit – Marietti v. Kluft, et al, Ct of Common Pleas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, No. 2260 (1998) – was brought by a patient Kluft diagnosed with MPD. Kluft had treated the patient with drugs and hypnosis for the purpose of recovering “memories.” Instead, the patient accused Kluft of implanting false memories of child sexual abuse perpetrated by her father; and of encouraging her to cut off communication with her parents. Co-defendant in the suit was the Dissociative Disorders Program at The Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, of which Kluft was the director. The unit was shut down in 1996. Kluft has suggested that SRA claims should be taken very seriously, lest a “hidden Holocaust” (p. 192) be ignored. Debbie Nathan attended a 2009 ISSTD presentation delivered by Kluft on a patient named “Margaret” whose parents, according to him, were “secret Ku Klux Klan members who routinely slaughtered infants and delivered electric shocks to Margaret’s vagina until she escaped by joining the U.S. military, but then she got kidnapped and tortured by high-ranking generals, and she only remembered all this during years of therapy for [MPD].”(p. 235) No one in attendance expressed a shred of skepticism, according to Nathan. As recently as 2014, he wrote that he “remain[s] troubled about the matter of transgenerational satanic cults.”
Bessel van der Kolk, a licensed psychiatrist based in Boston, Massachusetts, frequent presenter at ISSTD conferences, author of the popular book The Body Keeps The Score, and member of the editorial board of the ISSTD’s journal Dissociation for the entirety of its existence, has had a storied relationship with the U.S. court system, especially in cases involving recovered memories. In 1997, a judge blocked him from giving expert testimony after he refused to comply with a subpoena which would have forced him to share research data.(p. 7-13) In another case, one of van Der Kolk’s patients brought a suit against a relative who she had only recently come to believe had abused her many years prior. Upon learning of the suit, van der Kolk left a voicemail for the plaintiff (his patient), urging her to stop being “stubborn” and drop the case.(p. 2-3) The former patient, presumably slighted by the rapid retreat of his support, sued van der Kolk, though van der Kolk now says that case was dismissed.(p. 8-9) In 2007, a patient filed a complaint alleging that van der Kolk “took resentment to my rapid and independent success” after the patient recovered traumatic memories during therapy and wished to report them to Arizona police.(p. 7) The complaint alleges van der Kolk introduced the patient to a former patient of his – an employee of the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance – and a then-current patient of his – a local police officer.(p. 7) A bizarre series of interactions unfolded between the four involved parties; van der Kolk seemed to be discouraging the patient from reporting the alleged crimes to police in Arizona, offering “horrifying portrayals of impending doom” should the patient do so.(p. 8) The patient’s relationship with van der Kolk fell apart around this time.(p. 8) The licensing board dismissed the complaint without disciplinary action. More allegations of misconduct and additional details on the above-mentioned cases can be found here.
Ellen Lacter is a California-based licensed psychologist and prominent member of the ISSTD’s Organized and Extreme Abuse Special Interest Group who frequently presents at annual ISSTD conferences on topics like mind control and ritual abuse, and who runs a website called End Ritual Abuse where she openly promotes deranged Satanic cult conspiracy theories. As a therapist, Lacter likely played a significant role in the 2010 murder of a non-verbal, severely autistic 8-year-old boy named Jude Mirra by his mother, Gigi Jordan. After coming to believe her son was being subjected to Satanic abuse – including drinking blood and being forced to sacrifice animals – by his father and others, and after finding Lacter’s website, Jordan took Jude to Lacter, who found Jordan’s claims credible enough that she filed a report with Child Protective Services. Lacter’s 2008 report attributes Jude’s autism to his father’s suspected abuse.(p. 1) Rather than disabuse Jordan of her dangerous – and manifestly homicidal – beliefs, Lacter stoked them by providing “some resources for [Jordan] related to organized and ritualistic abuse.”(p. 6) Jordan characterized her son’s murder as a “mercy killing” to save him from the nonexistent cult. One must wonder if, had Lacter expressed any doubt whatsoever about Jude’s alleged SRA victimization, the outcome would have been different.
