Rage reduction therapy: help or abuse?

Date: 1996-10-24
Source: CNN

From Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen

FORT WORTH, Texas (CNN) -- As a teen-ager, Jeannie Warren was under the treatment of Dr. Robert Gross for more than a year. During that period, a Texas court says, he beat her, threatened her and restrained her, all in the name of "rage reduction therapy."

Rage reduction therapists believe that angry, misbehaving children will realize why they're so hostile if a therapist holds them down and talks to them. Opponents of the therapy hope that a recent judgment against Dr. Gross will prompt the Texas Legislature to ban the therapy statewide.

In April 1989, when she was 15 years old, Jeannie's mother committed her to a psychiatric hospital in Fort Worth, believing that therapy would help them get along better. In 14 months, she went through about 25 rage therapy sessions.

"They held me down, he got this close to my face," she said, putting her hand about a foot from her face. Then, she said, the doctor started screaming at her, saying, "You're not in control anymore, are you?"

When she failed to respond, she says he jabbed his knuckles into her ribcage and twisted.

The sessions lasted three to four hours; the longest session she went through, according to documents filed in court, lasted five hours. A nurse at the hospital described bruises on Warren's rib cage that appeared after the sessions -- swelling, purplish-red welts.

District Judge Ken Curry of Tarrant County ruled that her psychiatrist had committed assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He ordered Dr. Robert Gross to pay more than $8.4 million in damages.

In a videotaped deposition for the trial, Dr. Gross maintained that "the object of the session was to stimulate the rage, not inflict any physical pain. ... Sometimes the only way a person can get there, unfortunately, is through pain."

The Psychiatric Institute of Fort Worth, where Warren received her therapy, has since closed.

But there are still hundreds of people who practice rage reduction therapy, not without other problems.

In 1995, for example, 3-year-old Krystal Ann Tibbets of Utah died after she was injured in a rage therapy session conducted by her father.

Many rage therapists follow the teachings of psychiatrist Foster Cline, a pioneer of rage reduction therapy who has been admonished by the Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners for giving treatments involving pain and verbal abuse.

"It always hurts me, but I do understand it, when I see negative things about some therapy this or that taken out of context," Cline said. He claims the treatment is misunderstood, and has helped many children.

"They start sniffling, and then they snuggle in, and if they're older and can talk they say, 'I'm sorry, I know I'm doing these things, I don't know why.' It's just sweet," he said.

But child psychiatrist Dr. David Waller of the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center says such treatment hurts children. "Unfortunately, I think it just reenacts some of the difficulties, in terms of producing a lot of anger, and sometimes perhaps causing more distress," Waller said.

Warren said she finally figured out that Dr. Gross wanted her to say she was mad at her birth mother. When she did, the sessions stopped.

But she continues to suffer flashbacks and nightmares. Now married and the mother of a 10-month-old, Warren has not seen a penny from her lawsuit. Authorities cannot find Dr. Gross, and believe he has left the country.


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