"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptibly worse than it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself." --Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudun.
"The idea that critical thinking is the latest Western fad is silly. If you're buying a used car in Singapore or Bangkok-- or a used chariot in ancient Susa or Rome-- the same precautions will be useful as in Cambridge, Massachusetts."
--Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World.
"Physician, heal thyself." -- Luke 4:23.
Dr. Bennett Braun, a psychiatrist, once headed an inpatient unit at Rush Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago. He has been widely published in medical journals and much quoted by the mainstream media. Gloria Steinem praised him in the credits for her book, Revolution from Within. At one point in his life, he was considered a leading expert in at least two areas of research.
By the dawn of the twenty-first century, he had lost his license for two years, a move considered mild by his critics, but one which left him no avenue of appeal. The two years were to be followed by a five-year probationary period. He must file regular reports of his activities with the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation. He has also been expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and the Illinois Psychiatric Association. He can no longer treat anyone for Multiple Personality Disorder, a syndrome on which he was considered the expert. He can no longer supervise other health practitioners. Malpractice suits from former patients have led to record settlements. This shift in fortune would be a tragedy-- were it not justice.
We must remember that Braun was not a fringe practitioner or untrained counselor; he was a trained medical doctor and a psychiatrist. In the 1980s, Braun and psychologist Roberta Sachs established an inpatient unit at Rush Presbyterian for patients diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), a controversial diagnosis on which he had become a recognized expert. In 1984, he was president of the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation, which he had played a key role in founding. While working with such patients, he encountered the idea of Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA), a notion promoted by some evangelical Christians who are convinced of the reality of satanic witchcraft, some feminists who believe that any claim of abuse must be believed, and some therapists influenced by the 1980 publication of the now-discredited ritual abuse narrative, Michelle Remembers.
If Braun's involvement in the areas of MPD in SRA have eclipsed any valid contributions he may have made to the field of psychiatric medicine, his treatment of one patient, Patricia Burgus, and her two children, epitomizes the abuses he committed in the latter part of his career.
Burgus began experiencing depression in 1982 following the difficult birth of her second son; the attending complications resulted in both mother and newborn requiring surgery. For a time, she underwent conventional therapy. She did not start playing with the idea of multiple personalities until they were first suggested to her. She would later recall that she liked the idea of escaping the difficulties of her life by acting out other lives. Eventually, she attended a presentation given by Sachs and Braun. After only a few minutes talking with her, they suggested that both she and her eldest son should be hospitalized. Braun suggested that, since she had MPD, she almost certainly survived some childhood trauma.
In 1986, she was admitted to Rush Presbyterian, and began her bizarre therapy with Braun, with its even more bizarre results. Her therapy involved hypnosis and the administration of drugs, including the mood-altering substances Xanax and halcyon, and the heart medication Inderal. Burgus initially did not want to take these medications; she relented only after being threatened with a transfer to Reed Psychiatric Hospital, which did not have a good reputation among patients. She underwent regular therapy, though not always at regular hours; more than once, Braun awoke her in the middle of the night to undergo treatment. His sessions were heavily guided; she was told repeatedly by Braun and other patients of Satanic Ritual Abuse, and her involvement with such things as human sacrifice was frequently suggested to her. Eventually, she began to tell the kinds of stories which Braun clearly wanted to hear.
According to the narrative that emerged, her family had been involved in a vast Satanic Cult since 1604, she had experienced frequent sexual abuse as a child, and had often born children who were sacrificed in cannibalistic rituals. Eventually, she had become the High Priestess, participating in events and running affairs of the cult in a nine-state region, all without the knowledge of her husband or her workaday personality. Braun acknowledges that some of the salacious details provided in her stories caused him to experience sexual arousal, and he had to pause the sessions in these cases.