Alison Miller, an ex-psychologist from British Columbia, Canada, and a prominent member of the ISSTD’s Organized and Extreme Abuse Special Interest Group (formerly the Ritual Abuse, Mind Control, and Organized Abuse Special Interest Group) was forced to retire from practice following a complaint to her licensing board filed by Grey Faction detailing irresponsible statements Miller had made during presentations at Survivorship conferences. When her licensing board opted to take action as a result of the complaint, they learned that Miller should not have been delivering presentations due to her semi-retired licensure status.(p. 4) Moreover, the board agreed that Miller was making irresponsible statements regarding the supposed activities of Satanic cults.(p. 5-6) Miller fully retired immediately after being contacted by the board; should she decide to resume practicing, she will have to address the substance of the Grey Faction complaint. As a result of a separate complaint, and in large part due to Miller’s irresponsible statements, Grey Faction was successful in revoking the continuing education credits of the Survivorship conference in 2020.
Randy Noblitt, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist who was likely the first chair of the ISSTD’s Organized and Extreme Abuse Special Interest Group – and who is a member of Survivorship’s Board of Directors – testified as an expert witness for the prosecution in the 1992 trial against Fran and Dan Keller. The Kellers, who ran a daycare in Austin, Texas, were wrongfully accused of abusing the children in their care. The allegations included forcing the children to drink blood-laced Kool-Aid, mutilating animals, sacrificing babies, and all manner of sexual abuse. Noblitt, who was paid an hourly rate of $120 to “research Satanic abuse” and $140 an hour for his testimony, testified that Satanists (which the Kellers were accused of being) control their victims with hand signals and claimed that Dan Keller had made such a hand signal to the children during the trial. At one point Dan Keller formed the letter c with his hand as he was being led out of the courtroom as a shout-out to his fellow inmates; Noblitt informed a TV reporter that this was actually a “Satanic message.” The Kellers spent more than two decades in prison before being released; they were later awarded millions for the wrongful conviction. Noblitt frequently spreads unfounded conspiracy theories about Satanic cults, pagans, freemasons, and “hellfire clubs.” In an episode of The Nick Bryant Podcast, Noblitt stated that he once asked in a group therapy session how many of his patients came from “masonic families,” and “everybody but one raised their hand.”(23:30) Noblitt asserted in a 2022 Survivorship lecture that when a client “is describing their ritual abuse narrative [and] their eyes roll back in their head and their eyelids flutter” then the clinician should consider this “corroborating internal evidence.”(26:00) Later in the same lecture he argued that Carl Jung may have been a victim of ritual abuse(59:30) and claimed that individuals persecuted during the witch hunts were possessed, had DID, and were victims of ritual abuse.(1:01:25) Despite his role in assisting with a false conviction and perpetuating debunked conspiracy theories of SRA for decades, Noblitt is a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Alliant University.
Jean Penczar, a former licensed counselor in Arizona who presented at the ISSTD’s 2018 annual conference, was ordered by her licensing oversight board in 2016 to allow her license to expire, not renew her license, and not apply for any new license for at least five years.(p. 5) The board issued this order after discovering that Penczar had engaged in habitual boundary violations with clients, fostered a situation that caused one of her clients to rape another, failed to report it to police, and kept inadequate clinical notes. It began when Penczar allowed a client to move into Penczar’s second home, the location of her practice. The client then had “almost daily” therapy sessions.(p. 3) This client (Client 1) was introduced to another client (Client 2) also being treated by Penczar for DID; soon after, Client 2 began harassing Client 1.(p. 3) In September 2013, Client 1 reported to Penczar that she had been raped by Client 2 at Penczar’s private practice/second home.(p. 3) Client 1 saw a doctor, who determined that there was physical damage consistent with a sexual assault.(p. 4) Penczar failed to report the ongoing threats and harassment, as well as the sexual assault, to police.(p. 4) Penczar’s clinical documentation consisted of “informal notes and pictures drawn by clients.”(p. 4) Penczar’s license remains expired. Penczar’s egregious misconduct was evidently not severe enough for the ISSTD to abstain from inviting her to present at their annual conference just two years after the board issued their disciplinary order.
