I'm OK and you’re OK, but that’s not good enough
Originally the purpose of psychotherapy was to make sick people well, but today its role is increasingly to make well people better
The hands glisten. The walls and floor of the narrow room muffle the shluck-shluck sound of oil smoothed between warm palms. The fingers flex and bend, slippery soft, supple and strong, kneading the last free drops into the space between the fingers. The candles on the old oak sideboard flicker, soothing the sad sag of skin gone flaccid in middle age. As the strains of Julian Bream’s lute swell through the hidden stereo speakers, a deep sigh of contentment wells from the client’s throat. The massage begins.
Her name is Anne. She lies on the high, foam-covered table, nude, exposed, vulnerable, pink baby-sized toes curled in pleasure. The hands tug behind her neck, dig into the top of her spinal column, trace their way through her short, browngrey hair. The fingers push at the perma-
nent frown in her forehead, slide down her short broad nose, into the fleshy cheeks, past the small crow’s-feet around tightly closed blue eyes. Anne’s pekinese face screws up, lets go. The hands glide down the neck, taut fingers easing over the thin flesh cover on the collar bones, pushing on to the soft, yielding breasts. The touch is firm but gentle as the hands knead the abdomen, push through the soft, fatty tissue to the loose muscle beneath, the stomach sliding away under the pressure, moving back full and round as the hands pass on. Over the crest of the thigh, down over the bony cap of the right leg: the hands pause to search out a knot in the calf, smooth the tender flesh behind the knee, skim on down over the top of the foot, dig into the ball, pull on each and every toe. Anne’s almost asleep
now; her breath, ragged but regular, whistles through her nose as the hands mold, shape, push out the pains of the long day.
Anne has come to this place to grow and change. Not that life is so bad', she has returned recently from a year abroad where she finished her degree in sociology at the age of 47. But while she is proud of her achievement, small doubts and tiny panics have begun to crowd in. The year in school ended in an inexplicable depression (“I couldn’t seem to get out of my apartment”). She found herself unwilling to see old friends, unable to talk with her estranged husband. Social drinking was turning into something more (“I can’t seem to get through the day without a drink. I think the bottle's got me”). So earlier this same day she be-
gan a process of personal transformation. Joyce Jones, a psychotherapist initiated into the new mysteries of human potential, agreed to take her on in an “intensive” experience at her growth centre. Abraxas, just outside Toronto. Jones had tried to help Anne break through the tightening strictures of self-doubt in a “primal” session that afternoon, but it had not been successful. Anne, her stocky frame beached on a king-sized mattress in the Abraxas encounter room, failed to come to grips. Rattling the long chains of a painful childhood, she had tried to con-
front the past, but Mommy had remained a black blob, Daddy could not be mourned. Anne is giving herself up to the massage now, and that’s a small step forward on the voyage of self-discovery that will continue for the next three days. At Abraxas, all facets of humanness (including that nasty knot in the right shoulder) are seen as one.
Abraxas is something new, a supermarket of the soul, a mind/body shop for the fine-tuning of the human spirit. In this growth centre you can face down the niggling dissatisfactions that seem endemic to this age—the night-creeping fears that go hand in hand with having too much; the sly gripes and knots in the belly that come from feeling lost in a crowded, pressured, rootless life. Abraxas is a place for physical and psychic healing, a place where you can get anything you want from group therapy to bioenergetics, from yoga to autohypnosis, from primal therapy to reality therapy, from behavior therapy to art therapy. Even the mundane pleasures of wood-chopping and housekeeping can be yours. The sick are not welcome here; Abraxas is for the walking wounded. It is a product of something known in psychological circles as the human potential movement—a fabulously diverse group of individuals dedicated to freedom from cultural restraint and the pursuit of the very best that can be squeezed out of each of our lives. Twenty-five years ago, a place such as Abraxas would have been unthinkable, but in that short time the human potential movement has revolutionized the way we think about ourselves: it has moved the field of human revolution from the streets to the hidden world of the individual spirit, from the social group, to the self.
That there is room for new visions is abundantly clear. In spite of (many say because of) unheard-of affluence, we seem to sink deeper, year by year, into an expensive wallow of suffering. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in six children born this year will be hospitalized for the treatment of some serious emotional disorder sometime in their lives. The same organization estimates that 50% of all illness coming to the attention of family doctors is due to some kind of emotional problem, and that about one third of the population of this country has suffered temporary disability from emotional difficulties. “Mental” illness now disables more Canadians than all other diseases combined. From April, 1972, to March, 1973, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) paid out $17,736,238.16 to psychiatrists and $8,187,777.07 to physicians for psychiatric services rendered, the bulk of that to individuals seeking psychotherapy. By 197475, the figures had risen dramatically to $23,670,342.34 and $12,344,795.55 respectively. In a study sponsored by the Mental Health Association in 1974, Dr. Nor-
man W. Bell and Sherbrooke University economist Thomas J. Boudreau estimated that in 1971 the direct medical costs of our mental health system (including money spent by institutions, payment to physicians, drugs and administration) amounted to between $683,157,000 and $844,803,000. Adding on such indirect costs as lost production brought the total up to much more than a billion dollars, and the toll keeps mounting. We’re spending more than a billion dollars a year on mental illness and no one even knows precisely what’s wrong. According to the World Health Organization, the causes of many of the most common and
disabling mental disorders—schizophrenia, manic and depressive psychoses—are as yet unknown.
