One of the reasons for writing this book about my experiences as a psychotherapist is because my experiences were so unusual and bizarre that I don’t think this kind of story has ever been told. In addition, just as an earlier Psychiatrist was able to generalize his insights from working with people with Schizophrenia (I’m referring to R. D. Laing), I felt my unusual experiences could be generalized to other social interactions between normal people. We all want to be understood and to share our experiences with others who can still relate to us throughout the various times of our lives. Such social interactions and social supports allow us to continue to feel like normal people in a society despite the tragedies and catastrophes of life. This chapter, however, won’t be about a set of experiences that a normal person can imagine happening.
I would experience life stressors or trauma that altered my life in unbelievable ways. I would go from a respected person in my field that was a leader and organizer of a large organization for Clinical Social Workers and a therapist in private practice with a 6 figure income to homelessness in about 6 months or so at the end of 2000 and into 2001.
I grew up in a location that created a sheltered life for me before I went off on my own. I moved to Atlanta GA from Southington, CT which was a cultural shock. I overcame a great deal of shyness and was an entirely different person than when I started college at Georgia Institute of Technology in 1984. With the feeling that the world was made up of people who are basically good, I realized that the technical area of Engineering was not for me and having come out of my shell I decided to go into Social Work with the intention of becoming a Clinical Social Worker and psychotherapist. I had worked in a State Psychiatric Hospital, and a few private inpatient psychiatric hospitals, followed by work in public mental health. All was fine and I had no need to understand dangerous people. I had no need to understand the criminal mind, or the mind of a psychopath.
Then I met someone online while I was in private practice who had mentioned that he was in Pennsylvania, but he knew someone who might have a Dissociative Disorder, perhaps Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and that she lived in my city of Wilmington, NC. This is the condition that used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). The man who contacted me with referrals was named John Freifeld. I was interested in growing my client base because I had been told that the Wilmington market was saturated, meaning there was no market for a new therapist like me. So, I agreed to take down information and was told that the woman would call me. If you listen to how he would have told it, if he was still alive, he would claim that I had it in for him from the start. I did find it bizarre that he was working with her different alter personalities online and encouraging them to form an internal world. However, I didn’t realize the extent of the damage he was doing to people.
It would take about a year for me to figure out how many people Freifeld had harmed across 4 different states - TX, NC, PA, and VA. People would come to me very confused and believing they had this condition of DID without having been diagnosed by a mental health professional. To be clear I did have other clients who either I diagnosed with that condition or a skilled mental health professional had done so with the proper examination tools that are very complex and it takes a long time to make a proper diagnosis. We use very open-ended questions about subjective experiences to come to a proper understanding of the condition and to help the client or patient understand for herself that this is indeed the nature of her internal experiences and that there is a name for it. I suppose I didn’t appreciate how dangerous what he was doing was because it seemed unlikely that even a bad therapist could create such a complex condition. He had not training to be a therapist at all but that was what he was doing.
I didn’t realize his scheme for a long time because I just had not studied the criminal mind at that time. It was only after the year 2000 that I started studying the criminal mind and psychopaths. Two people were in on the scheme but only one of them had the condition of DID. The other came in to see me sporadically and seemed to not be genuine at all in her acting. She said she thought she had different personalities and tried to say all the right things. However, her affect (facial expressions) were neither flat and robot as you might see in a dissociated state of mind or frightened and panicky as a victim of trauma would be. Let’s call her Alice. Alice came maybe 10 times during 2000. She had moved down from Virginia with Freifeld and a woman named Tracy. They moved in with the first woman that Freifeld referred to me, I’ll call her Rachel. Rachel did have DID and had the belief that she had been a victim of Satanic Ritual Abuse and government mind control.
Some of the people who had DID also started revealing memories of this same Ritual Abuse and Mind Control conspiracy. This was the period with the “Satanic Panic,” as it were, was popular and therapist were being accused of planting false memories. I was skeptical of the idea abuse being perpetrated by a bunch of intergenerational satanic cults. That seemed to fit in well with the more Fundamentalist Christians in the south in rural North Carolina. I had experienced that while working at Sampson County Mental Health in Sampson County which was a rural area. To them, evil was definitely the work of a real Satan and he had his followers who practiced satanic rituals. It makes for interesting fiction but I just believed that evil actions were done to children and that continued into their teenage years. A few of my clients had been exposed to sex trafficking in the area but not all of them had DID, they did have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I had skills for treating PTSD so that is why I helped people with DID because it involves processing trauma.