Judith Peterson, a former licensed marriage and family therapist from Texas and a prominent member of the ISSTD, has been a defendant in numerous lawsuits brought by former patients. Many of the patients have alleged Peterson and her colleagues diagnosed them with MPD/DID and implanted false memories of SRA during therapy. Peterson was also the primary defendant in USA v Peterson et al, the first criminal trial brought against therapists for the practice of recovered memory therapy. Braun, Hammond, and Sachs were named as unindicted co-conspirators. The case did not go to trial due to an insufficient number of jurors. For details on Peterson’s numerous lawsuits, see our page on her here. Peterson’s license expired in 2013.
Frank Putnam, a retired psychiatrist and founder of the ISSTD, baselessly supported the use of debunked “facilitated communication” in his expert witness report in the trial of Gigi Jordan (the same case described in the Ellen Lacter section above). Jordan claimed that Jude disclosed his victimization at the hands of Satanists by typing coded messages on a Blackberry phone. Jordan’s attorneys, wishing to bolster the “mercy killing” defense, needed an expert to validate Jude’s supposed disclosures. Putnam, unaware that “facilitated communication” is a pseudoscience or willing to pretend otherwise, wrote in his report that Jude’s supposed disclosures were likely based in reality and that his symptoms of autism and medical problems may actually have been caused by these alleged traumas.(p. 2-5) Putnam also implied that Jude, who he never met, had DID.(p. 6) Although Putnam had previously gone against his fellow ISSTD members by vocalizing his skepticism regarding claims of SRA in the 1990s, his role in the Gigi Jordan case reveals an inability to accurately identify pseudoscience.
Colin Ross, a licensed psychiatrist who moved from Canada to Texas and former president of the ISSTD, has been sued on multiple occasions by former patients alleging he implanted false memories of SRA during treatment. These include Martha Ann Tyo and Roma Hart. Hart, in an interview with Grey Faction, said that Ross convinced her that she had been abducted by aliens, impregnated, and forced to give birth to a half-human, half-alien hybrid. Hart also says she was sexually assaulted after Ross permitted a known rapist to stay on a women-only floor. A January 1993 episode of The Fifth Estate on MPD contains interviews with Ross, then-president of the ISSTD, in which he claims that MPD is a CIA mind control conspiracy. The episode includes clips of Ross in therapy with markedly distressed patients, including alleged SRA victims. Ross claims in the episode that those skeptical of his conspiracy theories are themselves CIA mind control programmers. Ross also believes he can shoot beams of energy from his eyes, a claim that won him James Randi’s Pigasus Award. These are only a few examples of Ross’ extensive history of alleged therapeutic malpractice and bizarre statements; see here for much more.
