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Doctor No

It took more than two years of investigations and hearings, but two weeks ago, John Dicke finally lost his psychology license.

The State Board of Psychologist Examiners first became acquainted with Dicke in April 2001, when a man complained that his five-year-old son, Dallas, had been "stripped naked, tortured, restrained, verbally abused, sexually abused, brainwashed and horrified by a dildo" during therapy. Dicke used dildos to help the little boy explain -- and demonstrate -- previous alleged sexual abuse, videotaping the sessions at the request of the Adams County Department of Social Services to help them build a case against the boy's father ("Playtime Is Over," March 14, 2002).

But when officials watched the sessions, they started focusing on Dicke. Social workers felt that Dicke's use of leading questions had hurt any chances of prosecuting the offender -- whoever he was. Not only that, but they believed that the therapy itself was abusive and asked Denver police to investigate and got a court order banning Dicke from treating Dallas (not his real name) and another boy with whom Dicke had been using dildos. And in May 2001, they filed their own complaint against Dicke with the State Board of Psychologist Examiners.

As soon as the police completed their investigation, they handed the case over to the Denver District Attorney's Office, which felt there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute Dicke. But after conducting its own eight-month investigation, the psychologist examiners board decided in December 2001 to limit Dicke's practice. Among other things, the board banned him from using sex toys in therapy, allowing clients to undress and employing touch therapy. By not taking away his license entirely, the board provided Dicke an opportunity to prove the efficacy of his methods, which he felt allowed children to address the object of their abuse.

Dicke finally had a chance to defend his therapy before administrative-law judge Nancy Connick this past March ("Dr. Dicke's Day in Court," March 20, 2003). In April, Connick issued more than fifty findings, most of which were not in Dicke's favor. For example, she found that Dicke had failed to establish appropriate boundaries with Dallas when he allowed the boy to touch his crotch and to undress. She also determined that the use of dildos falls below generally accepted standards of psychological practice and that using such concrete symbols of abuse might have a re-traumatizing effect. While Connick stated that Dicke's treatment was inappropriate, she determined that he wasn't a danger to all patients and recommended that he be prohibited only from treating sexually abused kids.

But when the seven members of the examiners board met on November 7, they pointed to Dicke's rigid defense of the treatment in legal documents and during his administrative hearing as proof that he wouldn't adhere to any regulations. "His single-mindedness precluded other therapies and his own clinical judgment," boardmember Kathleen Sandal-Miller said.

The boardmembers also questioned how they could effectively limit Dicke's practice. "What if a kid comes in showing no signs of sexual abuse, but it's there?" Leonard Tamura asked.

"What is the definition of a child?" Joan Kay Cockburn wondered. "What if there's an eighteen-year-old who's developmentally delayed and operates more at the level of an eight-year-old? How do we enforce that?"

And so the vote was unanimous: John Dicke is no longer allowed to practice psychology.

Dicke says he isn't surprised by the news. But what did surprise him is that the board made the career-ending decision without notifying him. Members had met to discuss his case several times over the past few months, but the issue kept getting delayed while legal questions were answered. He had no idea that they were going to rule during their November meeting.

"It hurts bad, because I know that what I did was extraordinary," says Dicke, who will now concentrate on his law practice. "I pushed therapy in new frontiers. I will appeal this as far as I need to."

 
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