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SULLIVAN v. CHESHIER

February 28, 1994

JOHN W. SULLIVAN and SUSAN SULLIVAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM LESLEY CHESHIER, Defendant.


Zagel


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES B. ZAGEL

FEBRUARY 23, 1994

 MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 John W. Sullivan and Susan R. Sullivan married and had five children, the fourth is Kathleen Sullivan who, as an adult, consulted a psychologist, William Lesley Cheshier. Under hypnosis she remembered sexual abuse by an older sibling and, later, in the presence of the psychologist she told this to her parents. Estrangement followed, and the Sullivans sue the psychologist for causing it. *fn1" The case was filed under seal but both sides concurred with the lifting of the seal.

 Dr. Cheshier, who received a doctorate in psychology from Saybrook Institute in 1986, engaged in the unlicensed practice of psychology. This he might be legally able to do if he does not represent that he is a clinical psychologist. Dr. Cheshier told the Sullivans of his training, of his proficiency at hypnosis and ability to render psychotherapy. The information sheet he provides to patients states "although Dr. Cheshier is a member of the American Psychological Association, he has chosen not to be registered as a clinical psychologist."

 Kathleen Sullivan, now 25, began therapy with Dr. Cheshier in September 1990, when she was 23. On October 22, 1990 she and her parents met in Dr. Cheshier's office, where she said she believed she had been sexually abused as a child by one of her older siblings. Dr. Cheshier told her parents that through hypnosis she had discovered her repressed memories of abuse. *fn2"

 Three days later, the Sullivans began a continuing consultation with a psychiatrist in Florida. By early November Dr. Cheshier received a call from a lawyer, Thomas Reynolds. He told Dr. Cheshier that he represented the Sullivans and that he would be taking action by court order, if necessary, to have Kathleen Sullivan evaluated psychologically. John Sullivan wrote to Kathleen Sullivan (with a copy delivered to Dr. Cheshier). In the letter he said, in part, "I do not deny that there could be a problem in the past involving one of your siblings . . . I am taking action against Doctor Cheshier for the damages he has done and is doing to those you love."

 The Sullivans did try to see or speak with Kathleen Sullivan after October 30, 1990 but she refused contact with them. Her stated reason for doing so was Dr. Cheshier's advice not to discuss her memories with anyone who did not accept them. The relationship between parents and child have been quite strained, and there is no longer regular contact that all had before October 1990.

 In early November Kathleen Sullivan then retained her own attorney, Thomas Demetrio, because her "father [was] threatening to sue her psychotherapist and try to force her to see a psychiatrist of his own choosing." Her lawyer pre-empted this by referring her to a licensed psychiatrist, Richard K. Baer, M.D. for an evaluation. Dr. Baer's report of November 12 was provided to her and her parents' attorneys. The report said in part.

 
Dr. Cheshier's discussion of Miss Sullivan seemed well-informed clinically, and very well intentioned. He seems clearly to have her best interests at heart.
 
. . .
 
Overall, he did not give any indication he was doing Miss Sullivan any harm. Indeed, she seems to be thriving with his help, and they apparently have a strong therapeutic relationship. . . . the therapy is going well. . . .

 Dr. Cheshier characterizes his therapeutic approach as "based upon the idea that emotions which motivate unhealthy behavior or thinking are always unknown to the patient. The therapist's responsibility is to uncover these emotions and help the patient see them. These emotions are unknown because they learn (either directly or indirectly) that these emotions are unjustified ('wrong')." The Sullivans say there is no scientific proof that reliable memories can be entirely repressed and uncovered by hypnosis. They offer evidence that science shows (1) memory is not a pure recording device, the data of which is preserved for hypnotically induced playback and (2) what we call memory ...


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