The people rolling through hospital wards, outpatient clinics and psychiatrists’ offices are just the foam on the wave. There is no way to count the numbers of people such as Anne who seek out the services of psychologists and social workers in private practice, at work, in the schools, or through the municipal family service organizations across the country. And it’s impossible to find out how many dip into the demimonde of instant intimacy represented by weekend gestalt retreats, primal groups, transactional analy-
sis groups, or bioenergetic body workshops. As psychotherapist Joyce Jones sees it, their problems add up to “a poverty of the soul.” Their crises, their feelings of emptiness stem from a sense that their lives have “no meaning.”
North America has gone through an enormous cultural shift since the Second World War. Where we once turned to religion and social philosophy, to the community and to God to fill up the holes in our souls, we now turn to therapies.
New ideas about how men can be set free from the punishing restrictions of culture poured together into the bubbling ferment that was the Sixties. It was Sigmund Freud, of course, who opened the floodgates. Before Freud became the dominant influence in American psychiatry in the Thirties, psychiatry had been an infant art, a small adjunct of clinical medicine. In those simple times, it had been easy to separate the mentally sick from the healthy: it was presumed the mentally ill had some basic constitutional fault. Sick people acted crazy. They embarrassed in public. They had visions, heard voices. They were hysterical. They turned their faces to the wall. The best that could be done for them was to lock them up, away from prying eyes, and let them live out their days behind closed doors.
Freud changed those views irrevocably when he apparently demonstrated through case studies that there was a better way to look at mental illness than “constitutional fault.” His clinical work suggested to him that repressed and thwarted emotions could make people crazy. He maintained (against considerable skepticism in the early years) that rigid repression of sexuality led to symptoms such as hysteria, acting out, fainting, numbness. He also apparently demonstrated that if deeply hidden fears and unspeakable fantasies were coaxed into the light of day, talked about and understood, the symptoms identified with crazy behavior could be controlled, rooted out. Freud pried open Pandora’s box and introduced emotions to medicine: his psychoanalysis shoved home the intimate connection between the body and the mind, between our interior lives and the social order. Freud’s belief that we could change our inner selves burst like a star in North American culture.
But Freud’s analysis of the relationship between culture and personality was, at its roots, bleak. He believed that all societies were necessarily repressive and that individual impulses had to be curtailed to make social life possible. The best individuals could hope for was to establish an uncomfortable dynamic between inner desires and societal demands. However, some of his followers were not satisfied with that pessimistic view. Some, like Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, broke with Freud and forged new
tFierapeutic directions. No one, however, deviated from Freud’s intent so far or so fast as the transplanted wild man of American psychotherapy, Wilhelm Reich.
In the Thirties, Reich suggested that if culture’s restrictive demands on individuals made them ill, the thing to do was break the ties that bind. Reich wanted to let the natural and—in his view—good impulses have their sway. He believed that if human beings were allowed to express their sexuality freely, culture would change to reflect the healthy individuals within it. By the 1950s, Reich had translated theory into the practice of various esoteric “body” therapies. His revolutionary doctrines were not, however, welcome in the United States, and he died in a federal penitentiary in 1957, a convicted quack. But among the liberated spirits of the 1960s his strange theories persisted and flowered in new forms: in body therapies such as bioenergetics.
After the Second World War the small science of psychology was also beginning to grow. Psychotherapy was no longer to be the exclusive preserve of psychiatrists and physicians. Trying desperately to establish itself, psychology in the Forties and Fifties became rigidly empirical, hunting down hypotheses that could be tested. The dominant flavor of psychology in this period was “behaviorist.” Eschewing the muddy fields of consciousness, which couldn’t, after all, be quantified, the psychologists stuck firmly to the principle that all one could see, test and modify about individuals was their behavior. In the Twenties and Thirties, behaviorists had obtained interesting results conditioning the behavior of animals in the lab. In the Forties, they began to apply the results to human beings. By the late Fifties, the principles of a behavior “therapy” were tried out in experiments in mental institutions and prisons. Good behavior was rewarded with privileges, bad behavior punished by the loss of privileges: it was duly recorded that the behavior of inmates changed with the changed conditions.
By the middle of the 1960s, the principles of behavior modification were being applied clinically to individuals and were becoming extremely popular. Behavior therapies were fast: they dealt only with symptoms, never with underlying causes, and they could be seen to work when the symptom could be clearly defined. Throughout the late Fifties and into the Sixties, the principles of behaviorism were also being applied outside clinical psychology: in policy planning by governments and in large corporations. Behaviorism practically took over university psychology departments, schools of social work and departments of education, by presenting a nice, straightforward view of what made people tick. Social environment was the key to changing personality, not rigorous individual effort.
