NEWBURYPORT — She was 25 and struggling with depression when her mother brought her from Ohio to Newburyport to see Dr. Keith Ablow.
They had heard about Ablow’s novel (and not yet FDA-approved) use of the anesthesia drug Ketamine to treat depression.
During that first visit, in January 2015, she said, Ablow gave her several books: J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey” and another novel about a child with imaginary friends, and a self-help book on creativity. He texted her that he wanted to take her sledding.
But over the next several weeks, during remote therapy sessions via Skype, the young woman said Ablow was asking questions that made her “uncomfortable.”
Still, she returned to Newburyport a couple of months later, this time without her mother.
Ablow took her to dinner. “It felt more like a date than a therapy session,” the woman says now in an affidavit.
“He told me during this visit that we had a special connection and he wanted to have a romantic relationship with me,” she wrote.
What she didn’t realize, until reading a newspaper article about another patient’s lawsuit last year, was that she wasn’t the only patient who had heard that from Ablow, according to lawsuits filed last year and on Thursday.
Ablow and his lawyer have “categorically” denied all of the allegations made against him by this woman and the other women who filed suit this week.
In her affidavit, the Ohio woman said Ablow became increasingly controlling as time went on. She moved away from her family and friends to be closer to Ablow in Newburyport. He told her he was planning to leave his wife, she says, and he showered her with gifts: a pricey Canada Goose jacket, jewelry, and sometimes cash.
“At times, this made me feel like a whore,” said the woman, whose name is being withheld by the newspaper because she is an alleged victim of sexual abuse.
As the months passed, she said Ablow made demands of her, telling her he wanted them to be in a “master/slave” relationship, asking her to get a tattoo of his name on her thigh and a piercing. Sometimes he beat her with a belt with a metal skull buckle, she says, and said he thought about tying her to a ladder and abandoning her.
Still, she continued to see him, saying she had grown dependent on the unorthodox regimen of medicines he had prescribed for her, including Ketamine.
“At the time, I was so emotionally depending on Dr. Ablow and reliant on him for every aspect of my life that the thought of losing him was worse than the physical pain,” she wrote.
After she ended her treatment with Ablow in February 2018, she says Ablow continued to contact her.
Then, a few months later, she read about a lawsuit that a Minnesota woman filed against Ablow last July. That’s when she learned, she said, that she was not the only woman that Ablow treated that way.
“I believe he was concerned that I too would speak out about our relationship,” the woman says in an affidavit filed with a lawsuit on Thursday.
Multiple women come forward
Hers is now one of four pending malpractice lawsuits against Ablow, 57, of Newbury, a high-profile psychiatrist, commentator and business owner.
All four allege that Ablow engaged in what are known in the psychiatric community as “boundary violations,” and three specifically allege that Ablow engaged in unethical sexual relations with his patients, all of them women in their 20s with a history of depression or trauma.
The experience has left them with deep emotional wounds — and a distrust of other therapists who might help them heal, their lawyers allege.
In another suit filed on Thursday, a former New York woman who was 23 when she began treatment with Ablow in 2011, alleges that he manipulated her into engaging in increasingly sadomasochistic sexual relations, during which he allegedly told her “I own you,” “You are my slave,” and beat her with the skull belt.
That woman also said that after Ablow asked her to get a tattoo on her inner thigh, she compromised by having his initials inked on the inside of her forearm.
Ablow was sending the woman to his business partner, Dr. Guido “Guy” Navarra of Newburyport, for intravenous infusions of Ketamine, an off-label use that experts for the women say has not been fully studied for long-term safety. Ablow and Navarra are partners in a business called Brain-Mind Institute.
Navarra did not return a message left with his office manager on Friday.
The New York woman, raised in a strict Orthodox Jewish family, said she was sexually abused by a rabbi as a teenager and was seeking help in recovering from that trauma and with some family issues.
“My relationship with Dr. Ablow became sexual fairly quickly,” she said in an affidavit. Ablow began discussing bondage and sadomasochism with her, she said, encouraging her to visit a sex club, an experience that “terrified” her.
Ablow told her that he was unhappy in his marriage, she said, and “began to talk to me in such a way that made me think we would have a relationship outside of therapy.”