Mike Salter, an Australia-based criminologist and 2023 president of the ISSTD, routinely promotes bizarre conspiracy theories of massive Satanic cult abuse and mind control. He argues that children’s claims (after significant pressure from parents, police, and therapists) that they were victims of Satanists in day care centers were based in reality – society just wasn’t ready to accept it yet. Relatedly, he promotes the long-debunked claim that there were tunnels beneath McMartin Preschool.(p. 248) Unsurprisingly, Salter’s own research is dedicated to promoting unverified narratives of Satanic crimes, including claims of abuse such as “bestiality, the mutilation of animals and the forced ingestion of animal faeces, blood and flesh.”(p. 446) During a 2019 ISSTD presentation, as detailed above, Salter made the dubious claim that “the evidence is pretty good that sexually abusive groups did start daycare centers for the purposes of producing child abuse material in the eighties,” referencing David Finkelhor.”(47:30-48:00) But Finkelhor wrote something quite different; moreover, Finkelhor’s methodology was heavily flawed in that it deemed an accusation of sexual abuse “substantiated” if “at least one of the local investigating agencies had decided that abuse had occurred.”(p. 13) However, various investigative agencies played substantial roles in promoting claims of child sexual abuse that later turned out to be false. Salter also repeated several SRA tropes during the presentation, including claims of people chanting in robes, committing bestiality, drinking blood, administering electric shocks, and ingesting feces. Despite these QAnon-aligned beliefs, Salter was included in an episode of ABC’s Four Corners in which he rather ironically denounces QAnon as threatening to “submerg[e]” legitimate abuse claims “within a conspiracy culture.”(30:30-31:00) This double-speak is less surprising when one learns that Salter admits to using “terms like SRA and [Ritual Abuse/Mind Control]” with “insiders” (that is, fellow conspiracy therapists) and different terms with “outsiders.”(p. 5) Despite his efforts to conceal the depths of his belief in unfounded conspiracy theories, much more about Salter’s uninhibited promotion of Satanic cult fantasies can be found here.
David Sarikaya (aka David Kaye and Ali Davut Sarikaya), a scheduled speaker at the ISSTD’s 2020 annual conference, has a lengthy history of multiple convictions of fraud and falsely representing himself as a psychologist, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald. In fact, Sarikaya holds no credentials whatsoever relating to the practice of psychology or mental health. Shortly after this was reported by Grey Faction to the ISSTD’s continuing education sponsor, Sarikaya was removed from the list of scheduled speakers.
Valerie Sinason, a United Kingdom-based psychotherapist, prominent member of the Organized and Extreme Abuse Special Interest Group, and frequent presenter at annual conferences, has promoted unhinged theories of large scale Satanic cult abuse for decades. Sinason treated a nurse named Carole Myers who suffered from alcoholism and self-harm, and who had had multiple stays in psychiatric hospitals. At some point, Myers wrote a “life assessment” in which she accused her parents of being “high priest and priestess of a Satanic cult” and subjecting her to SRA, including breeding babies for sacrificial murder. Though it’s not clear if Sinason implanted these beliefs, she actively encouraged them. Sinason stated that upon meeting Myers, she could immediately tell from her limp that she had been hurt by “them” (presumably, the Satanists). Sinason wrote in a letter that Myers was a Satanic abuse victim with at least four alter personalities. Sinason’s treatment of Myers was part of a study meant to prove the existence of SRA for which she and her colleague received a Ł22,000 grant. A report on the study, put together for the sole purpose of rebutting an investigation that found no evidence of SRA, predictably provides zero corroboration for the Satanic abuse claims it promotes as truthful. Myers, who was very mentally ill and distant from her family, passed away suddenly and mysteriously in 2005. Sinason continues to espouse absurd claims. In 2001, The Independent reported that Sinason claimed to have 51 adult clients with histories of Satanic ritual abuse, or something close to it. As proof, she offered a photo of “human sacrifice,” which the newspaper ran only to retract a week later when reporter Jeremy Laurance decided he’d “been had,” and the photo captured “not human sacrifice, but a Chinese performance artist.” Sinason has also asserted that Satanists are perpetrating an “Auschwitz in peacetime.”
Rachel C. Thomas, another psychotherapist located in the United Kingdom, has presented at multiple ISSTD conferences. Although unhinged presentations are commonplace at ISSTD conferences, Thomas delivered an exceptionally bizarre one in 2014. The presentation examined the narratives of clients subjected to “mind control torture” that produced their DID. In particular, she discussed a client who “reported lizard-alien abduction and torture on board a UFO,” exploring the “symbolic and literal complexity” of such claims. The alien abduction was a “real but hallucogenic [sic]” type of “trickery” employed by unnamed perpetrators aboard the “military vessel.”
