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Back For The Next Dance 

The return of a local pioneer

In the early 1980s, Dr. Daphne Timmons made a huge local impact in a program tailored for aggressive children and teens in Charlotte. She left the Queen City four years ago, shortly after winning a case in which she and another doctor had been accused of subliminally suggesting that a client had been sexually abused by satanic parents. Now she's back in town.Timmons is a wee woman, skinny and short, in her early 50s, with a childlike voice; she's a mother of one, and stacking up some divorces, although she'll never catch up with Elizabeth Taylor. Even though psychologists scare some people, Timmons tends to melt away people's defenses. Maybe it's that childlike voice -- a voice of someone who couldn't possibly have headed the "Willie M. Program" in 1983; or worked with more multiple personalities than were in The Three Faces of Eve; or fought one of her exes in a bitter custody case; or raised a son who recently graduated from Georgetown, cum laude; a voice that gives new meaning to the therapeutic expression of "letting your child play." A voice that's been known to have her "child" tap dance, on stage in Chicago, in front of a crowded bar, just because. Meet the wiliest, woolliest, and dancingest therapist to ever charge $115 per hour (yes, there's a sliding scale.)

Aside from her own self-proclaimed dancing fetish, Daphne Timmons has filled other, more important shoes -- such as the federally mandated "Willie M. Program" that first brought her to Charlotte. In 1981, in South Carolina, Daphne worked with "Youth Services," which was a precursor to the "Willie M. Program."

"I knew how to work with really crazy kids," she said. One teenager, she explained, "huffed gasoline. And those are brain cells that aren't coming back." Another young woman she worked with had repetitive patterns: "she'd walk two steps forward and then three back. I know this sounds funny, but you can't laugh -- it's their pain."

One of the most painful cases was a 13-year-old white boy who killed two African-American children in Orangeburg. The teenager claimed that he was only hunting and shot the two children by accident. He thought they were rabbits. Because of his age, he was not tried as an adult (lucky he's not living in Florida). This particular case struck Daphne at the core: the loss of life was beyond tragic; and the living was barreling into a head-on collision of future tragedy unless he had an enormous amount of help.

"He was a fetal syndrome baby, even before the experts really knew what that could mean to a child's development. Now we have the crack babies." Daphne shook her head. "See, children are the most important resource we have. Sadly, it's worse today. What did we learn? We haven't. We treat children worse here than anywhere else." She shook her head again. "Any moron can have a baby."

Unfortunately, those "morons" beget troubled children from the gitgo.

It was her work with his case, along with the recently retired Judge Bill Jones' urging, that originally led her to Charlotte. An attorney for the Council for Children had filed a class action lawsuit that mandated funds for therapy and living arrangements for any child under the age of 18 who exhibited a history of aggression. This became the much-lauded "Willie M" program. Some of the kids were diagnosed as bi-polar, attention-deficit-disorder, depressed, schizophrenic and mentally challenged. "The key," Daphne added, "was they had to be physically aggressive."

There were two original "Willie M's" who had a history of aggression and no means of help. One of them, says Timmons, "was 16 by the time the program began. I met him. I could feel his anger; he seethed," Timmons said. "His anger gave me an instant sick feeling in my stomach. I talked him down. I had to be very calm and not show any fear." She continued, "Most of kids who are aggressive are so because they are afraid. . .We hired counselors to work one-on-one; we had round-the-clock-trained staff; and we created a loving and structured environment by renting houses throughout Charlotte."

Timmons laughed: "Whenever the residents of the neighborhood found out, they'd freak . . . But one of the crucial things with helping these kids was to give them as "normal' a living arrangement as possible. Part of that was to create a home; a home that many of them never had. It's like putting together a puzzle. You restructure these kids, from the home environment and to the world."

Timmons did all of this from the bottom up.

"I'm a classic visionary," she said. "But I needed a doer. Or you might call me "obsessive-compulsive' or organized. It all depends on your point of view." Regardless, she took that federal mandate and by the time she went into another form of psychotherapy, 105 kids with a one-to-one staff ratio were finally getting the treatment they needed.

Timmons' next adventure was working with women with multiple personalities. Some had as few as three personalities, although one woman had over 60. "I'll say this much: all of the women were creative and bright, and they all had found a way to cope, creatively. . .Working with the multiples was some of the most intense work I ever did, but some of the most rewarding. But it took its toll on me. I decided to work with other sorts of disorders for Eastover Psychiatric."

It was her stint there that landed Timmons on the front pages of the newspaper and on the evening news in the summer of 1998, when she and another colleague were accused by the False Memory Society of creating certain suggestions to a former patient. "She told me her father had sexually abused her, and how an aunt was part of a satanic cult."

Timmons had treated the woman a number of years ago, but two years prior to the lawsuit, she had only seen her a few times. That didn't stop the patient from filing a lawsuit three days before the statute of limitations ran out. Timmons says, "We ultimately won, but it wasn't one of those glorious victories because the woman was emotionally ill. She'd been seeing therapists since she was six years old."

When the case began, the woman was in her late 20s. "That trial did me in. I needed a break, so I packed up and left for Atlanta. I needed to dance and get away from it all for awhile."

In Atlanta, Timmons did some consulting work for several corporations, which must have seemed like mental cotton candy considering her previous experiences. "Yes," she said, "especially after September 11. What's a little anger management in the workplace after that?"

It's why she landed back in a Georgia "Willie M"-type position. This organization was called "The Bridge Association," and was going to be patterned after Timmons' stint in Charlotte. "It didn't work out," she said. ". . .they wanted an 18 percent profit, at the risk of keeping 45 kids safe. You can't make money off of treating kids! So the top five people out of a staff of 65 and I, walked . . .I was called a "slippery, greasy pig' by one of the head folks. But you know what? The State of Georgia's Juvenile Justice pulled the program because they couldn't guarantee the kids' safety."

That debacle is the reason Timmons is back in Charlotte. "It's home," she said. "I want to be a voice for children."

So, the woman with the childlike voice is back. "I want to work with children who have a dual diagnosis: like depression along with substance abuse; anxiety and substance, whatever," she says. "The problem is that with so many competing needs and the state of the economy, the first thing to get the ax will be in helping children. It'll be the cheapest treatment instead of the most effective therapy. That's exactly what spawned "Willie M' in the first place.

"But I'm always learning," she continued. "It's the only way I'll ever know the answers for myself. . .Life is like a dance. It's a great metaphor for life -- you have to experience the dance to get the metaphor."

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