Another important set of ideas began to flood the world of psychotherapy in the early Fifties, but they had more to do with the intricacies of the patient-therapist relationship than with the questions of culture versus personality. The goal of Freudian psychoanalysis was to make the patient aware and, through awareness, responsible for his own actions. The problem w as that the patient tended to treat the therapist as if he were a father who could tell him what to do and how to do it. A sense of personal responsibility could not be established in the client if he persisted in seeing the therapist as the source of authority. Freud called this problem transference (the analyst took the place of the patient’s father) and the methods devised by psychoanalysts to derail transference were wondrous to behold. Dr. Howard Eisenberg, a Toronto medical psychotherapist, describes traditional psychoanalytic training this way, “We were told various things, like ... ah, you’re sitting opposite the patient in your office and he starts crying and he doesn’t have any Kleenex and you don’t have any on your desk but you have some in your pocket, don’t give it to him, because you’ll complicate the transference. I wish I could tell you Em exaggerating, but Fm not.”
In 1951 an American psychologist named Carl Rogers wrote a book called Client Centred Therapy in which he astonished therapists by suggesting two remarkable innovations. Psychiatrist Perry Lyndon described them for Psychology Today in June, 1974. “Rogers (said) that books, friends and many other enterprises of everyday life provide therapy for some people. He maintained that the therapeutic enterprise was part of normal living. Many professionals took it for granted that psychotherapy had to be done in a consulting room by a trained professional to count as therapy at all.” Rogers parted company with psychoanalysis by stating that the therapist should influence his patient, that he should interpret the client’s statements, and that all this could be done in accordance with what the client wanted to get out of his therapy. Rogers opened the door to the informally trained therapist by emphasizing the importance of “empathy” and “acceptance” in the therapist’s personality. Within 10 years, his ideas had become more than acceptable in the therapeutic community.
While Rogers democratized therapy, other new methods were rippling out that would put it within the financial reach of almost everyone. Group therapy developed out of a fusion of group dynamics (a small branch of social psychology), psychodrama, and work that had been done in the Thirties with groups in psychiatric hospitals. In 1946, the National Training Laboratories at Bethel, Maine, were founded to do research into how small groups could be used to solve large organizational problems in business and government. But one of the by-products of
that work began to dwarf the original intent. The researchers discovered, almost by accident, that group techniques became more important if the group discussion was turned upon itself. The main function of the group became the meeting rather than the problems back at the plant. The people at NTL played around with different types of groups for five years until they hit on a method that worked and began training group leaders. The T-group was born.
In the early 1960s, the Esalen Institute, which had contact with NTL and borrowed their group techniques for its own purposes, was founded in California. At Esalen, group meetings were called encounters, and were directed toward individual development rather than group action. Esalen’s encounter groups caught the public’s imagination. Group work joined the mainstream of psychotherapy.
But it remained for two men from quite different traditions to pull together the new ideas in psychotherapy, bless them with the older wisdoms of the Orient, and complete the revolution. One was a rumpled, chain-smoking, cranky ex-Freudian named Fritz Peris. A German Jew, Peris was born in Berlin in 1893. He completed a doctorate in medicine at Frederick Wilhelm University in 1921, trained as a psychoanalyst, studied with the leading proponent of gestalt perceptual psychology and worked briefly with Wilhelm Reich. By the time he broke with Freud (after some years of spreading the psychoanalytic gospel to South Africa) he had worked out the basics of a whole new therapy based on a whole new psychology. For Peris, people could only be understood if they were seen as integrated organisms. Sprinkling in some Eastern notions about health from the Taoist tradition (the idea that health was a condition of balance in the organism, a right relationship between the organism and the environment) he stripped away the analysis of past experience and substituted the “here and now” as the focus for therapy. The goal of Peris’ therapy was to make each of us alive, spontaneous, aware, responsible, and open to the needs of our bodies. His method was anti-rational (in the sense of talking about and understanding old emotions) and profoundly expressive. For Peris, good therapy encouraged the wisdom of the body to speak out. The good therapist helped the patient listen to himself (tune in to the “truth of the organism”), helped him finish “old business” by expressing current feelings about past experience, and above all provided a safe atmosphere in which to be experimental, to try out new ways of being that could be more satisfactory to the individual.
By the 1960s, Peris’ gestalt therapy was growing progressively more popular in North America. Peris set up a training institute in Cleveland, made films of the gestalt group process at Esalen, and in 1969, before he died, opened an institute in Canada at Cowichan, BC. By 1972, another
training institute had opened in Toronto, and in January the institute expects to open a gestalt centre in Ottawa.
