AUGUST 1988   
When Therapists Drive Their Patients Crazy
From the outside -- on TV and radio talk shows across the
nation -- the Center for Feeling Therapy looked like a
promising new approach to psychotherapy. From the inside
it was an object lesson in insanity.
BY CAROL LYNN MITHERS
IN 1975 ANY OLD-TIMER WHO LIVED NORTH-WEST of Sunset and La Brea knew the Center for Feeling Therapy people. They had started taking over the neighborhood the year before and were hard to miss - the cars with bumper stickers declaring GOING SANE, the four bungalows on Gardner Street where the individual fences between them had been torn down and replaced by a new one that enclosed all four like a fort, the dozens of communal houses in the adjoining ten square Hollywood blocks that erupted at all hours with shouts of anger ("I hate you, I fuckin' hate you!"), howls of pain ("I feel bad, I fuckin' feel bad!") or less frequently, shouts of triumph ("I feel good, I fuckin' feel good!").
    "Are you one of them?" a woman in her sixties asked when she saw me moving into a house on Martel Avenue.
    "No," I answered.
    "Thank God," she said, then stopped and shot me a suspicious look: if you aren't, what are you doing here?
    In 1974 Mark, the man who had been my lover through college, began feeling therapy, which was, I soon discovered, not therapy in the traditional sense of the word but a community and a way of life. In this world all that mattered was having and expressing feelings. It was not unusual for a social encounter to end with one person saying, "I don't feel like talking to you anymore"; it was not only acceptable but essential to tell a lover he or she was fat and you hated it; and the sound of shouting and sobbing was a constant, unremarkable background noise.
    Soon after Mark began feeling therapy, he and I broke up -- NIT (not in therapy)/Center relationships rarely survived. But for a while I hung around, living on the fringes of the Center world. For all their shouts and sobs, I found Center people appealing. They were friendly and warm, and in a confusing era they exuded supreme confidence in what they were doing and where they belonged. I envied the community they had found and liked being an unofficial part of it. I dated some Center patients, went to a Center "prom," attended a one-day therapy workshop where I talked about my dreams. And when the Center's two leading therapists appeared on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show, like the rest of the community I stayed up late to watch them. Hearing something with which I was even marginally involved discussed on national television was exciting; it was like being part of something important.
    "Sometimes I wish you would come into the Center," a man I dated told me, but I always knew I would not. Constant focus on feelings was tiresome, and the lingo all patients adopted never expressed anything I wanted to say. I didn't find feeling therapy awful, but by the time I lost touch with it in 1977, I did think it was silly. The Center stories I told were jokes. "I'm having a lot of feeling talking to you," Mark once said to me after we'd had a fight over the telephone. "I have to hang up. I have to talk to someone and find out what I'm feeling." I have to talk to someone and find out what I'm feeling. Everyone laughed.

IN SEPTEMBER 1987 THE longest, costliest and most complex psychotherapy malpractice case in California history came to an end when the Psychology Examining Committee of the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance revoked the licenses of Joseph Hart and Richard Corriere, former heads of the Center for Feeling Therapy. For more than two years the state had been trying its case against thirteen members of the Center's former professional staff, and now all those accused of incompetence, gross negligence, fraud, patient abuse or aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of psychology had either lost, surrendered, or, as in two cases, had severe restrictions placed upon their professional licenses.
    Since 1980, when the Center closed, complaints from former patients had been coming in to the board, and the stories eventually collected in more than 900 pages of declarations were so nightmarish and bizarre that at first investigators found them hard to believe. A man whose therapist told him he was "living his life like a baby" had been required to spend several weeks living like one --eating baby food, wearing diapers, sleeping in a crib. An overweight woman had been told she "looked like a cow" and was ordered to take off her blouse and crawl on the floor mooing. A woman had been ordered to go to her father's grave and tell him he had "made her crazy" and then to confront and humiliate her mother. Women who already had children had been told to surrender custody because they were too "crazy" to care for them; those who became pregnant were informed kids were "a suck" and were pressured to have abortions. And patient after patient recounted instances of sex with therapists, of being hit, kicked, punched, ordered to strip, called "dead," "insane," of being told how often to have sex and with whom, where to live and work, how much to weigh, what to eat, what to think, what to feel.
    Through two years of state hearings and several civil suits that resulted in a reported $6 million in settlements to former patients, a portrait of Center life emerged that was not silly but ugly, brutal and frightening. Perhaps by 1987 it should have been hard to be shocked by the existence of a weird, cultish group. But this had not been some hidden, far-out sect. The men who had run the Center held Ph.Ds from Stanford and the University of California. They had written three books that were published by the mainstream press, chosen as Psychology Today Book Club selections and quoted in such magazines as Mademoiselle and House & Garden. They had given lectures across the country and had been written about in glowing terms in a number of newspapers. From 1975 to 1980, they had been regulars on the talk show circuit, speaking of their theories and work on literally hundreds of television and radio shows, including The Tonight Show, Tomorrow, Merv Griffin, The Mike Douglas Show and Good Morning, America.
    What had happened? On the surface most people saw a new psychotherapy promising happiness, fulfillment and utopian community. In reality there were 350 people who had spent up to ten years of their lives in what administrative law judge Robert A. Neher called an "almost gothic maelstrom."

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