Ralph Fisch, who co-founded the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Institute (CAAPI) with John Dicke in January 2000 and has supported Dicke's use of adult sex toys in the treatment of children who have reportedly been sexually abused, will likely lose his teaching job because of his association with the therapist. Fisch has been a part-time professor at the University of Denver's Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP) for the last 25 years.
Although Fisch says he has never discussed Dicke's therapy in his classes, Peter Buirski, the dean of DU's graduate psychology program, called him into a meeting on January 28 and told him that several people had complained to the department about Dicke. Fisch says Buirski wouldn't tell him who those people were, only that they were worried that Fisch's support of the therapist could hurt the school. Fisch had sent a letter to the State Board of Psychologist Examiners, which was investigating the therapist, defending his protegé.
Buirski also mentioned a paper Dicke had written about the new therapy titled The Use of Touch and Synthetic Anatomically Correct Penises in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Sexual Abuse, which was posted on CAAPI's Web site.
The dean held a second meeting with Fisch on February 5, during which he asked why the associate professor hadn't removed Dicke's paper from the CAAPI Web site (it's still posted at caapi.org). The state has since barred Dicke from using dildos in his practice.
A week later, in a memo to Fisch, Buirski explained that Dicke's paper "describes and advocates some treatment practices that I find to be highly questionable in terms of therapeutic soundness and ethical appropriateness. I am referring, for example, to such practices as allowing a child patient to undress and sit on the therapist's lap, allowing the child patient to repeatedly touch the therapist's penis, and introducing sex toys into the treatment. I asked you if you endorsed the practices, such as those described above, and you affirmed that you did."
Buirski also recounted in the memo how he'd reminded Fisch of the board's stipulation barring Dicke from touching patients and using dildos. "I concur with the State Board's view of these practices and I believe that your support and endorsement of them (a) poses a threat to the reputation of the University of Denver and the Graduate School of Professional Psychology, (b) has the potential to misguide our students as to appropriate ethical psychological practice and (c) has the potential for harm to the patients whose treatment you supervise."
The dean informed Fisch that his teaching contract will not be renewed when it expires on August 31; that he will no longer be able to teach a trauma course during the spring quarter; and that he is not to discuss or endorse any controversial therapies in his remaining classes. Fisch says the dean also warned him that for the remainder of his time at DU, his classes could be monitored and that the students he supervises in therapy might be removed from his oversight.
Fisch says Buirski asked him to distance himself from Dicke, repudiate Dicke's paper and submit a statement explaining that he doesn't collaborate with Dicke or support his practices. But Fisch refused to do any of that.
He says Dicke told him about the new therapy as soon as he started using it. "I was intrigued by it," he adds. "Frankly, I was taken aback by it."
But Fisch is no stranger to experimental therapies. More than thirty years ago, he and some other psychologists published a paper in a national psychotherapy journal about how touching schizophrenic patients helped bring them back to reality. So when Dicke told him about the dildos and the touching in his treatment of kids, Fisch was open-minded. And once he saw the videotapes of Dicke's sessions with Dallas, he embraced the unconventional method.
"I was very impressed by the tapes. The child literally came back to life," Fisch says. "He'd been in a funk and was evaluated before and found not able to be evaluated. Watching this child come back to life and interact with his mother and Dr. Dicke was amazing and encouraging. There's something here that we need to study scientifically."
Although he was leaving town when Westword tried to contact him, the dean had DU spokeswoman Lisa Parrish release the following statement: "The University of Denver's Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP) does not advocate, endorse, or condone the use of synthetic anatomically correct penises in the treatment of sexual abuse. We also consider allowing any patient to disrobe and touch a therapist's genitals to be an inappropriate and ethically suspect method of psychotherapy for any person. These techniques are not a part of the GSPP curriculum.
"We do not consider these methods to be appropriate or an accepted practice of psychotherapy," the statement continued, "especially with traumatized children."
Parrish says it's university policy not to discuss personnel matters, but she did confirm that Fisch's contract will not be renewed in August. She also verified the authenticity of Buirski's memo to Fisch.
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Fisch responded to that memo with a letter from his attorney, John Hyland, who also represents Dicke. In it, Hyland reminded the dean that Fisch had invited him to watch the taped therapy sessions but that Buirski declined, and that when Fisch offered to have Dicke defend the paper at his alma mater, the dean said, "John Dicke will never be invited to speak here." Hyland ended his letter by explaining that Fisch doesn't want to end his teaching career this way -- the 73-year-old says he'd hoped to teach for one more year before retiring -- and that he'd like to resolve the matter without resorting to a lawsuit. So far, Buirski has not answered that letter.
Some of Fisch's students have already written letters on his behalf to DU's provost, and one of his colleagues has requested a meeting with the provost. Fisch wants to see how top university officials respond before deciding his next move. Looking back on his time at DU, Fisch says, "It's been a good 25 years."