Gestalt therapy grew in influence because it tied together so many other ideas. Freudians liked the goals of self-responsibility. Peris’ restatement of Reich’s ideas about the importance of using the body in therapy, of expressing feelings in therapy, seemed right in the Sixties. Peris’ ideas also incorporated some of the behaviorist tenets of avoiding the problems of the past and dealing with difficulties in the present. But it was Peris’ ideas about health that had the biggest impact. He believed healthy people were not fundamentally different from sick people, just further along in the business of meeting their needs, of growing and developing in harmony with the environment. Sick people suffered because their growth was somehow blocked; the process of moving toward health involved removing those blocks. Peris’ therapy ultimately was more than a curative. It was a philosophy of life, with growth and change as fundamental imperatives.
But it was Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist who taught at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in California and at Brandeis University, who closed the circle, joining all these streams of ideas together. In the Thirties, as a student, Maslow had been irritated with psychology’s single-minded devotion to the study of pathology. He embarked instead on something that intrigued him more, the study of healthy human beings. Two of his teachers, whom he considered healthy, happy, strong, intelligent and good, provided the models. Maslow reasoned that if he could empirically establish what it was that made them so much more fulfilled than the rest of us, we could all learn to “actualize” ourselves. Maslow’s belief that human beings could be taught to reach full potential wrenched psychology out of a value-free universe and plunged it head on into a study of the good, the true and the meaningful. Psychology had come back to its Greek roots, back to the Greeks’ ideas about what the study of the soul was for.
By 1967, when Maslow was head of the
American Psychological Association, he was talking about neurosis this way: “By now, we have learned very well that it is better to consider neurosis as rather related to spiritual disorders, to the loss of meaning ... to despair over the future. These are all fallings away from full humanness.” For Maslow, the answer was easy: “If health and illness are seen as obsolete, so also must the medical concepts of treatment and cure,andthe authoritative doctor must be discarded and replaced.” The role of Maslow’s therapist became not to cure but to aid in the discovery of the real, authentic, spiritual self. Therapist and priest had become one. And anybody could be a therapist.
Well, that’s what we’d all been waiting for. Nobody was really sick, and while very few were really well, we had ourselves a prescription. Health and gratification had come to mean the same thing. Wishes had transmuted into needs. One therapist’s ideas for meeting them were as good as the next guy’s.
Good ideas became philosophies only in the right time and place. North America was a fabulously receptive stewpot in the mid-Sixties. The students were revolting against discipline and tradition and the war and were raising the holy banner of “relevance” in education. The hippies were tripping and screwing and running away from home. Women were listening to blacks yelling for a fair place at the trough and taking the lessons to heart. Social roles were burst asunder, social rules tossed in the garbage heap. A new generation born in affluence, raised in affluence, with nothing to fear but fear itself was hungry for another kind of riches—the riches of experience. Society was bad( it kept trying to hold women, blacks and kids in their place) but people were good and, by God, could be even better. The lessons of history meant nothing—we were newborn in a new world that no one but us could understand. Everything new and shiny bright, every game plan for change, was welcomed, eaten up, devoured.
The social revolution the kids were making in the streets fired up the people making the spiritual revolution in psychotherapy. Such people as Rogers, Peris, and Maslow were talking to each other in the little institutes in California, where people were frantically searching for new ways to live outside the mainstream. People in psychology, sociology and social psychology were influenced by what was going on at places like the Esalen Institute in California. They met there, encountered there, took off their clothes together, massaged together, experienced together and went back to the university common rooms with some uncommon ideas about expressing feelings. Esalen was a bubbling broth, mixing new ideas together and sending everyone home with their own bit of stock to start a fresh brew somewhere else. Fritz Peris introduced gestalt to Esalen, Alexan-
der Löwen introduced bioenergetics (a Reichian touch therapy) to Esalen, Ida Rolf introduced her body-changing massage to Esalen. Eastern ideas were tossed in by Gia Fu Feng, who started teaching T’ai Chi Chuan at Esalen, and by Alan Watts with his middle-class road to Zen.
The Esalen experience was open to anyone. And it was cheap: much cheaper and much more exciting than the older form of personal change, psychoanalysis, in which one therapist and one client thrashed it out for two to six years at $60 a session. At Esalen you plunked down about $300 for five days’ worth of anything goes. Jorge Rosner, director of Toronto’s Gestalt Institute, went to Esalen in 1967 and discovered a whole new world. A beautiful young woman had been experimenting with massage therapy (later to become known as Esalonian massage) and Jorge tried the treatment. “I’ll never forget it. We sat together, men and women, without any clothes on in a hot, steamy tub of water. In the late Sixties, to sit in a tub, men and women—wow!! Gradually everyone drifted away and I was left there alone except for this beautiful creature. She asked me if I wanted a massage and I said, ‘Yes, but I don’t know where the masseur is,’ and she said, ‘I’m the masseuse.’ She took my hand and led me to the massage table and I thought I can’t make it, oh God. Think bad thoughts, distant thought. But gradually all that macho tension just drifted out. It was the most incredible experience . ..” It was the kind of high no drug could give you, to take off your clothes with a bunch of strangers, to scream out the pains of your life to a bunch of strangers, to get close to a naked lady you’d never seen before who was not a hooker, but there to serve your needs—to help you play with your Self.