Tara Tulley, a former member of the ISSTD’s Organized and Extreme Special Interest Group, is a former therapist with a revoked license. Tulley’s long misconduct history began in Utah, when clients complained to the state licensing board. In the complaints,(p. 13-52) the clients alleged that Tulley performed exorcisms on clients, waved around a gun during a therapy session, engaged in dual relationships, violated patient confidentiality, and smoked cannabis with clients before therapy. One client became extremely distressed as a result of a “druid curse revocation” meant to revoke curses placed upon a person when they were in the womb. The client “thought there were demons stuck in her throat and started engaging in self-harm, stabbing her throat with toothpicks.”(p. 35) Due to these severe instances of malpractice, the Utah board notified Tulley in October 2020 that they would not permit her to renew her license.(p. 46) However, Tulley could simply take clients in nearby Arizona instead, thanks to a new license she had fraudulently obtained the prior year. Grey Faction notified the Arizona board, which launched an investigation and discovered that Tulley had not reported the existence of complaints against her license in Utah when she completed her application in Arizona, as required by law. In 2022, more than three years after she received her first complaint, Arizona became the first state to formally revoke Tara Tulley’s license. It is currently unknown if Tulley remains a member of the ISSTD.
Documented and Alleged Misconduct by Former ISSTD Members
Ralph Allison, a former licensed psychiatrist from California who ran the first of the American Psychiatric Association’s workshops on MPD, surrendered his license in August 1998 following his refusal to undergo a psychiatric examination after the licensing board determined he “may be mentally ill to the extent that his condition affects his ability to practice medicine safely.”(p. 9) Nine months after he surrendered his license, he presented at the ISSTD’s 1999 Spring conference. Allison again presented at the ISSTD conference in 2005.
Bennett Braun, a former licensed psychiatrist who practiced in Illinois and Montana, founded the ISSTD, served as its first president, and who organized the first several conferences, has been sued by at least a dozen former patients, had his license to practice medicine revoked twice, and forfeited his license to prescribe controlled substances. For details on his extensive documented misconduct, see our page on him here.
George Greaves, a former licensed psychologist and founder and early president of the ISSTD who led the MPD study group that merged with Braun’s to form the organization, had his Georgia psychology license revoked in 1994. His Ohio license was revoked the following year. The allegations included conduct that began in 1983 – around the time he co-founded the ISSTD. The Georgia licensing board found that he had sexual intercourse with a patient on at least three occasions(p. 9) and then tried to use hypnosis to make her keep it secret.(p. 10) Greaves also engaged in an unprofessional dual relationship – which included sexual contact under the guise of “abreactive therapy” – with a second patient.(p. 11) According to the board, he would hypnotize this patient and “masturbate himself or engage in acts of sexual intercourse and fellatio with her.”(p. 11) He also frequently became aroused during therapy and showed this patient his erection through his clothing.(p. 11) Greaves repeatedly hypnotized and had sexual intercourse with a third patient shortly after the termination of their therapeutic relationship.(p. 12) Greaves denied the accusations, blamed the “borderline features” of his MPD patients, and argued that the patients were too ugly for him to have had sexual contact with anyway.(p. 3)
Roberta Sachs, a former Illinois licensed psychologist and another prominent early member of the ISSTD, was sued for malpractice on multiple occasions. She was often a co-defendant along with her colleague, Braun, including in the case brought by former patient Patricia Burgus, which resulted in a multi-million dollar settlement. In response, Sachs’ licensing board reprimanded her and ordered her to take continuing education classes and pay a $5,000 fine. Extensive details about these cases, including Sachs’ involvement, can be found here. Sachs was again sued in 2004 by two different former patients, both alleging Sachs and others convinced them they were victims of a Satanic cult; one case settled for more than $5 million.(p. 9) Sachs has made numerous statements, including in published articles, promoting the existence of widespread, intergenerational Satanic cults engaging in ritual abuse (see here for a few examples).
