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Therapist ‘broke a family’; ordered to pay $675,000

A therapist who is accused of ruining a Spokane couple’s marriage by misdiagnosing the husband as a sex addict and making unsubstantiated claims that he molested the couple’s sons was ordered Thursday to pay $675,000 to her former patients.

The allegations against Darlene Townsend, a licensed therapist, include a statement she gave a state investigator that one of the couple’s boys would either kill himself or his entire family. The boy was 5 at the time, said the couple’s attorney, John Allison. Of the total amount, $375,000 was for the former husband and the remainder for the former wife.

“This was horrific harm done to this couple,” Allison told a jury Wednesday. “Dr. Townsend broke a family, and it’s a family broken forever.”

The Spokesman-Review is not naming the couple because the case included allegations of sexual abuse, even though those allegations were later determined to be unfounded.

When Spokane County Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor read the unanimous jury verdict, the man and woman, both now 38 and divorced, broke down in tears.

“We’ve waited so long for justice. We just want to thank the jury,” the ex-wife said.

According to court records, the husband – a recovering alcoholic – began seeing Townsend in her practice, the Phoenix Institute for Human Development, in 2006 to continue his treatment for depression. Townsend suggested that he bring his wife to counseling. Eventually, Townsend also counseled the couple’s two young boys.

During the sessions, Townsend began sharing information with the wife that she gleaned from the husband, including allegations that he was a sex addict, a narcissist and had borderline personality disorder, Allison wrote in a court brief.

Things began to unravel when Townsend persuaded the wife to take part in what attorneys described as a “ruse” to get the husband to attend an inpatient facility in Mississippi to treat sex addiction.

Then, on Aug. 29, 2007, Townsend told the wife that she was reporting the husband to Child Protective Services, but refused to divulge the reason “because of confidentiality,” according to court records. The family was due in two days to take their first vacation together to Disneyland.

Townsend informed CPS investigator Denise Guffin that one of the couple’s sons told her of a severe spanking. In addition, Townsend told Guffin that the husband had once said he sometimes got into bed with his boys while they were sleeping because he missed his wife, according to court records.

Townsend told Guffin: “To me this is getting close to molestation.” And, “he didn’t say he was fondling, but I can’t imagine that he isn’t,” court records quote her as saying.

When the husband went to the therapist’s home to confront Townsend about the report to CPS, Townsend filed a police report saying the husband “described to me the sexual abuse of his two sons.”

CPS investigated the matter for 24 days and concluded allegations of physical or sexual abuse were “unfounded,” according to court testimony.

Townsend repeated the sexual molestation accusations in letters to an insurance company, to an investigator with the state Department of Health, and in a complaint to the Washington State Bar Association.

“But for her profound actions, this family would not be broken,” Allison said. “They would still be trying.”

The therapist’s attorney, Brian Rekofke, acknowledged that his client wrote the letters alleging molestation, but said they caused no damage because the husband was not aware they were written until much later.

Added Rekofke, “And if the care here was so awful, why did (the couple) keep going? If your therapist called you a rapist, called you illiterate and a sex addict, why keep going?”

Rekofke told the jury that if they felt compelled to award damages, he suggested $5,000 each for ruining the trip to Disneyland and $1,000 for each day of the 24-day CPS investigation.

Allison asked the jury to consider hundreds of thousands of dollars for damages.

“She betrayed the trust of a vulnerable husband and wife and broke a fragile family,” Allison said. “It can’t be fixed.”

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