AT News
Archived Issue
Originally emailed 9 May 2003

Attachment Therapist’s Care Found “Substandard”
For Using Dildos in Therapy

A fact-finder has found a Colorado Attachment (Holding) Therapist’s care to be “substandard” in a case where he allowed a young boy to run naked in his office and introduced the boy to “synthetic, anatomically correct penises” (dildos) during therapy.

Administrative Law Judge Nancy Connick made the findings after hearing testimony over eight days concerning psychologist John A. Dicke, who co-founded and is clinical director for the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Institute in Denver. Connick also decided that Dicke should be placed on probation indefinitely to prevent him from ever again working with children suspected of child abuse.

The probation decision by Connick is effectively just a recommendation to the State Board of Psychologist Examiners, which is expected to take up the case at its meeting on July 2. It could choose to revoke or suspend Dicke’s license instead.

Dicke, who was a lawyer and foster parent before becoming a psychologist, claims that he used dildos with the 5-year-old boy because he thought the boy had been abused by his father, and the dildos would be an effective way for the boy to “re-enact” the trauma and provide essential catharsis. Expert witnesses for the state, however, established that re-enactment is nothing more than just re-traumatization. Connick accepted their conclusion that the use of dildos risked “sexualizing the treatment.” Moreover, Connick concluded that the dildos put the boy at risk of thinking of “the penis [a]s a separate object to be abused physically or sexually.” Generally accepted standards of practice require a psychologist to provide a safe treatment setting and to do no harm, but the use of dildos does not meet those standards, according to Connick. “[I]t is paramount to prevent retraumatization,” she stated.

Connick also agreed with the state that generally accepted standards of practice do not condone a psychologist allowing a 5-year-old to take off his clothes in therapy, or allowing the child to remain naked during therapy. Videotapes showed that Dicke not only didn’t discourage the boy from disrobing, but actually encouraged him to do so. An accusation that Dicke penetrated the boy with a dildo was dropped when the videotape did not show that action unambiguously. The boy’s mother was present during these incidents, but did nothing about the boy’s — or Dicke’s — behavior.

The sessions were videotaped because Dicke expected an outcry of sexual abuse from the boy during therapy. The videotapes show no such outcry. What they did show instead is that Dicke badgered the boy on the subject. He questioned him incessantly on sexual matters. Even when the boy clearly wanted to focus on other issues, Dicke wouldn’t let him. He even threatened the child (with, for example, removal of all the playthings in the office, which turned out to be just the dildos) if he refused to make more disclosures about sexual abuse.

Expert testimony established that the forensic value of Dicke’s questioning was negligible. Indeed, it backfired on Dicke. When he gave the videotapes to child welfare officials in the county where the family resides, those officials were so appalled by what they saw that they handed the tapes over to the sheriff’s office. Psychologist Bruce Perry was consulted, and he told deputies that, “If it’s your judgment that the behavior constitutes abuse, the fact that it’s called ’therapy’ doesn’t mean that it isn’t abuse.” The case was handed over to the Denver DA’s office, but no criminal charges were ever filed. Dicke had worked with that office in the past as Guardian Ad Litem in child sex-abuse cases.

Dicke primarily practices Holding Therapy, and he has been the subject of complaints about his practice. Screaming by his child patients has been reported to authorities (and revealed to AT NEWS) several times. He also made a public defense of Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder, who were convicted of killing Candace Newmaker during restraint therapy (“rebirthing”) in 2000. He contended that the only “crime” the two therapists had committed was “abusing a corpse,” since 10-year-old Candace was already emotionally dead as a result of her alleged Reactive Attachment Disorder resulting from abuse at the hands of her birth mother. He has also given a tour of his Institute to a legislator as a model for the practice of Holding Therapy, in an attempt to have “Candace’s Law” repealed or modified.

Holding Therapy and restraint were originally part of the charges in the case decided by Connick, but they were unwisely not pursued by the attorney general. That undoubtedly is the reason why Connick did not recommend the harsher penalty of license revocation. “[While] Respondent’s questioning methods, use of synthetic penises, and reenactment techniques were substandard, these do not establish that Respondent’s practice in other areas of psychology would present a danger to the public. A disciplinary sanction should be tailored to the substandard conduct found…” So, if the Board decides to go beyond Connick’s recommendation and revoke or suspend Dicke’s license, the stage has been set for an appeal to the courts.

Meanwhile, there are already law suits underway in the courts. Indeed, Dicke himself took the rather extraordinary step of suing the expert witnesses and others complaining against him in this case and charging them with defamation of character in order to chill their testimony. To an outside observer it would appear he had some limited success by doing so.

Lengthy earlier reports on this case:

Caution: links may have aged since this AT News was first emailed.