Smoke and Mirrors: Three Years Later

by Lynn Crook, MEd, Editor, Treating Abuse Today

In order to debate intelligently the reality of abuse and multiple personality with those who don't believe that either condition exists, it is necessary to be adequately informed about the opposing viewpoint and aware of the abuses and unethical practices of modern psychiatry regarding these issues.

NOTE: "Smoke and Mirrors" was originally published in the November/December, 1995 - January/February, 1996; Vol 5 No 6 - Vol 6 No 1 issue of Treating Abuse Today. This version has been (1) condensed to facilitate electronic transmission, and (2) revised to reflect subsequent events.


PBS Frontline's "The Search for Satan," aired in October 1995. According to the film's account, "Mary S.," entered treatment in 1988, with Bennett Braun, MD, and Roberta Sachs, PhD, at the Dissociative Disorders Unit of Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago. Mary eventually transferred to Spring Shadows Glen, an intensive in-patient treatment center in Houston, Texas, where she began treatment with Judith Peterson, PhD. When Mary's insurance company threatened to transfer her to a nursing home, Mary left Spring Shadows Glen and began out-patient treatment with another therapist. This therapist told her to "Just say no" to DID, which she did; whereupon all her dissociative symptoms dissipated.

The film treats in less detail the story of Pat Burgus, the first patient to enter treatment with Dr. Bennett Braun when the Dissociative Disorders Unit first opened at Rush Presbyterian. Burgus underwent a lengthy in-patient treatment, along with her two sons who were also diagnosed with a dissociative disorder. During her treatment, Burgus claims, she often "performed" DID stunts for various staff, visiting psychologists and the media.

With such a plot, Producer Ofra Bikel would indict an entire profession. Let's see how she does it.


Bikel displays what is claimed to be a direct quotation from a FBI report on the prevalence of ritual abuse. What follows is Bikel's version, with the original text restored in brackets:

There is little or no evidence for [the portion of their] allegations that deal [s] with large scale baby breeding, human sacrifice, and organized satanic conspiracies." [Now] it is up to mental health professionals, not law enforcement, to explain why victims are alleging things that don't seem to have happened. (Lanning, 1992, p. 40)"

Bikel asserts that the FBI reached this conclusion "after seven years investigating claims of ritual abuse." However, according to a spokesperson for the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, the FBI has never conducted a formal investigation of satanic ritual abuse claims (Cynthia J. Lent, personal communication, January 18, 1995).

Interestingly, Lanning does acknowledge that crimes with ritualistic elements do occur. He simply thinks it unlikely that they occur as a part of a national or world-wide conspiracy (p. 19).


Bikel presents Mary as a relatively stable and happy wife, mother, and teacher "having a normal life and doing normal things" until she sought treatment. Mary's friend, Merideth Shriner, is interviewed and describes her as "a model wife and mother, her husband's lover and best friend, a woman filled with patience, the perfect feminine presence in a typical loving family."

Those of you who have a videotape of this film are invited to try this simple exercise. When Bikel shows those quick shots of documents and then focuses in on one statement, press the pause button, then rewind the tape and read the documents in their entirety. You'll see that Mary S. is actually Mary Shanley-and you'll find evidence to suggest that Mary's pre-therapy history was very troubled.

In fact, Mary endured severe emotional abuse from her mother. She suffered from a learning disability that contributed to poor self-esteem. Mary fell victim to a brutal date rape which resulted in a pregnancy; her family subsequently abandoned her, forcing her to give up her son for adoption. She eventually married a man who suffered from alcoholism. After giving birth to another son, she had a hysterectomy that brought on seizures and blackouts. Later she was attacked (apparently slapped by an angry parent) in her position as a teacher. Although Bikel implies that Mary lost her job because of "bad" therapy, Mary's school district placed her on full disability and then Mary sought therapy for depression, weight loss, panic attacks, restlessness and an inability to concentrate.


While Bikel provides few details regarding Pat Burgus's life pre-therapy, she fails to point out that Burgus granted Cavalcade Productions a taped interview describing cult recruiting practices after she left Rush Presbyterian (Bruce McCulley, personal communication, January 5, 1996). Burgus voluntarily participated in the interview, apparently because she wanted to educate the public on cult practices.

Three Cavalcade videos were excerpted without permission: "CHILDREN AT RISK," "MASTERING TRAUMATIC MEMORIES I," and "RITUAL CHILD ABUSE: A Professional Overview." While FRONTLINE did provide onscreen credit, viewers may have inferred that Cavalcade Productions had cooperated in the production of this film.