So, Alice and Tracy move down to NC with Freifeld and move in with Rachel who has a husband named Mike. I later learned that Rachel had been having a secret sexual affair with Freifeld that sounded like rape. She was unwilling to say whether or not it was rape or not, so we continued to work together. Alice, seemed to have some strange agenda when she was coming to see me for therapy, allegedly. She seemed to not be genuine at all about what she was describing. This is where it gets very bizarre. On the very rare occasions when I met with Alice, I would become very sleepy and disoriented during the sessions and for the rest of the day. I thought I was seeing things and felt things were not real. For reference, I have never been assessed to have a delusional disorder or a dissociative disorder in my life. I never even tried any mind-altering substances, at least not knowingly. This is the point where it gets difficult to believe and I would never have believed it without having heard the truth from one of the people who was in on the scheme.
After Freifeld had hurt Tracy when she didn’t go along with his sexual advances, I had turned on Freifeld because he had put her in danger. I was worried that she get to safety before I called those in law enforcement who had contacted me months earlier in connection with Freifeld. Initially, I thought that his whole attack on my character was to discredit me as a healthy witness who the authorities would believe. This involved the NC Bureau of Investigation along with local authorities and similar law enforcement in TX, VA and PA. The American Psychological Association was trying to stop him from hurting people as well. There were many victims who had come forward over a few years’ time. Pat Stubbs was a woman who set up a website to protect people from online predators who use a similar MO. Things start online and then the predators get people to come to a treatment facility where they are sexually assaulted as was the case for victims of Freifeld. The point is that he was not the only one in a network of predators. They have moved to the dark web now.
As I was saying the scheme was not just to discredit me and hurt my reputation, which they did but it was much worse. As a professional psychotherapist we carry malpractice insurance which pays out $1 Million per claim and up to $3 Million total. I had known that Alice was not genuinely suffering from what she had claimed but I didn’t know she was there as part of a plan to support Freifeld’s scheme. Later, a victim had told me that Freifeld was so charismatic, a cult leader, that if he said the sky was pink, she would believe it. Her perceptions were altered by his use of mind control which is commonly use by cult leaders. It is unknown if there are many real satanic cults but there are groups that follow a charismatic leader and will do evil deeds that they would not normally do otherwise. The NXIVM cult ensnared actresses from the TV series “Smallville” with Alison Mack getting charged with sex trafficking and racketeering. She played Cloe on the series.
Freifeld had what one would call a therapy cult. Alice and Rachel were starting a treatment facility in Rachel’s home that she shared with her husband, Mike, mentioned above. Mike would end up supporting the expansion of the home to support the treatment facilities rooms where people would receive the therapy services of John Freifeld. They all thought he had a special ability to heal others. There were two other women who got caught up it in the scheme to get money from me and start several treatment facilities in and around Wilmington, NC. Vanessa and Shelley were also caught up in this scheme.
Shelley had been so improved after therapy with me that she decided she was going to take time off from treatment and had thanked me for my services. She had been to the support group I had run for people with DID and their significant others. That was prior to dropping out of therapy having recovered or not needed therapy. She was someone I treated pro-bono as she had no insurance. She had been so happy when she finished therapy with me. All that would change with exposure to Freifeld. She would start to believe that I was not the man who had helped her. She came to develop a paranoid feeling about me. I say paranoid because there was nothing that she could find to justify her belief that I only wanted to work with her because I was sexually attracted to her. She never claimed I touched her or anything, but she later said that she had memories of Satanic Ritual Abuse in childhood and I planted those memories.
I came to realize that Alice had been putting LSD into my sodas that I left out as a trusting therapist. I know this from what Vanessa told me later. Vanessa had come up from South Carolina and brought another person who had DID who couldn’t find a therapist that satisfied her down there or she was led to believe that I was a great therapist, I suppose. Let’s call her Michelle. She and Vanessa had been diagnosed with DID before seeing me and had not been referred by Freifeld. Vanessa had a seductive alter and a violent male alter personality. Before going any further, it is noted that a therapist was discouraged from having more than about 2 clients with DID at any one time, maybe 3. I got up to about 4 clients with DID at one point. I had over time some 30 or 40 clients with DID and/or PTSD, mostly PTSD. I only treated about 8 people with DID in private practice. The support groups let me get to know many others who had DID but they were not all clients that came to the support group.