Thousands of people passed through Esalen, went home to other parts of the United States, to Canada, to Europe and started their own growth centres and a humanist push in psychology departments, schools of social work, education departments. The goal was growth through experience, the way was through release of feelings. The market for the growth experience had already been tested by the success of popularized therapy books such as William Glasser’s Reality Therapy and Eric Berne’s Games People Play which became best sellers in the mid-Sixties. But people wanted more than books, they wanted the real thing. So therapists, sometimes with just a few weeks training in the shiny new modalities, began hanging out their shingles as gestaltists, bioenergeticists, primal therapists, yoga therapists. Jorge Rosner thinks that it almost killed off the movement. “God, people have put me down on resumes as their gestalt trainer after they’ve been through two weekend sessions here. Most of those growth centres were primarily pointed at weekend groupies, there was no depthful operation going on.”
By 1972 the human growth movement
had reached a frenzied peak. It had branched out quickly from the foundations laid by Peris and Maslow into all kinds of exotic spiritualist byways. Psychology Today, an American magazine getting rich off the interest Americans were showing in things psychological, tried to get a fix on it, but settled, exhausted, for a list of the new therapies they knew about. There were 40.
By 1976, the cult of Self had reached such dimensions that Tom Wolfe was moved to dub the Seventies “The Me Decade” in the pages of New York magazine. Christopher Lasch, writing in the New York Review Of Books preferred another title—the Narcissist Society. Whatever you call the phenomenon that is the human potential movement there is no question it is reaching into all our lives. Everyone wants to grow and change. Meeting your own needs is a motherhood issue. Everyone wants to be nourished and supported while they grow strong and responsible. The revolution can wait until we’re healthy enough to take it. As Jorge Rosner put it: “Anything to be a free man.”
The only question is whether the new therapies are really therapeutic.
Abraxas snuggles softly into the cultivated rusticana of the Hockley Valley, 34 miles northwest of the brick and asphalt sprawl around Toronto’s Malton airport. The valley sneaks up on you, an undulating rift of small rounded hills, hardwood forests, winding streams, surrounded by the flat lush corn belt north of the city. Land values are up in the stratosphere; 100 acres of prime recreational land down the same winding gravel road leading to Abraxas are now on the market for $300,000.
You walk down the steep wooded road from the parking lot, turn around a sharp bend and suddenly you’re in the middle earth, or maybe the Land of Oz. Off to the right is a huge renovated square log barn, with new wood-and-glass double doors. Inside, three quarters of the barn’s space has been left open for group encounters. The rest is divided into bedrooms (eight), bathrooms, therapy rooms, a massage room, a cedar-lined, red-lit sauna, a 20foot lounge, a 40-foot indoor swimming pool and a Jacuzzi bath.Outside the barn sits an asphalt tennis court. And, oh yes, one of Joyce Jones’ wealthier clients donated the $20,000 Steinway concert grand that graces one corner of the barn’s main room.
Beyond the bam is the farmhouse. It sits perched on a small height of land facing east on rolling hills that insinuate themselves between thick stands of pine to the north and the red and gold flash of hardwood forest to the south. The house is bamboard on the outside, more barn board and knotty pine on the inside. Groomed by three separate architects, it remains the house that Joyce Jones built. The round window in the lounge (with the fieldstone
fireplace for show and the Ashley stove for heat) was her idea. The elegant French double doors to the dining room (made from old everyday doors and tarted up with new brass fittings) were her idea. The eiderdown quilts, so warm, so soft, that cover every one of the 25 beds on the property, were her idea. In fact Abraxas itself (one musn’t forget the small outdoor swimming pool and the arts and crafts shed behind the house) was her idea. A $300,000 monument to her abhorrence of traditional treatment centres, a $300,000 set for her soft but steely therapeutic personality.
At 40, Joyce Jones looks as if she hasjust stepped off a high-school basketball court circa 1960. Her short blond hair is almost mousy, but it’s expensively cut. Her eyes are limpid brown, but they catch and hold and reel you in. Her mouth is tiny, but the lips are sharply defined like Clara Bow’s. Her voice is so small that you have to lean right up to catch the words. Nudity and being comfortable with other people’s bodies is part of the experience, but she worries about what her mother would say if she could see her prancing naked to the sauna shared by men and women. She’s been trained in psychology and speech therapy (she has an MA from Ann Arbor), but when she describes what she does she tells an illuminating story: “I was watching an exorcist being interviewed on TV the other night, and I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. And then it hit me. If I just substituted my words for his, he was describing what I do.”
