A Buena Park therapist convicted in February of having sex with a former patient who became pregnant testified Thursday that he had been fired from his Ohio job more than 35 years ago after impregnating a client.
In a hearing to determine whether his license should be revoked, James D. Lisle, 67, argued in his defense that the first relationship occurred when he was being “personally attacked” by demons. Subsequently, he said, he was miraculously cured of “severe mental illness” during a nine-month stay in a Cleveland mental institution where he met a Christian psychiatrist and was “born again.”
The therapist’s testimony capped an unusual day, during which he acted as his own attorney and was thus allowed to cross-examine the 29-year-old Long Beach woman whom he victimized and impregnated during an approximately one-year relationship ending in August, 1993.
“Disgusting, it felt disgusting,” the woman said afterward. “I tried to answer as specifically as was needed to get this job done.”
Lisle--seeking to retain his license as a marriage, family and child counselor--maintained that the sexual relationship was consensual and occurred after therapy had ended. He was convicted, however, in Orange County Municipal Court this year of nine misdemeanor counts of sexual activity with a former patient and sentenced to a year in jail. Under California law, therapists are barred from having sex with patients for two years after therapy has ended.
During direct examination earlier Thursday, the woman testified she met Lisle through an inpatient Christian therapy program based at Orange County Community Hospital in Buena Park. After her release, she said, she continued to see Lisle for outpatient therapy at his office on the hospital grounds.
In tearful testimony, the woman--a former Christian schoolteacher from the Long Beach area--described how Lisle began in the summer of 1992 to have her sit on his lap, and rock her as though she was his “baby daughter.” From there the relationship gradually progressed to sexual intercourse. The woman, who had a difficult relationship with her own father, said that Lisle told her “God was going to show me a true father-person through James Lisle.’ ”
She said the sexual relationship occurred during therapy.
His approach, she said, was to isolate her from her family by having her move out of her parents’ home, play on her faith and tell her that God wanted her to be intimate with him and marry him. She kept the relationship a secret, she said, because Lisle said it was a “sacred covenant” and it would be sinning to tell anyone.
In August, 1993, however, she discovered she was pregnant and complained to Buena Park police. A detective there helped her to secretly record a dramatic telephone conversation with Lisle--played at the hearing Thursday--in which the therapist acknowledged having sex with her.
“I was vulnerable!” the woman cried out at one point. “I was completely used by you!”
Lisle, on the tape and in his testimony as a witness, denied he ever used the patient and declared his eternal love for her. He testified that he had formally terminated her therapy in September, 1992, when God let him know that the pair were meant to be in a romantic relationship.
The therapist candidly acknowledged on the witness stand that about 36 years ago he was in “cultic bondage " and was “personally attacked” by demons. During that time, he said, he lost his job as welfare director in a small Ohio county because he had sex with and impregnated a woman he was counseling. The woman miscarried.
Lisle said he was “required to be examined as to (his) mental competence,” was hospitalized for nine months, and was miraculously cured. “That experience gave me personal experience of how to engage in spiritual warfare,” said Lisle, who describes that as his specialty.
According to Lisle’s probation report, the therapist is a “functional schizophrenic.” His sister, Donna J. Gordon of Taylor, S.C., told a probation officer that he has had lifelong mental problems that he refuses to acknowledge and he had a relationship not only with the client in Ohio, but also with another client in California. Lisle divorced his first wife in 1970 to marry the California client, who also was pregnant at the time, according to court documents.
Lisle said Thursday that his second wife is a former patient, whom he married in 1972 after a two-year courtship. The couple now are divorcing.
Many of Lisle’s questions for the Long Beach woman, which touched mostly on whether the patient remembered certain romantic events or gestures, were disallowed by the judge who deemed them irrelevant or better addressed by Lisle himself on the witness stand.
“It is not a hearing to determine why this witness doesn’t like you anymore,” Administrative Law Judge Vincent H. Nafarrete told Lisle.
After the hearing, scheduled to conclude Friday, Nafarrete will have 30 days to make a decision, which then may be adopted, rejected or amended by the Board of Behavioral Science Examiners, which licenses marriage, family and child counselors. State Deputy Attorney General Earl Plowman said that Lisle is in a work-furlough program.