In order to understand why I didn’t realize what Alice was doing by putting LSD and perhaps something else into my drink, you need to know that I never even tried illicit substances in my life. I knew at Georgia Tech that people used pot and a neighborhood friend had said he used that and had tried coke and crack a few times. At college, a few people tried magic mushrooms, but I just observed them, I did not take anything. I knew about many psychiatric disorders from psychotic disorders like Schizophrenia to Dissociative Disorders, but I had never had any symptoms myself nor had I ever been diagnosed with such a condition, ever. This was important for me to know because I didn’t want to seem crazy when I would tell the story. I knew that I was going to write about this for close to 19 years, but I only told bits and pieces of the story.
Some details have come back to my memory recently. It is important to know that a person with a serious condition will have many more experiences than what I am describing. I read about and watch documentaries where people have had accidents and then develop a set of beliefs that sound like a conspiracy theory or they might seem paranoid. That is not my experience. There are only a handful of days in 2000 where these bizarre experiences occurred and my perception was altered, my thinking was not right. I was not in my right mind on about 5 to 10 days during that year. There was no physical injury or psychological condition to explain what was happening to me. I also know that a very small number of people were in on the scheme and only one was a legitimate past client. The other three went along with filing complaints with the licensure board. John Freifeld had written each complaint himself, according to one of those who spoke to the Board.
Michelle had come up with Vanessa from South Carolina for therapy but when Vanessa tried to get her involved, she became disgusted with Vanessa. She threatened Vanessa not to let Freifeld get anywhere near her. She said he gives her the creeps… she couldn’t put her hand on it but she felt her skin crawl when she met him once. It is said that people can pick up certain subtle cues about a person’s character. Our pets are similar in the way they reflect our personality. I have had many cats and they are all rather docile and peaceful. They don’t scratch, bit nor do they jump at noises as a cat might typically respond as part of their instinctual nature. I assume my cat notices that I have no temper and never hit or get rough with him. So, I think there is a similar skill in humans that allows us to sense danger and dangerous people. That makes more logical sense to me than the supernatural explanations that some crime writers introduce into otherwise normal crime dramas.
So, Vanessa had quit therapy and was talking about coming back and wanted a computer claiming she left her abusive husband fast and needed that to stay connected if she was going to leave her husband. She asked me to be her social worker and not her therapist as an excuse to visit her outside the office. This is where I would end up being sexually assaulted with Freifeld and Mike in the room with Vanessa. It seemed surreal and nightmarish. My perceptions were strange like I had visual hallucinations or what someone taking magic mushrooms once described to me. I later felt paralyzed and numb, unable to move. I think Vanesa made a mistake of not keeping Michelle occupied because at some point she was there and very angry with Vanessa. Freifeld had left by then and so had Mike.
Vanessa would tell me in an email years later the plan was to claim that I had a consensual affair with her and to sue me, knowing I had malpractice insurance. Instead, they went with the claims of false memories being planted by me as an example of bad therapeutic intervention. Michelle had been well aware of the assault and so the consensual affair scheme was not going to work. Rachel and Shelley went along with the civil suit, but they didn’t know anything about this scheme or this part of the scheme. Rachel and Mike are divorced now, I don’t know if that is related to his participation or him finding out about her affair with John Freifeld. Shelley was just a confused person who ended up dying from cirrhosis of the liver, she had been addicted to alcohol and I had feared she would never get better when she left my care. She had become confused and unhealthy psychologically as well.
So, the civil suit would drag on for a few years. Some former victims of John Freifeld, Ruth Parris and her husband David invited me to move to Durham where it is safer for me. I don’t know how exactly they heard the whole story. Ruth had been to Freifeld’s treatment facility a few years earlier in Virginia, I believe. She had been drugged and sexually assaulted. She had been told he had advanced training and a nurse on staff. The nurse was his girlfriend at the time. Anyway, I moved up to Durham and moved in with them. I had lost a job down in Wilmington as a paraprofessional when Freifeld called the company to report the complaints about improper care. I don’t know if he mentioned the bizarre claim that I planted memories of satanic ritual abuse or what that might have as a value to the job I was doing. I was providing care for a person with a dual diagnosis of a Developmental Disability and a Psychological Disability. So, I moved some 100 miles away thinking it would be safer and a great place to get a new start.