Burgus was made to retell stories many times a day. Often, she had to be physically restrained to control the physical reactions that accompanied these first-person accounts of depravity. Incredibly, when the medication wore off and she discovered inconsistencies and impossibilities within her own tales, Braun proposed alternate explanations. When she noted that she had not started menstruation until well into high school, and therefore could not have been pregnant in her early adolescence, he suggested that she had not menstruated because she had been pregnant. When she questioned her claim that she had eaten parts of the bodies of two thousand murder victims each year, he suggested that the cult might run a trucking service that allowed for distribution of parts across the country. Exactly how no one noticed her multiple pregnancies or how so very many unsolved murders went undetected, Braun suggested would be explained in time. He also claimed that another patient had shown him photographs of Patricia Burgus in her role as High Priestess, but that she was not yet ready to see them. Meanwhile, Braun took a keen interest in her sons. Her eldest boy was admitted to Rush at age five, while her other son was admitted on an emergency basis beginning at four years of age. Braun specifically expressed the belief that their lives would in danger if they were not under medical supervision during Halloween.
Other patients learned of Burgus's supposed position in the cult, and began to incorporate her into their fantasies. Braun believed the cult was communicating with patients through greeting card and flowers sent to them, and asked Burgus to explain the messages contained in these sympathy gifts. The details which she provided without any corroborative evidence or even much consistency found their way into papers published by Braun. He contacted the FBI with information about crimes in which she had participated; when they found no evidence, he began to suspect they, too, were involved, and told at least one patient that he had narrowly missed being killed by an FBI assassin. He also had Burgus recover memories of past lives, including her experiences as Catherine the Great, and he suggested they hold a seance to contact the spirits of people she had helped murder. Such delusions have, of course, been heard in other psychiatric facilities; they are not generally encouraged, however, by the staff.
Braun's own views rivaled any typical patient's paranoia. Over time, he concluded that the conspiracy involved the FBI, the CIA, AT&T, Hallmark Cards, the Ku Klux Klan, FTD Florists, the Mafia, clergy from various religious denominations, and the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. He concluded that Satanists were running "not only our society, but the world economy" and had been "doing so for a very long time" (quoted in Ofshe). He suggested to other therapists and professionals that the cult could not be stopped, but that it might be possible to convince its members to abandon the abuse of children, since people would be more responsive and loyal if they were treated well. His views would be comical if they were not destroying the lives of real people. Such extreme views, at least, raised concerns about Braun's practises.
As Patricia Burgus's mental condition worsened, she was transferred to acute care, and from there to a regular psychiatric ward. Treated like any other psychiatric patient and taken off her medication, she finally began to recover. Professionals who heard about her treatment generally expressed horror, and her own belief in her multiple personalities (which quickly disappeared) and status as a high priestess shattered.
Several lawsuits were brought against Dr. Bennett Braun and several of those who worked with him. Elva Pozanski, head of Child Psychiatry at Rush Hospital, was required to step down. Roberta Sachs escaped the most severe reprisals by testifying against Braun, but her own career has been ruined. Several judgments have been made against Braun himself; Patricia Burgus and her family ultimately accepted a settlement of $10.6 million dollars.
Burgus has reported that the "physical and psychological torture" drove her to attempt suicide (fortunately, she did not succeed) and nearly destroyed her family. "They have taken my past, rewritten my past, contaminated all of the memories that I have as a person," she said. "Our family was tortured for years at Rush. No amount of money can make up for what we went through."(quoted in FMSF Compilation).
Reason and the principals of scientific inquiry are not simply one of many equally-viable ideological biases. They are tools that have permitted us to move, however slightly, away from a world where inquisitions, crusades, arbitrary trials, and fear of imaginary monsters stalked us. Dr. Bennett Braun, a trained doctor and psychiatrist who believed and encouraged delusional tales, the absurdity of which should have been apparent to an intelligent twelve-year-old, stands as an example of how warped our minds can become when we fail to check our ideological presuppositions with sober reflection, reason and evidence.
David Bloomburg. "Update: Bennet Braun Case."
David Bloomburg. "Bennet Braun Case Settled." Skeptical Inquirer Jan. 2000.
"Experts Debunked." Stop Bad Therapy. http://www.stopbadtherapy.com/experts/experts.shtml
False Memory Syndrome Foundation Compilation: Dr. Bennett Braun
Sherrill Mulhern, interview. Jon. Trott. Cornerstone Magazine #96. 1991. http://www.cornerstonemag.com/features/iss096/mulhern.htm
Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters. Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria. University of California P, 1996.
Mark Pendergrast. Victims of Memory. Hinsburg, Vermont: Upper Access, 1996.