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Playtime Is Over

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

Dicke took all of Fisch's courses, and Fisch supervised all of Dicke's clinical work. After graduation, Fisch asked Dicke to open an office with him and later asked if he'd like to open a treatment center for children and teens. Mentor and protegé joined forces, and the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Institute was born. Day, to whom Dicke has been married for more than a year, became director of the institute. (She has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Metropolitan State University.)

"Ralph was given $1 million by a private citizen, and we were promised another $1 million, but that hasn't come through," Dicke says. "We've raised other money, and we've been operating for two years now. We decided we'd take the hardest kids, the ones no one else would treat. We also take people who can't pay and give them the same treatment as anyone else." (Dicke says he has never received payment for his treatment of Dallas.)

He and Fisch use a variety of controversial treatment methods, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), hypnosis and holding therapy. They don't believe in medicating kids unless it's absolutely necessary, nor do they believe in limiting their clients' sessions.

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.

Dicke considers his work with kids to be a success, but he's also had to fight some battles. He says he's had a total of ten inquiries filed against him with the State Board of Psychologist Examiners in twelve years, including the two concerning the dildos; of the remaining eight, seven have been dismissed, and one is pending.

Amos Martinez, program administrator for the State Board of Psychologist Examiners, wouldn't confirm the number of inquiries that Dicke says have been filed against him or any of the details about the filings because such matters only become public if the board takes disciplinary action. But Martinez says it's not uncommon for psychologists to have twelve to fifteen inquiries filed against them each year.

The inquiries haven't meant that Dicke has shied away from controversial cases, though. In fact, he's combined his legal background with his psychology degree by acting as an expert witness in numerous murder cases, including that of New York serial killer Joel Rifkin, whom Dicke determined to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after having been abandoned by his biological mother as a child, and Vietnamese refugee and Denver resident Vu Phan, who in 1994 stabbed his wife to death in the presence of their three children.

Because of his work on such high-profile cases and his unpopular opinions on certain issues -- he wrote an editorial in the Rocky Mountain News defending Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder, the Evergreen therapists who were convicted of reckless child abuse resulting in death following the rebirthing therapy of ten-year-old Candace Newmaker -- Dicke is well known in psychology circles, but not necessarily well liked. While some psychologists say he's highly regarded, many others characterize him as a loose cannon.

Dicke fancies himself a "maverick" and sees his use of dildos in therapy as cutting-edge. "I think it's groundbreaking and revolutionary in many ways," he says.

Kids who are abused before they can talk often don't have the verbal skills to communicate what happened, he explains, so allowing them to hold on to a concrete symbol of their abuse unlocks something in them. Holding the dildo usually provokes an angry response during therapy, but that anger is important for kids to express, he argues, because until children are able to unleash their emotions, they can't talk about and cope with what happened to them.

"Therapy that results in healing the patient can't possibly be below the standard of care, even though it's different or hasn't been tried before. That's how it becomes the standard of care," Dicke says, adding that experimental therapies like his are especially important "at a time when treatment for post-traumatic disorders usually consists of drugs, which aren't really doing anything to heal the patient."

He believes dildos should also be used with adults who have been sexually abused. "I think it has tremendous value. Had I not seen the results myself, I probably wouldn't believe it, just like no one else out there wants to believe it. If people would just open their eyes to it, it could be as effective as EMDR and hypnosis."

Dicke claims that the Adams County Department of Social Services edited the videotaped sessions before forwarding them to the Denver police so that the most salacious parts would appear first. "So you can imagine how shocking it must have looked," he says. "They said I was getting my rocks off. But the mom was there the entire time. Plus, I was taping it for social services! It's so absurd as to be ridiculously shocking."

He believes the outrage has more to do with adult hangups over sex than any potential harm to children. He also thinks dildos are more effective than anatomically correct dolls, which debuted about twenty years ago amid similar controversy. "They aren't the right size. They're like Cabbage Patch dolls with parts," he says. "They don't allow the child to hold on to the penis and beat it and get control over it."

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