My luck was not good at all and my family didn’t seem to get it. They didn’t think they could help. They could have at least provided housing so I wouldn’t be homeless while I was dealing with anxiety and depression. My condition was never anything like what I saw as a therapist. I couldn’t stay forever with David and Ruth and so I was homeless and then living with new friends I had made up in Durham, off and on. I tried dating through an online dating website and met a woman who was nice and helped me escape from a friend’s apartment when it turned out that she was not well. Cathy was her name and she wanted me to be her therapist when she learned that I had worked with people who had DID. I thought she was just a normal person when I met her. What a bizarre coincidence to meet someone who had a condition that is believed to be rather rare. I was not able to be a therapist at that time nor was it appropriate to be a therapist for a friend.
So, Shonda, my girlfriend let me stay with her at her store, which had a bed in the back. Then I moved into a boarding house in Durham in a very high crime part of town. Without much in the way of financial means, I felt the only option was a place that charged week to week so that the upfront cost to move in would be so much lower. The landlord had a man on the site who collected rent and all the rest of the residents were men. Crack addicts would try to sell their bodies for about $15 or $20 to get their next fix. I was freaked out with what they were offering as it seemed that they would likely have HIV. It was unsafe to live in this part of town but I didn’t know what to do and didn’t have any support from my family by way of advice or guidance on alternatives. The landlord had the idea of hiring me to do a dating website in exchange for rent. He owned a number of buildings and so I guess he could afford to let a couple of rooms go without paying tenants. Scott, the man who collected rent paid no rent and I was not going to produce the website fast enough for him.
He got frustrated that he wasn’t getting a complete website soon enough and dropped the project immediately asking me to start paying rent. When he took out eviction papers, I had appealed for just one extra week to get a new place to live, but I would never get that chance. He also knew I had worked with people with DID and read about the cases online and what Freifeld had written about me. There was no mention that I had any dissociative disorder or any kind of condition of that kind at all. He had asked me to explain what DID is like and what it is like to have different personalities. I used an example of how my grandfather had called me Brucie growing up. I said if I had a different personality it might be like having a boy personality with an identity and name of Brucie.
Normal people act differently in different roles and situations. We can be parents, and co-workers, professionals, friends, etc. In different roles we act a little different or talk a little different, but we know it is still us. We don’t lose time or hear voices and imagine we have a part of ourselves that has a different identity. A person with DID has been overwhelmed by trauma early in life that occurs before the personality structure is fully formed. That is the theory. So, I had explained this to the landlord sometime earlier when I was still doing the web design and development work in exchange for rent.
Shortly after getting an eviction order I was attacked by a woman in my apartment that neither I nor anyone in the building recognized. Later I would learn that the woman was the landlord’s wife. Coincidentally, the civil suit was still pending with my malpractice insurance and the 4 clients. Apparently, the landlord, Jimmy had been losing money on his buildings and saw an opportunity to help out with Freifeld’s scheme of getting a civil settlement that would be turned over by 3 of the 4 clients. One, of them, Shelley was dying and so she was persuaded to will the money to his treatment facility program called Miracles in Progress. This treatment facility still exists after Freifeld died and can be viewed online at http://mip.12stepforums.net
The landlord’s wife had attacked me physically, cutting up my face and ran out of the building all in about 60 to 90 seconds total. The attack took less than 60 seconds as the room was small and I only had to pull her by the arm, lock the door and dial 911. The police who witnessed me bleeding very badly across the face interviewed witnesses and promised to find the perpetrator. I felt they should get a photo of the wounds, that’s all I knew that would be necessary to convict her. However, she had gone to the police station and was telling a different story. In her story, I pulled her into the room and attempted to pull off her clothes in an attempted sexual assault. This seemed hard to understand that the police would believe this since I had blood on me and she didn’t have a cut or scratch on her. I would have bled onto her based on her story.