After moving to Newburyport to be closer to him, she stopped receiving financial help from her parents.
“When I shared this information with Dr. Ablow and the fact that I was also having trouble paying his fees, he encouraged me to look into escorting and/or stripping since they make a lot of money,” she said.
Court papers indicate that there may be other patients who were inappropriately treated, and a former employee alleges that Ablow engaged in similarly manipulative and controlling behavior with her when she first went to work for him in the 1990s, and again during a second period of employment.
‘We have a connection’
Lawyers Clyde Bergstresser and Scott Heidorn filed the two newest cases on Thursday morning in Salem Superior Court, where a hearing is scheduled next week on their request for an attachment on Ablow’s significant real estate holdings in the Newburyport area, including his $1.6 million Newbury home and his downtown Newburyport office and two nearby condo units, with a total assessed value of nearly $1.4 million.
A few months after the Ohio woman began seeing Ablow, a 23-year-old Minnesota woman began receiving treatment from the psychiatrist. That woman, who filed her lawsuit last year, alleges that she first saw Ablow in June 2015.
“I want you to become dependent on me because you are so afraid,” the woman says Ablow told her.
He began calling her “angel,” she said, and begging her not to leave at the end of a session.
That fall, she said, Ablow took her out to dinner. When she showed him a bruise on her arm, he told her “that was his sexual fantasy, that he wanted to do that to me.”
“We have a connection,” he allegedly told her. In October 2015, during a visit to his office, she says, he pressed against her while sexually aroused. A couple of weeks later, she said, he invited her to his office to show her a painting.
“He then led me to the couch,” where they had sex. “I remember my mind concentrated on a ticking clock in the office to get through it,” she wrote in an affidavit.
Ablow spoke about being unhappy in his marriage, she said, and brought up the subject of tattoos, showing her a photo of one on his arm and asking if she’d ever considered getting one. She says Ablow also showed her a photo of a gun and joked about cocaine.
After they had sex, however, she said Ablow became distant. She decided to end treatment, though she said that “felt terrifying.”
When she told him she was going to tell her sister about what had happened, she says Ablow told her she had a personality disorder and accused her of breaking the law. He also notified his attorney, she said.
Despite that, Ablow continued to contact her, and sent her a photo of a tattoo on his arm.
Then, in September 2016, Ablow sent her a “notice of no trespass.”
In responding to the Minnesota woman’s lawsuit last summer, Ablow told The Salem News in a statement, “I take some of the most difficult cases in the country. The plaintiff in this case was the subject of a no-trespassing order by me two years ago, was ordered formally to stop her harassment of me, and her account is in collections for non-payment.”
Comments posted under his name on The Salem News website went further, threatening to post the woman’s name, calling the story “fake news” and suggesting that both the complaint and the newspaper’s coverage were motivated by bias against President Donald Trump.
Ablow at one time was a commentator on Fox News, and has been outspoken in his support of Trump.
On Thursday, after the two new lawsuits were filed, Ablow tweeted: “Categorically, completely deny the allegations lodged against me. I look forward to the court proceedings and will continue to offer excellent care to any patient who needs my help.”
His current attorney, Bernard Guekguezian, said in a statement: “Dr. Ablow has been a respected and highly regarded psychiatrist who has for decades helped countless patients. He denies any and all allegations of improper behavior or substandard care in their entirety. We look forward to a full evaluation of all evidence before a panel of objective and fair minded jurors.”
The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine has just one complaint on file against him, according to a response to a public records request by The Salem News earlier this week. It was a dispute over a fee he charged the family of a man who had hired him as an expert witness. No action was taken by the board.
Ablow has testified or participated as an expert witness in a number of high-profile cases during the past two decades, including the trial of Dr. Richard Sharpe, the Gloucester dermatologist convicted of killing his wife in their Wenham home in 2000, and the case of Edwin Alemany, charged with killing Amy Lord and attacking two other women during a 2013 crime spree in Boston.
But in one of the affidavits filed in an “offer of proof” accompanying the new lawsuits, a former employee of Ablow says she accidentally saw nude photos of a defense attorney who, she said, had hired Ablow as a paid expert in a murder case.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.