Man Sues Newton Therapist

New Jersey Herald
By Seth Augenstein
August 26, 2008

A Lafayette man is suing his former mental health counselor, saying she sexually assaulted and harassed him and also stalked him after their relationship ended, according to a Superior Court civil lawsuit filed Friday.

The therapist said the whole incident is an example of transference, when a needy patient projects affection for another person onto the one that's helping them.

Robert Brinck, 44, said he received treatment from Newton therapist Dawn Stillwagon-Ahlers from August 2006 through March 2007 for psychological and psychiatric problems. The suit alleges Stillwagon-Ahlers violated the patient-doctor trust covenant by pursuing and starting a sexual relationship with Brinck during his treatment.

It also alleges Brinck "suffered deterioration in his medical condition, permanent emotional injuries, mental anguish . . ."

The lawsuit does not seek any specific damage amount, but asks for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees.

The therapist denies any wrongdoing.

The complaint alleges a personal relationship developed between the two, progressing from inappropriately affectionate e-mails, to holding hands, kissing, a sexual relationship, and ultimately, the defendant having the plaintiff "dress as a woman in a wig and lipstick and performing sodomy upon him," according to the lawsuit.

Brinck's attorney, Shelley Stangler, said there was evidence that was likely to be presented in the case, most notably "at least one witness who saw some impropriety."

Both were married at the time, the complaint says.

Stillwagon-Ahlers, 38, voluntarily surrendered her practicing license for two years in April and was given $16,000 in various penalties, according to a consent order on file with the state Division of Consumer Affairs. The order cites allegations of "repeated boundary violations and a sexual relationship with a client that had a history of 'physical, sexual and verbal abuse.' "

Stillwagon-Ahlers, who originally received her license in New Jersey in 1999, said she willingly gave up the license and is thinking about a career change because of the difficulty in proving one's innocence before the Consumer Affairs' Professional Counselor Examiners Committee of the State Board of Marriage and Family Therapy Examiners.

She said the only thing she admits to is to giving Brinck $50 in exchange for some work on her car. Otherwise, she said, she treated him for free, and has paid the price herself -- through several incidents with authorities, the loss of her license and now a civil lawsuit.

"He has turned my life upside down . . . I can't get him out of my life," Stillwagon-Ahlers said. "He fell in love, and whatever delusion he gets in his mind . . . he believes it.

"I'm out of the psychotherapy business now. Part of me says I'm being a coward running away, but part of me says, 'Is it worth me putting out all this effort toward this guy?' "

Stangler said the defendant will have 35 days to respond to the complaint, and any damages likely will be covered by professional malpractice insurance. The lawsuit has not yet been served on Stillwagon-Ahlers.

In an earlier e-mail to the Herald, Brinck said the situation had caused him irreparable damage.

"I don't care what happens to me because of this," he wrote. "She has damaged me beyond me bouncing back and it's time to let the public know what she really is."