Playtime Is Over

The state has barred a child psychologist from using adult sex toys in therapy sessions.

Because Brandi has vision and dexterity problems, drawing pictures wasn't an option. And although she'd used dolls to act out sexual scenarios, Kathy says they didn't connect for her. For the next three or four months, Brandi continued to talk about the sex abuse, sometimes using the dildo. She later moved on to other issues, such as her fear of being abandoned. "She hasn't attacked anyone in over a year, and the ragings and mutilations have gone down."

But Brandi won't be able to see Dicke anymore.

The Denver DA's office this past summer decided not to prosecute Dicke. "We didn't believe we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the elements required by law under statute," says DA spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough. But the psychologist examiners' board decided to take action.

John Dicke believes he's found a way to help children who have been victims of sexual abuse.
John Johnston
John Dicke believes he's found a way to help children who have been victims of sexual abuse.
Karen believes Dr. Dicke's therapy was helping her son, Dallas.
John Johnston
Karen believes Dr. Dicke's therapy was helping her son, Dallas.

In December, eight months after receiving the inquiries from Dallas's father and from the ACDSS, the seven-member board came up with a stipulation banning Dicke from using any kind of sex toys in therapy. The order also prevented him from allowing clients to undress; using touch therapy or physical restraints; making suggestions or asking leading questions; and permitting any parent who has made allegations against another person from attending therapy sessions.

The board also accused Dicke of inserting the dildo into Dallas's anus and, in a different session, of restraining the little boy and holding the dildo to his face while he sucked on it.

Dicke denies the charges, as does Karen. "I would have killed Dr. Dicke if he'd tried anything like that," she says. "At one point, Dallas started sucking on the dildo, and Dr. Dicke reached over to grab it out of his mouth so he wouldn't choke on it. As for the other accusation, I have no idea where they got that from. I would not have allowed that."

But Martinez says that when he watched the tapes, "I saw what appeared to be him doing that."

And in February, the Colorado Department of Human Services sent a letter to every county human services and social services department in the state, informing them that Dicke had been disciplined by the board of psychologist examiners; attached to the letter was the board's stipulation. The social services department in the county where Brandi lives decided to prohibit her from seeing Dicke again.

Although Dicke disputes parts of the stipulation, he says he had no choice but to sign it; if he hadn't, he wouldn't have been able to continue practicing. But because he's contesting the board's decision, he will get a hearing before an administrative-law judge, where he'll argue the merits of the therapy in hopes that the judge will allow him to use the dildos again. That hearing has not been scheduled yet.

"I'm very distressed, because I have become the focus, not the child," Dicke says. "I'm not the real issue here. These so-called mental-health experts have lost sight of the real issue, which is the damage that's been done to these kids.

"I feel betrayed by a field that really doesn't want to look at the reality of what's happening and that doesn't want to look at itself and its own trauma and fright around sexual issues," he continues. "I feel betrayed by a board that was not interested enough in the truth to talk to me about the course of treatment, to talk to the mom, who was present for every session, or to any of my experts who reviewed the tapes."

Even though Martinez disagrees with Dicke's use of dildos, he admits that the method could one day, in fact, be determined to be cutting-edge, and he says that's why the board didn't immediately suspend Dicke's license. "There are some treatment methods that, without people like John Dicke experimenting, would never have been done. Some, like EMDR, were considered far out twenty years ago but are mainstream today. Maybe this is one of those.

"The hearing will come down to a war of the experts," he continues, and the outcome "will be depend on whose argument is more persuasive."

In some ways, Kathy -- who, like Jean, has written the board a letter of support for Dicke -- doesn't understand what all the fuss is about, but in other ways, she does. "I don't see the difference between a penis on a piece of paper, a penis on a doll, and a dildo," she says. "I don't think it should be used with every child all of the time, but for children who can't tell you any other way, it's an opening that helps them move forward." And she suspects that the response to Dicke's therapy is a result of fear on the part of social workers and law-enforcement officials that Colorado could be thrust into the spotlight once again for being home to more quack therapies like the rebirthing technique that killed Candace Newmaker.

The little girl died in April 2000 after being smothered beneath a sheet and some pillows that two Evergreen therapists were using to represent the womb from which she was supposed to emerge; her adoptive mother, Jeanne Newmaker, thought the girl was suffering from attachment disorder, which prevented the two of them from bonding. If she was "reborn" to her adoptive mother, the theory went, Candace might finally be able to attach. The girl's death resulted in "Candace's Law," which banned most forms of rebirthing therapy in Colorado.

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