Abraxas was started two years ago by Joyce, her husband Arthur Jones, a psychiatrist, John Boyd, an educator for 25 years, and his wife,Eileen, a masseuse. Originally, the property was used for recreation by the Jones family, but gradually both Joyce and Arthur began bringing clients up on weekends. They found the atmosphere beneficial. Small wonder when you compare it to the medieval flavor of the psychiatric wing at Toronto General Hospital where Arthur practised for several years, or to the outpatients clinic at Toronto’s Queen Street Mental Health Unit where Joyce Jones worked from 1959 until last March.
Maintaining an informal atmosphere is
crucial to Joyce. Ever since she started working at Queen Street she’s hated mental institutions. “The very first thing that turned me off was seeing some of the patients wrapped up in wet towels and pinned. Some of them had been in that kind of restraint for 20 years.” And then there was the shock of seeing people undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). “I went through periods when I just wanted to wreck the machines,” she whispers, hands raking her hair. “I’d fantasize about how I could get in, how it could be done, taking an axe to them. It never did any good. I saw the people who did that to patients like you might see the Gestapo.”
Of course, creating the right atmosphere costs money, so it’s no surprise that money is a never-ending source of conversation at Abraxas. The clients have too much, Abraxas has too little. John Boyd and Joyce Jones are fascinated by the founder of Synanon in the United States, who has managed to amass a $21-million fortune for himself, and by Werner Erhard’s delicious scam with EST. “Werner Erhard is cashing in on frustrating the products of an over-indulged society,” says Boyd, his bright blue eyes flashing. But Joyce, though tempted by the prospects of going commercial (“I could have hit the grandfather of one of my clients for a million bucks for this place,” she says) is almost superstitiously afraid to take the plunge. “Somehow,” she whispers, “I think something would be lost. I’d lose some of what makes me effective.” Joyce makes about $10,000 a year and most of that goes back into Abraxas.
“The people who come here,” muses Boyd, “feel a free-floating anxiety. One of the paradoxical reasons they feel that way is that there isn’t enough challenge, enough struggle in their lives. When you’ve made a million dollars and you still haven’t arrived, it’s a pretty scary thing.”
There’s a free-floating anxiety among the people who work at Abraxas, however, which has nothing to do with money. It has to do with whether or not the indulgent, nourishing atmosphere and therapy (all the hugging, the touching, the massaging and letting go) is actually what the clients need. John Boyd is worried that too much time is spent encouraging clients to explore their pain instead of their strengths. Joyce and John both think their main function is to explore new ways of helping people help themselves. But both worry that their clients see them as having all the answers. That’s why Joyce is so excited about working with Anne, who has been a friend for years. “The experience with Anne is sort of neat, because she knows that I don’t have to know. She doesn’t set me up as a great huge expert so I don’t have to perform. And I can also be there for her so that any skill or knowledge I’ve got I can share, without emphasizing that A-over-B relationship which is usually the way you have to define a therapeutic one, but which also can’t be therapeutic. If we’re going to help
each other, we have to do it as kind fellowtravelers in the world.”
Anne’s prepared. She’s showered, she’s been massaged, she’s wandered the beautiful hills of Abraxas, thinking, feeling, experiencing her Self. She walks into the primal room ready for step three on her mining expedition. The room is dark,close. Anne, dressed only in a short purple robe, lies down on a mattress, toes pointing to the ceiling. Joyce crouches above her head.
It begins with a simple thing. The placement of the tape recorder by her head triggers off fears of being inadequate. Being stupid. Joyce pounces, her voice soft as silk, “Can you go with that fear?”
“Oh boy,” says Anne, “it goes all the way back to grade one. I knew I couldn’t do it. Every year in school . . . layers and layers and layers of hating to do it. Oh, this is the first time in my life I got through the whole thing well. I passed.” Her voice is sliding up on register. She is beginning to sound as if she’s six years old. She sobs, chokes. “Pain. Pain. It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. You don’t have to be good at it.” Her voice breaks into wrenching sobs: “You don’t have to do it...”
Joyce has a direction now, the handle she’s been looking for. Her body tenses up, she crouches lower over Anne’s head and the soft little voice is suddenly hard, steely: “No, you’ve got to get another degree. You’re not,” Joyce slams, “okay.”
Anne cries and sobs.
Joyce bears down again. “You can do it, you can do it, you can do it.”
Joyce has hit paydirt: Anne begins to roll across the mattress, her body twisting and turning, hands clenching, teeth gritted. “You don’t understand,” she screams, her voice high and quavery, like a six-year-old who’s been slammed across the face by a favorite aunt. “You don’t know what it’s like inside. Oh Jesus, letting them all down, all those peopleV She’s shouting now, full force: “No. I’m not smart. Christ. I’m not.”
Joyce lets up a bit. She’s found the motherlode and she can afford to bide her time. “What’s being smart?”
“Getting good marks,” Anne sniffs, “being able to do the work. There were so many kids, so many houses, so many teachers.” Hysteria is edging in: “I never learned to print! I can’t print! I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” Joyce reaches down and smoothes her forehead: Anne sighs. “My mother didn’t take care of me. She should have been there to find out what was wrong, to help me.”
