John Dicke's career has all but ended since the board that regulates Colorado psychologists accused him of inserting a dildo into the anus of a little boy he was treating and restraining the child while holding the dildo to his mouth as he sucked on it.
But in a surprising twist on the last day of a weeks-long hearing on the matter, the attorney representing the State Board of Psychologist Examiners withdrew those and other accusations, leaving only three of several original charges. Dicke, however, claims that irreversible damage has already been done to his reputation and livelihood.
The board's charges surfaced after Dicke began seeing Dallas, a five-year-old boy who reportedly told his mother, Karen, that he'd been molested by his father. (Because the boy is a juvenile, both his and his mother's names have been changed.) After Karen told her son's first therapist about the accusation, that therapist notified the Adams County Department of Social Services. Social workers couldn't get Dallas to repeat the accusation, so they closed the case and referred the boy to Dicke for treatment ("Playtime Is Over," March 14, 2002).
During the first therapy session, in February 2001, Dallas ran around Dicke's office out of control and touched the psychologist's penis three times. A couple of weeks later, Dallas told Dicke and Karen, who sat in on every session, about an incident he'd never disclosed before: On Christmas Day 1999, he claimed, he and his dad had touched each others' "winkies," and his dad had touched his butt with his penis. Dicke reported the new allegations to Adams County, and the case was reopened. In later sessions, Dallas started undressing -- a ritual Dicke not only allowed, but encouraged. In an effort to prosecute the father, social workers asked Dicke to tape all future sessions with Dallas, and the therapist agreed.
Dicke and Karen talked about purchasing an anatomically correct doll to help Dallas express what had happened to him, but it would have taken a while to order one. Karen suggested using dildos instead, so the therapist went to Fascinations, an adult store near his office, and bought a small dildo to represent Dallas's penis and a larger one to represent the father's. Dicke figured holding on to a concrete symbol of sexual abuse would allow the child to gain control over the trauma and eventually heal. In fact, he was so satisfied with the results -- Dallas's behavior improved dramatically after several sessions -- that he began using dildos with four other young clients.
But when Dallas's father learned about the use of the "anatomically correct penises," as Dicke prefers to call them, he filed a complaint with the board of psychologist examiners. The father claimed that during therapy, his son was "stripped naked, tortured, restrained, verbally abused, sexually abused, brainwashed and horrified by a dildo." When the Adams County social workers saw the tapes, they filed a separate complaint with the board and handed the tapes over to police, who in turn gave them to the Denver District Attorney's Office. The DA eventually decided there wasn't enough evidence to convict Dicke of child abuse, but the board of psychologist examiners took action. After an eight-month investigation that began in April 2001, the board came up with a stipulation that allowed Dicke to keep his license but banned him from using sex toys in therapy, restraining kids, allowing clients to undress, asking leading questions, and allowing any parent who has brought allegations against another person to attend therapy sessions.
The most salacious part of the stipulation, which went out to every social services department and court in Colorado, stated that Dicke inserted a dildo into Dallas's anus while the boy was naked and that he "physically restrains Dallas while Dallas is naked and holds the dildo to Dallas's face while Dallas performs fellatio on the dildo." Dicke and Karen both denied those charges. "I would have killed Dr. Dicke if he'd tried anything like that," she told Westword last year. "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."
Dicke signed the stipulation -- if he hadn't, he wouldn't have been able to continue practicing psychology -- but contested some of the charges, entitling him to a hearing before an administrative-law judge. Beginning February 18, two years since he'd started seeing Dallas, Dicke finally got his day in court.
Amos Martinez, program administrator for the psychologist examiners board, predicted last year that the hearing would "come down to a war of the experts," and it did. Ralph Fisch, Dicke's mentor and business partner, testified that there was nothing wrong with Dicke's treatment, as did Henry Coppolillo, former director of the child psychiatry division at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. But the board's attorney called three experts to testify that Dicke's therapy was substandard. Barry Lindstrom, a local psychologist in private practice, said Dicke failed to establish proper boundaries with Dallas after he touched the therapist's penis and that the dildos sexualized the boy. Lindstrom also criticized Dicke's repeated questioning of Dallas about the suspected abuse and his encouraging the child to undress in therapy.
Tiffany Weissmann Wind, a child psychologist who in May 2001 evaluated Dallas at Adams County's request, said she worried that Dicke's treatment constituted a re-enactment of the trauma Dallas suffered from the original abuse, which had never been proven. Such re-enactment, she said, could lead to short-term relief, but abuse victims "have to keep re-enacting it to keep that relief because nothing's been resolved."
The most damning -- and problematic -- testimony against Dicke came from Bruce Perry, former chief of psychiatry for the Texas Children's Hospital at the Baylor College of Medicine who now works for the Alberta Mental Health Board. He characterized Dicke's treatment as "incredibly uninformed" and said it had the potential to further traumatize the child. Perry also said that if a rape victim went into therapy and was told to disrobe and re-enact what happened using a dildo, "that would be highly inappropriate; in fact, I wouldn't call that a re-enactment; I'd call it a second assault."
Perry's credibility, however, was later called into question by Dicke's attorney. Perry judged Dicke's therapy against the traumatology standards drawn up by the Green Cross Foundation, an educational nonprofit. But the Green Cross Foundation had accepted a paper Dicke wrote about Dallas for publication in the June 2002 issue of its Traumatology journal. And when Dicke's attorney tried to establish bias by asking Perry whether he'd ever stated that Dicke was a pervert who should be jailed for his therapeutic methods, Perry testified that he had not. A few days later, however, Dicke's lawyer produced a tape and transcript of a phone message that Perry had inadvertently left on Dicke's machine saying such things.
On March 11, the last day of the hearing, the board's attorney stunned the court when he withdrew two of the most serious charges in the stipulation -- the restraint during fellatio and the anal-insertion accusations -- explaining that they weren't clearly visible on the videotapes. Still, the board is arguing that Dicke's license should be revoked because of his use of dildos, his encouragement of disrobing during therapy and his use of leading and forceful questions to get Dallas to open up.
"It's mind-boggling," Dicke says of the last-minute withdrawal. "They circulated those lies to all the courts in the state and ruined me, and then they suddenly drop them two years later? I still have some practice left, but it's only about a third of what it once was."
Now Dicke is trying to clear his name. He's suing two Adams County social workers, Dallas's father, Bruce Perry and Amos Martinez for defamation. So far, a trial date has not been set in that case. Dallas's father is also suing Dicke. And Fisch, Dicke's mentor, who was fired from his teaching job at the University of Denver's Graduate School of Professional Psychology because of his support of Dicke, is suing his former employer for wrongful termination ("Guilt by Association," March 14, 2002). Fisch is currently in negotiation with DU over a possible settlement.
What's left of Dicke's career now rests in the hands of administrative-law judge Nancy Connick.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.