Damages award in US sparks row over therapy

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A fierce debate over psychotherapy has been ignited in the United States by a jury's decision to award dollars 500,000 ( pounds 335,000) damages to a man who claimed that therapists misled his daughter into falsely remembering that he repeatedly raped her as a child.

After a seven-week hearing in Napa, California, a jury of eight women and four men sided with Gary Ramona, a former dollars 400,000-a-year wine company executive, who claimed that therapists caused bogus memories of incest to develop in the mind of his eldest daughter, Holly.

The jury's foreman, who said the award was intended to send a message to the medical community, said the panel did not believe the therapists had acted maliciously, but there was evidence of negligence.

Mr Ramona, who sued the therapists because he said he wanted to win back his daughter's love, said: 'This verdict means the jury saw what I've always known: Holly's supposed memories are the result of the defendants' drugs and quackery, not anything I did.' The case is believed to be the first in which a non-patient has sued therapists over the disputed, and highly emotive, issue of 'recovered memories', and the techniques used to extract them. The outcome means therapists treating patients whom they believe may be suppressing memories of abuse face the prospect of multi-million-dollar malpractice suits from the alleged abusers. Tighter regulation of the therapy industry also seems certain to follow.

During the hearing, Holly Ramona described how she began to have fragmented recollections of her father raping her between the age of five and 16. She said these first surfaced when she was a 19-year-old student at the University of California, Irvine, after she had begun receiving treatment from a therapist for the eating disorder, bulimia, and depression

'I can remember my father was on top of me,' she told Napa County Superior Court. 'He was heavy. I could feel his skin, and I could smell him. I remember wanting him to go away.' After she confronted her father with the allegations, he lost his job with the Robert Mondavi Wine Company; his wife immediately divorced him, his friends ostracised him, and his two other daughters became estranged.

Mr Ramona insisted the allegations were false. His lawyer, Richard Harrington, argued that the memories had been put in Holly 's consciousness by her therapist, Marche Isabella. Mr Ramona also sued Richard Rose, a psychiatrist who gave Holly a hypnotic barbiturate, and the Western Medical Centre in Anaheim, where it was administered.