Joyce snaps that up like a dog on a bone, j Now’s the chance to finish old business. “Tell her that.”
Anne screams out her six-year-old’s fear at a mommy who is 5,000 miles and 40 years away. “You should’ve taken care of me! You should’ve known what was going on. You let me get in the worst messes. I felt so awful.. . leaving me in that bloody school with those bloody nuns. I cried
every night ... I was afraid to go to the school this year, even after I passed my exams, I was afraid to go back there because I was afraid they were going to tell me I hadn’t passed. I was afraid. Even after I passed.” She sobs and chokes. “1 feel like I’m going to choke in here. Joyce? I’m really frightened now.”
It’s time for the big push. Joyce knows she’s got it, all the loose ends are in her hands. She reels them in. “If you can choose to go through the fear, where it’s safe, and let it go ...”
“I feel so stupid. Why do I feel so terribly stupid?”
Joyce gives Anne the key: “Being stupid can be a good cover to keep from being big, grown up, together.”
The light bursts in Anne’s head: “I felt as though I were taller when I passed those exams. I couldn’t get through the doors ... And then I got so depressed. I’d get up sometimes and look at myself in the mirror and . . . what does it matter?”
“What you really did was blow the whistle on yourself, didn’t you? I warned you about that.”
“I didn’t understand what it would feel like,” Anne moans, “It was so awful. I was always scared. For the first time in my life I wasn’t able to help myself... It was as if I was packing up again. Packing up again. Do you know how many times I’ve packed up in my life? I must have moved a hundred times ...” She blows her nose.
There’s a heady glow of small victories in the air when Anne sits down to talk about her experience later in the day. “I felt cleansed this morning. But totally amazed at the responses. I feel good. Even with a lot of insight, a lot of knowledge, there’s all kinds of garbage in all of us. I want to get rid of it. I want to throw it out.” Joyce, at this point, can do no wrong. “She’s got so much knowledge, so much insight. And she’s right in there.”
Joyce confesses she had no idea what Anne would get into, but she’s pleased with the direction the session took. She has wrestled with the ghost of Anne’s mother and come out on top. She’s got all the confidence in the world. “I know I’m not going to hurt anybody. The worst thing I can do is embarrass myself. I follow my instincts. It’s like being a chess player who doesn’t know the rules, who has half the rules and the other player keeps changing them around. It’s very hard, but I get my energy up when I’m really struggling.”
She’s decided that she is going to press farther and faster than she has ever done before. Anne’s 25-year-old daughter, Lynn, is also one of her clients, and she had videotaped a “primal” session with Lynn earlier in the summer. She is going to show the tapes to Anne, to confront her with her role as mother and try to push Anne right through to a new understanding of that side of her personality. It’s a risky business experimenting with a friend’s peace of mind. As far as she knows, using video in
therapy this way has never been done before but she’s willing to try. “I like a real challenge. I’m not sure whether I’m out to prove something, but I don’t actively go out and look. There’s a certain megalomania in doing this.”
The sun beats into the group encounter room in the barn, pushing through the closed curtains, spreading a pool of light across the floor. The video machine has been set up on a table by the window. Anne is lying on a pile of pillows beside the black mattress. Joyce is sitting beside her. The tape rolls.
Joyce had videotaped Lynn talking about herself and then taped her again as she watched the first tape. Split images dance across the small television screen. On the left side, Lynn cries and cries, on the other she watches herself, crying into her hands. She talks about being fat, hating her body, hating her intelligence, hating the fact that she knows she isn’t smart but that everyone thinks she is, and no one can see who she really is. Hating what her parents expect of her, hating Anne’s pain, hating her father’s confidences about his sex life.
As the first tape ends, Joyce asks Anne how she feels. Anne is half lying on the mattress now, her head buried in her hands. She’s in pain, but she won’t own up. Joyce moves up to the video tape machine and puts on the next tape. “The next tape,” she says, “is where she really gets to it. Shall I go straight through to it, or is there anything more that you want?” Anne, very quietly, says no.
This time Lynn is lying on her back, crying and moaning, rolling on the mattress. She’s far gone into herself. She’s three years old again, crying in her crib for a mommy who never answers, who never hears, who can’t reach her. Hands reach in through the frame to massage her chest, but she gasps, moans, tries to roll away. The hands are there anyway, kneading, rolling her abundant flesh. “No,” she cries, pushing at the hands, “please, no.”
Anne mumbles something to herself.
Joyce tears herself away from the screen. “What’d you say Anne?”
Anne explodes. “It’s too much. I can’t take it. It’s too much. It’s one thing to confront yourself with yourself, but to confront yourself at the same time in another role, in the role of mother... That hurts me terribly. Jesus Christ. It really gives me a lot of pain ... If I could just pick her up right now. I’ve never been able to help her stop crying. I’ve always known that I couldn’t get into that space, inside of her. I never really was able to make it for her.”