Bikel states (through her narrator), "Dr. Peterson filed a child abuse report against Mary with the Department of Child and Family Services in Illinois," thus implying that Mary lost custody of her son after Peterson "falsely" accused her of child abuse while still under her care at Spring Shadows Glen.

In a brief telephone conversation with Treating Abuse Today, Mary stated that it was her understanding that Peterson had first reported her for child abuse. She denied any knowledge that others had filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Child Protection. Mary further stated that the Illinois authorities dropped the investigation into the allegations for "lack of evidence."

Bikel (through her narrator) states that Mary remains "listed with the State of Illinois as a child abuser." However, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Education indicated that the department showed no restrictions at all regarding Mary's teaching certificate."

A high-level spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Child Protection confirmed that Bikel's presentation contained "inaccuracies," though considerations of confidentiality prevented him from addressing any specifics of the case.


Bikel states (through her narrator) that state authorities in Texas shut down this facility. However, a spokesperson for Spring Shadows Glen Hospital confirmed that no agency (governmental or otherwise) had shut down the Dissociative Disorders Unit, or had recommended that the administration shut it down. Apparently, the hospital administration decided to reorganize the Dissociative Disorders Unit as a clinical track under the General Adult Psychiatric Unit, because the patient census no longer warranted the operating costs of a separate unit. A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Health also confirmed that the state had never shut down any unit of Spring Shadows Glen Hospital.

Sally McDonald, a former nurse at Spring Shadows Glen, offers damning accounts in "The Search for Satan" of Peterson's treatment of clients.

However, Bikel fails to mention that:

1. McDonald never worked on the Dissociative Disorders Unit where Peterson treated clients.

2. McDonald attended only one of Peterson's therapy sessions at the direction of the hospital administrator (McDonald, 1994).

3. McDonald rifled through Peterson's confidential prescription records at Spring Shadows Glen. Shortly thereafter the rumor spread among hospital staff that Peterson abused drugs. McDonald used the purloined records as part of a statement to the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists (letter dated July 13, 1993). Based on her reading of a pharmacy record, McDonald reported that Peterson "required medication for anxiety, sleep, pain, and depression." Eventually, the hospital administrator and a court judge reviewed Peterson's records in camera, and found that the charge of drug abuse had no basis in fact.

4. A year later, McDonald was demoted for professional failures.

Since the publication of "Smoke and Mirrors" in early 1996, Mary Shanley settled her suit against Dr. Judith Peterson and subsequently filed a civil suit against Dr. Bennett Braun. Pat Burgus settled her civil suit against Braun. Illinois' state licensing board has decided to review Braun's license. Peterson, et al were charged with mail and insurance fraud in a criminal case that went to trial on September 8, 1998.

"The Search for Satan" received glowing reviews from the media prior to its broadcast on October 24, 1995. Given my experience investigating Bikel's "Divided Memories" (See: "The Making of a Morass: "Divided Memories" and Media Manipulation," Treating Abuse Today, Vol 5 No 3, pp. 33-39) I decided to take some time to investigate "The Search for Satan" prior to publishing my review of this film. As I continued this investigation and found no corroboration for the claims presented in "The Search for Satan," I reported to the editor of Treating Abuse Today that I thought "The Search for Satan" was just "smoke and mirrors." Hence the title. I sent a draft of my review of "The Search for Satan" to FRONTLINE for comment and they did not reply.

After this review was published, I received a copy of FRONTLINE's guidelines for their producers. Given my investigation of "The Search for Satan" I gave these guidelines a working title: "We at FRONTLINE can't tell you producers what to say; we'll give you these guidelines and won't check to ensure you follow them; we assume that what you say will be controversial so we'll expect that viewers will complain; and we'll defend whatever you choose to report."

In response to my review of "The Search for Satan," Treating Abuse Today received a 3-page letter from Producer Ofra Bikel which claimed among other things, that I would like to see her "burned at the stake."

This claim, I decided, presented a fascinating metaphor. If each misrepresentation in "The Search for Satan" were to be written on a separate sheet of 8.5x11 paper, then crumpled and tossed into a metal garbage can, how long would that fire burn-perhaps ten minutes?

Yet, three years later, this film continues to be cited as an indictment against an entire profession.

One question remains unanswered: How did it come to be that Pat Burgus and Mary Shanley, two apparently normal women (yet diagnosed with DID) become institutionalized and subsequently develop memories of incidents related to ritual abuse which resulted in their filing civil suits against their therapists and settling (at least in Burgus's case) for millions of dollars?

Our legal system is only beginning to answer this question. Remove all the "families destroyed" and "repressed memory therapy" rhetoric and what do we have? Part of the answer might be: Follow the money.

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