A 9/11 widow from New Jersey is suing her former grief counselor, alleging that the therapist brainwashed her, diagnosed her as being a “witchy queen” and ruined her self-confidence while charging her hundreds of thousands of dollars.
|Richard Avery Aranow|
Laura Weinberg of Washington Township said in her lawsuit, filed in Hackensack, that she sought counseling from Deborah Mandell of Passaic after her husband, Richard Aronow, was killed in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
She said she also sought help for her autistic son, who was 5 years old at the time.
What she received, however, was more grief in the form of “bizarre, ritualistic and cult-like” treatment methods, according to the lawsuit.
Mandell told Weinberg that she was “sending negative energy toward her son,” whom the therapist called a “waif,” and instructed Weinberg to recite a prayer every few minutes for “exorcizing demons,” Weinberg said in her lawsuit.
One treatment method involved a self-described shaman who engaged in ritualistic “house clearings,” the lawsuit said.
“It was explained to plaintiff by Dr. Mandell that burping was a way of getting rid of demons,” the lawsuit reads. “Dr. Mandell began burping constantly in sessions, and the shaman and the shaman’s partner all told plaintiff at times that they were burping out demons that had entered them.”
Another treatment method involved Mandell sprinkling salt all over the room and over the head of Weinberg’s son to make the boy “see the demons that were within him,” the lawsuit alleges.
“Deborah Mandell exceeded all boundaries of normal decency in a civilized society by injecting herself inappropriately into Laura Weinberg’s life,” said Weinberg’s attorney, Daniel Hoberman.
Mandell’s listed phone number, which was busy on Thursday, was disconnected on Friday.
A woman who picked up the phone at another number listed under Mandell’s address hung up when asked if she was Mandell. Messages left at that number later Friday and Monday were not returned, and no one answered the door Monday at Mandell’s home office in Passaic.
Weinberg said she joined a support group for families of 9/11 victims in late 2001 and attended sessions that were co-moderated by Mandell.
She said that she began seeing Mandell for individual sessions in 2004, and that at one point she told Mandell that she had received a settlement from the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.
She continued to see Mandell for the next six years, and by summer 2010, she was paying for up to 15 hours of sessions a week for herself and her son, she said.
Weinberg said Mandell became more abusive through the years, threatening to have Weinberg kept in a psychiatric hospital if she did not stop sending “negative energy” toward her son.
She also threatened to report Weinberg to the state Division of Youth and Family Services unless she followed Mandell’s instructions and continued to pay for the therapy sessions.
That threat materialized in August 2010, when a DYFS officer showed up at Weinberg’s home to investigate Weinberg’s treatment of her son, Hoberman said.
“Weinberg then met with the investigator and realized how inappropriate the therapy had been,” Hoberman said. Weinberg later sought advice from attorneys and other professionals, Hoberman said.Weinberg remained Mandell’s client for six years because she was “brainwashed,” Hoberman said. “She was in a state of mind where she didn’t believe in her ability to fight back,” Hoberman
The lawsuit demands an unstated amount in compensatory and punitive damages.
Mandell has no disciplinary record with the state Board of Psychological Examiners, which licenses and regulates psychologists, spokesman Jeff Lamm said.
Lamm said the agency does not comment on pending complaints against therapists and would not confirm or deny if any complaints have been filed against Mandell.
There are no records in the state’s civil-lawsuit database of prior filings against Mandell.