Every day the search results trickle in. No more than a few at a time, but there they are, staring at me from the bone white screen of the control panel.
Last November, I wrote a story looking into the background of four separate ongoing civil suits filed against an eating disorder clinic, the Castlewood Treatment Center in Ballwin, Missouri. Co-founded by psychologist Mark Schwartz and his wife, social worker Lori Galperin, the Center has long promoted itself as a last-resort of desperate eating disorder sufferers, a desperation that the four litigants say was taken advantage of at every step by Schwartz and the Castlewood staff. The suits all allege that coercive therapeutic methods and powerful drugs were used to foster false memories of sexual abuse and multiple personalities. Why? In order to prolong months of intensive, expensive inpatient treatment sessions.
For the uninitiated, these lawsuits bear a striking resemblance to the same sort of allegations made against mental health professionals twenty years ago in the 1980′s and 90′s. Stories of unethical therapists who fed impossible narratives of past trauma to their clients that left them – and their families- devastated once exposed for the absurdities they were. Stories which had become practical urban myths warning against the abuses of psychiatry, inexplicably alive and well today.
The plaintiffs, all women, range from their twenties to their forties. Some stayed at the clinic for years, others months. Lisa Nasseff and Leslie Thompson, the first two filed, claim they were pushed into accepting they had been members of a Satanic cult that engaged in murders and ritual sacrifice. Pushed by Mark Schwartz himself. The last, Colette Travers, claims she attempted suicide one day after leaving the facility. All four are currently awaiting the beginning of legal proceedings, with the chance of settlement still hanging precariously in the air.
Years might go without a resolution to the cases. They plod on, legal briefing after another. The news is slow. Or rather, has been slow, because as of today, I can officially report that Mark Schwartz and Lori Galperin have been taken off the staff of the Castlewood Treatment Center. Not only that, they’ve also been let go from the accompanying Monarch Cove Treatment Center in Pacific Grove, California, an eating disorder clinic co-founded by the two late last fall.
Though the local media is themselves set to report further on the details of this at some point, as of now, I’ve received my own independent confirmation. I also reached out to the Castlewood Treatment Center via email, though predictably have not received any response back.
Regardless, it’s hard to believe this doesn’t represent some sort of major turning point, especially considering the complete about-face of the organization, who as of April were still content with advertising Mark Schwartz’s upcoming talks and presenting him as the face of Castlewood, even as they continuously downgraded his prestige and position at the Center. Archival peeks at Castlewood’s website over the last six months reveal Schwartz to have shifted from an active role as Clinic Co-Director with his wife, to a Consulting Co-Director in December, a Co-Founder in the spring, and to now whitewashed from the staff entirely. Schwartz and Galperin also ceased to exist as staff members on the Monarch Cove website as early as this past March.
It’s not merely Mark Schwartz and Lori Galperin who have pulled a disappearing act. Psychologist Richard Schwartz, architect of the Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy used at Castlewood and Monarch and one-time pictured consultant of the Castlewood staff, also stopped appearing on the website sometime earlier this year. Several of the public affidavits filed by the women mention concepts of IFS being used in their therapy.
With this latest development, the question that might pass through anyone’s mind is, why now?
Over the past winter, an online advocacy group calling themselves ‘Castlewood Victims Unite’ sprouted up. Its anonymous members allege to be other victims of the Castlewood Treatment Center who have been unable to pursue legal action. From conversations with the group, I’ve been told several others have indeed reached out to them .
And in February of this year, the Center was forced to pay $140,000 to a Susan Gibson as a result of discriminating against her HIV-positive status and refusing her already accepted admittance into the clinic. Calling Castlewood’s behavior “unconscionable”, the U.S. Department of Justice’s award to Gibson marked the second largest combined settlement involving HIV discrimination ever reached.
But while these recent events may have played a role, the impetus by Castlewood board members to distance themselves from Schwartz is almost certainly tied to depositions taken earlier this month in the Leslie Thompson suit. No less than two weeks after these depositions were taken, a decade-long partnership with its one-time proud co-founders came to an abrupt end.
Of course, the contents of either the depositions or any internal meetings between Castlewood higher-ups might never reveal themselves, but all we know for certain is this: whatever confidence the board of directors had in Schwartz and Galperin throughout the past two years of legal battles surrounding these lawsuits has rapidly vanished as of this week. At this point though, it’s unknown how Castlewood will choose to portray the release of Mark Schwartz and Lori Galperin – whether as a mutual resignation or deliberate firing.
There’s no telling whether Schwartz’s departure marks any true significant change in the practices of the Castlewood staff. Especially with the implication of other therapists involved in the alleged mistreatment of the four plaintiffs, therapists who remain on staff today. There’s also no telling whether the lawsuits will reach settlements, and if they do, whether that will mean the burial of other unheard stories of abuse from the St. Louis facility. There are so many unanswered questions, and so many loose ends to be tied. But for anyone looking from the outside in, it’s easy to understand this as encouraging news.
As an editorial aside and personal thought…it’s clear to me that someone’s running scared. And that? That can be only good news.