I was taken and interrogated where I wondered why the detectives did not like the truth. I had re-enacted the assault a few times for them, feeling incredulous as to why they wanted to hear another story. I had no idea what she had claimed happened so I could not satisfy them. I did learn that she thought I had been switching. I guess that was her backup plan to explain why I would have no memory of anything close to what she was describing. Clearly the witnesses on the scene knew that the attack had only lasted less than a minute which would not fit her story at all. I was put in jail none-the-less. I begged my family to free me on bail because I was terrified. I never imagined anything like this ever happening. I had insisted there was no need for a psychiatric evaluation since I knew I did not have multiple personalities or alter identities. There was no reason to believe that she would be able to recognize different personalities anyway.
I didn’t have any idea about what she told until, during the interrogation, the detectives asked to speak to Brucie. The connection to the civil suit became more obvious later. My lawyer in that matter claimed that they were now ready to move forward. I had no access to key documentation of my treatment notes for the clients and this allegation would destroy my credibility. My lawyer told me it is best to just settle the matter as a result. He told me what I would have to do to get my license to practice back but later my despair would become complete. It hit me that it would be hard to get liability insurance again. It’s also seemed that I would have a hard time getting my license back as a Clinical Social Worker with an allegation like this.
It seemed crazy to imagine anyone would believe I would do something like this. I had zero history of violence and was a therapist. As a therapist one has to have a great deal of empathy and compassion. My history and pattern of behavior were completely inconsistent with the kind of person who does things like this. Add to that her very hard to believe the story and it seemed crazy that I was in this situation. It was terrifying for a person like me to be inside a jail. I wondered what others were thinking about me and later this fear of what others would think about me would nearly drive me crazy. Years of living the life of a Social Worker, human services worker, and in various helping professions and jobs, all wiped away in the eyes of the public by the lie of one person.
This was such an existential crisis for me. I had been looking for a way to write about this for some 13 to 15 years. The attack was in 2004. The idea of how others would believe something about me that is about as false as can be imagined was the inspiration for the title of “Reality is Social.” Reality is sometimes not based on any real facts or a true account of what happens in our lives and how we behave toward others. Reality is something people adopt based on their beliefs about what they think happened or what they think a person did. A single lie told by one person had the effect of erasing the good that I had done for decades.
Freifeld’s scheme was only going to work by suggesting bad therapy practices that caused people to believe that they had strange and unusual abuse as children. That could have been challenged by pointing out records of his practice and the connections between him and so many people who came in contact with him who believed in these conspiracy theories. The claims that I had a serious psychiatric condition that would prevent me from being a psychotherapist could also be challenged. The assault allegation appeared worse and insurmountable to me. How could I erase the record? It seemed in my mind that I would have to do that to ever be a therapist.
That belief kept me from trying to get back into my career of choice. Only a helpful therapist and Clinical Social Worker that I found in 2018 would help me believe I could be a therapist again. I don’t know if I can get justice though. I am told the statute of limitations has expired. That basically feels like blaming a victim for what he should have done long ago.
I saw the TV Series “Unbelievable” this year in 2019. It felt like my story in that I could relate to how the young woman (or girl – she was like 15 when the rape occurred but the actress is older) felt to not be believed. The woman had a chance to see her rapist caught and it seemed to bring healing. She had not been believed by the police when she reported it and she was charged with filing a false police report. She later sued the city for either $150,000 or $300,000, the show was not clear on what she took. She didn’t even have to pay a lawyer to sue for the suffering she had experienced. As a spiritual person, I wondered why I was seeing this direction and guidance for me, only to realize that it is too late now. I should have thought of it previously many years ago. I heard that many times, how it’s too late for me now.
Despite all the harm done to me, years of homelessness and the cause for me to be on disability, it’s too late to fix it! No way to reverse the conviction, charge my attacker, sue the state and the landlord and his wife! Too late! Why was I shown this TV series all these years later with answers and directions on what to do only to find out it is too late? I can’t even get the story that Freifeld put up on the web about the girl being sexually assaulted by me. The newspaper got it wrong and that only made things worse. That probably added to the sensationalism of the case and helped give them the inspiration to act now to get the civil suit settlement. Over $1 Million went into expanding Freifeld’s treatment facilities.