The tape rolls on. Lynn grunts and cries, high little cries, there’s a curious orgasmic quality to them. She’s talking directly to her mother now: “I’m not okay, I’m not. Please come upstairs, hear m t, please.” She rocks and cries, rocks and cries. Ahhhhhhhhh . . . mmmmmmmmmm . . .
she screams quietly, hunched deep inside her own private anguish, but the cries fill the huge barn, rising higher and higher.
Suddenly, its over. On the screen Lynn rocks once more, coughs, sniffs, moans, grabs for a Kleenex and tucks herself into a fetal ball. Her back is to the camera and her bra digs deep into her flesh. The tape is finished. Joyce turns to Anne “Where are you at, Anne?”
Joyce is nervous now. She knows she’s gone too far. “I think,” she mumbles, “the only significant part is what she was able to do the next day . . . how do you feel? Do you want to talk about it?”
Anne is furious. The anger is pouring off her. Her hands, clenched tight, are fists at her side. “I feel numb,” she spits, “I feel numb.”
Joyce is backing away now. Anne’s anger is pushing her slowly toward the door.
“I’m really angry at you, Joyce.”
“Well,” Joyce quavers, backing from the room, “I’ll wait till you’re in a better mood. We’ll talk later.”
She beats it back to the house. Anne keeps talking, fighting to calm down, to get a grip. “I feel very exposed, I’ll tell you that. It’s a real kick in the solar plexus, so hard I’m just feeling numb. I’m going to give Joyce shit. The embarrassment. She didn’t prepare me for it.”
About 15 minutes later Joyce edges back into the barn. Trying valiantly to pull some small accomplishment out of total disaster, she explains that it’s better to express, to own to the embarrassment than to cover it up. Anne suggests sardonically that what Joyce should have done was to video Anne watching Lynn watching herself. “That’s what I was going to do,” says Joyce, “but it would have been too complicated.” Anne gets up and strides back to the house. “It’s handling anger that’s hard,” Joyce confides, “that’s the time when you need to have your own therapist around.”
The goals of all the new therapies are ultimately the same. Growth, change, reaching full humanness, whatever that is, learning to experience now as now without bringing in ghost images from the past or rehearsing for some far-off future. But the methods vary as widely as the practitioners. There used to be a better definition to each of the new therapies, but after 15 years of furious experimentation and very few attempts to analyze results the boundaries have become, to say the least, blurred. Joyce Jones, for example, used to call herself a primal therapist. Not that she actually studied with Arthur Janov—it was too expensive and too time-consuming, so she went through a variant of primal therapy in Toronto and in a few short months felt comfortable enough with the techniques to begin using them on others. Since picking up a few techniques makes it possible for almost anyone to call themselves a therapist, the world of the new
therapies has few rules. It’s caveat emptor out there. Unless a therapist advertises he has a cure for cancer that involves the laying on of hands or styles himself an MD or a psychologist without having passed the requisite exams, nobody is going to take his label from him. In that context the question of who is a good healer becomes more meaningful than which of the plethora of therapies is best.
It is precisely the vagueness of the goals of the new therapies, their expressive, antirational and to a large degree anti-empirical tendencies that leave the human potential movement mired in the cult of personality. No unimpeachable studies have been done on therapy casualties—we don’t know if primal therapy, gestalt therapy can be dangerous given certain conditions. Some studies suggest that a therapy will be efficacious or not depending on the personality of the therapist, but on the other hand some studies suggest that the less formal training a therapist has, the more likely he will be to get good results. As Dr. Peter Brawley, head of psychiatric research at Toronto General Hospital, explains, “There’s not yet a body of standardized fact we can use to say which person will do well with which therapy.” That goes a long way toward explaining the vituperative comments among therapists on the quality of the other guy’s work. No one would speak for the record, of course, but everyone had something bad to say about somebody: “I can’t talk about that institute without being libeled.” “He thinks he’s developed some kind of magic.” “I wouldn’t go out to Abraxas because I don’t think they’ve studied with the masters.” “He’s got no feelings and he’s just out for the money and you should see the way he treats his own kids ...” And on, and on.
What goes on in the new therapies is a secular conversion: conversion to a set of beliefs about what the good life is and how to get it. We’ve known for a long time that faith conquers all. We may have forgotten it temporarily, but the new therapies are pushing us forward to a new religiosity, one that is in keeping with the romantic natural-is-beautiful spirit of our times. That is why Anne went back to Joyce even after her brutal experience with the video session. That is why, contrary to what any rationalist would have expected, she’s now able to do what she wanted to: see her family, her friends.
The phone rings.
“Hi, it’s Joyce. You’ll never guess what happened.”
“Anne’s friend came up and we got talking, and all of a sudden there he was exploding with all these feelings. He’s got problems with his kid, and we were talking and it just started happening. He’s coming up for an intensive in a few weeks.”
One thing’s certain. The new therapies work for the new therapists.