Playtime Is Over

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

Dicke's arguments didn't keep the ACDSS from handing the tapes over to Denver police, however, who turned them over to the Denver District Attorney's Office, which began looking into the possibility of prosecuting the therapist.

Things got worse for Dicke in April, when the ACDSS got a court order banning him from treating Dallas and Jeremy. Later that month, Dallas's father filed an inquiry with the State Board of Psychologist Examiners, which regulates licensed psychologists, claiming that under Dicke's supervision, his son was "stripped naked, tortured, restrained, verbally abused, sexually abused, brainwashed and horrified by a dildo."

That was followed in early May by an inquiry to the board filed by the ACDSS. (After the board receives an inquiry into a psychologist, it either dismisses it or investigates, at which point the inquiry becomes known as a grievance.) Department supervisor Knight refers all questions to department director Donald Cassata, who explains that confidentiality laws prohibit him from discussing the case. "If we see any kind of abuse, we are mandated to report it," is all he will say, "and it was our perception that there was some alleged abuse during the therapeutic process."

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.

But it's clear from the department's inquiry that the ACDSS found Dicke's therapy to be both unorthodox and disturbing; in its letter to the examiners' board, the department accused Dicke of leading and badgering Dallas, of encouraging him to undress and, in the last taped session, of holding the dildo to the boy's mouth while Dallas sucked on it. The two inquiries triggered an investigation into Dicke's therapy that lasted eight months.

John Dicke was raised in Ohio by a German family that believed kids should be seen and not heard. "I wasn't allowed to be outspoken as a child," explains Dicke, who is 54.

Whatever restraint he had to show as a kid he's more than made up for as an adult.

Dicke earned an undergraduate degree in pre-legal studies from the University of Michigan, where he also took numerous psychology courses, then went to Ohio State University to study law. Juvenile law was a growing field in the early 1970s, and Dicke did a lot of clinical work in that area during school. After he graduated, he became a public defender in Dayton, Ohio, where he worked on numerous juvenile cases.

In 1976, he and his first wife came to Colorado on vacation. During a day trip to Boulder, Dicke picked up a copy of the Boulder Daily Camera and noticed an ad seeking house parents to run a group home for kids. Dicke and his wife, a nutritionist, applied on a whim. They were immediately offered the job, and the Dickes ran the Pleasant Street House for the next year.

During that time, they were foster parents to a total of 51 children who passed through the home, many of whom, according to Dicke, had attachment disorders. After his wife became pregnant, however, the couple decided to stop operating the home. "One of the kids had put lighter fluid in the chicken. It just wasn't a good place for a pregnant woman," he explains. "I didn't understand why these kids were the way they were -- I mean, I was a lawyer. You'd get close to these kids, and then they'd do something to destroy the relationship, but now I know that that's because a relationship is the scariest thing in the world to someone with attachment disorder."

Dicke noticed another problem as well. "Social services provided no real treatment for these kids. They claimed we were it," he says, explaining that running the home was "a real eye-opener. I got my first hints that most people in these places were untrained and unqualified to treat children."

After he passed the Colorado bar exam and left the Pleasant Street House, which later shut down, Dicke got a job with the American Civil Liberties Union in Denver, where he was counsel for the ACLU's ten regional mountain states. His job consisted mostly of appellate work on juvenile cases, and Dicke longed to be back in a courtroom, so he left to take a position as a deputy state public defender. He was assigned, at his own request, to the juvenile division, where he worked in Judge Orrelle Weeks's court. A couple of years later, he left that job to work as a public defender in Arapahoe County before switching to private practice.

He started taking on more juvenile cases and went on to become one of the state's first guardians ad litem, individuals who represent children in dependency-and-neglect cases. "I read a lot of psychological reports, and I got really interested in the psychology -- more so than the case law," he says. "I also started getting depressed. I felt like I was in the wrong place. I felt empty and lonely, and I needed more stimulation in my career."

So he decided to make a change, and in 1989, at the age of 41, he entered the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver. It was there that he met his mentor, associate professor Ralph Fisch, who gained infamy in the 1980s for his diagnosis of Ross Carlson, the Douglas County teenager who shot and killed his parents. While prosecutors described Carlson as a cold-blooded murderer, Fisch argued that the young man couldn't be held responsible for his actions because he suffered from multiple personality disorder, a little-understood affliction back then. "He's a genius in psychology," Dicke says. "I knew right away I wanted to glom onto him."

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