But after six years of treatment from psychologist Patricia Mansmann and social worker Patricia Neuhausel, owners of Genesis Associates in Exton, Alton said, he found himself alienated from his family and friends, and under pressure to "remember" nonexistent episodes of childhood sexual abuse and Satan worship.
"At the time, we were told that their treatment was different, that they were pioneers and should not be compared to other types of counseling," said Alton, 40, who left treatment and sued Genesis. "It sounds funny now, but basically, it was pretty horrific."
In addition to being the targets of several similar suits by ex-clients, Mansmann and Neuhausel are now under intense scrutiny by the state, which wants to permanently revoke the women's licenses to practice and effectively shut Genesis down.
Mansmann, Neuhausel and their attorney, Cornelia Farrell Maggio, did not return calls seeking comment.
According to a complaint filed by the state Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs and made public recently, Mansmann and Neuhausel founded Genesis in the late 1980s. It specialized in drug and alcohol counseling.
The complaint says Mansmann and Neuhausel used a controversial "detachment" therapy that tells clients to break all ties with their family and friends, who are considered "toxic" or "diseased." The clients are then encouraged to maintain relationships of those within the Genesis network.
Mansmann, the complaint says, "sometimes tells clients if they leave therapy with her and Neuhausel, the patient will die."
The complaint says Mansmann "directs clients to 'detach' from spouses and/or minor children without due regard for the potential adverse impact on the children."
Genesis also conducted "rage marathons" in which clients met and took turns beating a pillow with bats, their fists or hurling their bodies at the pillow while envisioning a person, problem or idea that causes difficulty, the complaint says.
If clients recall sexual or satanic abuse, they are treated more favorably than those who do not believe they were victims of such abuse, the complaint says.
Alton said he severed ties with family and friends, quit his job and associated only with those within Genesis. His father and grandmother died during therapy and some friends, he said, still do not speak to him.
"As a client, I became very dependent on the group for socialization and friendship," Alton said.
When Alton would not agree with counselors that he was a victim of sexual and satanic abuse, he said, they threatened to kick him out of the group.
"It's a very brutal thing, because it's the only thing you have left, the network," Alton said. "And then they manipulate it and can take it away at a moment's notice."
In 1996, the state filed charges against Mansmann and Neuhausel for engaging in harmful practices.
Although their licenses had been suspended in 1996, they continued to provide counseling, according state records.
On Feb. 16, the bureau filed the present complaint. This time, officials say, they will move to revoke the licenses permanently and impose fines of up to $1,000 per offense.
Although that cannot keep them from practicing, it should limit their services, said Kevin Shivers, spokesman for the Department of State, which oversees the bureau. The women were given 30 days to respond to the charges.
"Certainly, these charges are very serious. Our prosecutors are going to seek complete revocation and maximum penalties," Shivers said. "The board had ordered them to cease and desist their harmful practices and they failed to do that."
If the licenses are revoked, that will provide a warning sign for consumers, Shivers said. Also, Genesis will no longer be able to bill insurance companies for compensation.
Alton settled his lawsuit against Genesis in 1997 in an agreement that prohibits him from disclosing how much money he received.
His attorney, Joseph Rizzo, represented at least four other former Genesis clients who have settled cases and currently represents nine others.
"They go to therapy seeking some type of help and that's how they get started with Genesis," Rizzo said. Initially it sounded ludicrous to me, but when I looked at what these people were saying, I realized the insidious nature of what was happening."
See-- Therapy Lawsuits Settled