Francois J. Saculla, a Wisconsin-based former licensed psychiatrist and member of the faculty of the American Psychiatric Association’s MPD workshop in 1979, was disciplined by the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board after they found he engaged in sexual contact with a patient in 1989. In an apparent effort to deceive investigators, Saculla demanded that they question the patient regarding the appearance of his penis and then examine his penis to determine if the patient’s description was accurate.(p. 20) However, such a test was unlikely to work: Saculla had recently undergone a voluntary circumcision, so the patient’s description of his penis at the time of the sexual contact would not have matched its appearance at the time of the examination.(p. 21) Saculla claimed the circumcision was necessary due to multiple physical complaints, but medical records revealed no abnormalities.(p. 21) But rather than permanently revoke his license, the board prohibited him from treating female patients of any age, required that he be supervised at all times, and ordered a psychological evaluation, which it appears he did not take.(p. 2-7) His license expired in 1995. The DEA revoked his ability to prescribe controlled substances in 1998.
As documented extensively by journalist Debbie Nathan in her book Sybil Exposed, Cornelia Wilbur, the former licensed psychiatrist for the patient known as “Sybil,” used treatment methods – including injecting sodium pentothal – that likely created false memories and symptoms of MPD in patients. Wilbur habitually crossed patient-therapist boundaries by sharing personal details about her life with Sybil, offering to get Sybil a job as an art therapist, trying to help Sybil sell paintings, and suggesting using her connections to help Sybil get into psychology classes at New York Medical College. Wilbur also offered to get Sybil into medical school and pay her tuition and living expenses. In their later years, Sybil and Wilbur lived together.(p. xviii) Eventually, Sybil admitted to faking multiple personalities, stating, “I have been essentially lying,” by telling Wilbur what she wanted to hear. Wilbur also co-authored a study on “curing” homosexuality through psychoanalysis. Nevertheless, to this day, the ISSTD gives out an annual award in Wilbur’s name.
Walter Young, a former licensed psychiatrist who practiced in Colorado and 1990 president of the ISSTD, had his license to practice medicine revoked in 2015. The licensing board found, among other misconduct, that Young was overprescribing opiates to a patient. That patient was someone he had known for 15 years prior to her becoming his patient. In addition, Young was one of her patients. But that was not the full extent of the unethical dual relationship: Young was also her supervisor. Finally, Young had a habit of prescribing medications for himself.
Bennett Braun – 1985
Richard Kluft – 1986
George Greaves – 1987
David Caul – 1988
Philip M. Coons – 1989
Walter Young – 1990
Catherine Fine – 1991
Richard Loewenstein – 1992
Moshe Torem – 1993
Colin Ross -1994
Nancy Hornstein – 1995
Elizabeth Bowman – 1996
James Chu – 1997
Marlene Hunter – 1998
Peter Barach – 1999
John Curtis – 2000
Joyanna Silberg – 2001
Steven Frankel – 2002
Richard Chefetz – 2003
Steven Gold – 2004
Fran Waters – 2005
Eli Somer – 2006
Catherine Classen – 2007
Vedat Sar – 2008
Kathy Steele – 2009
Paul Dell – 2010
Don Fridley – 2011
Thomas Carlton – 2012
Joan Turkus – 2013
Philip Kinsler – 2014
Lynette Danylchuk – 2015
Warwick Middleton – 2016
Martin Dorahy – 2017
Kevin J. Connors – 2018
Christine Forner – 2019
Christa Kruger – 2020
Rosita Cortizo – 2021
Lisa Danylchuk – 2022
Michael Salter – 2023
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This page would not have been possible without the extensive assistance and advice of investigative reporters Carrie Poppy and Debbie Nathan.
Last updated: May 8, 2023. Have more information to add or want to suggest an edit? Please contact us.