Letter from Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Dear Political Research Associates:
I would like to add some thoughts to your web site from the perspective of a licensed mental health professional. All statements below are my opinions based on my "social therapy training", extensive research, and contact with many former members and associates. I am currently working on a couple other projects involving this group, but would like to contribute an overview of my experience and concerns.  I have taken care to be as accurate as possible with the quotes, and if there are any minor errors, they are unintentional.
I was involved in a social therapy center from the early summer of 2000 till the winter of 2002 as a "therapist intern."  Thus, my interest and involvement with this approach was never overtly political, but rather clinical and professional. I became aware of social therapy through a flyer I picked up in a mental health agency, and was quickly taken by the  descriptions of "cutting edge psychology" and "post-modern, non-diagnostic" methodology.  At the time I saw the ad, I was in need of an internship site, and was feeling bored by traditional approaches to mental health.  After attending a social therapy workshop and having extensive conversations with the social therapy center in my city, I decided to complete my training in their site, under the direction of the local director-- a licensed clinical social worker, and, one of the founders of the East Side Institute in NY.
My initial experiences with the group were extremely positive. I felt welcome, understood, and extremely supported.  My supervisor seemed to take special interest in me and was generous with his time and enthusiasm.  Although I had never heard of the founder, Fred Newman, the office was filled with his books, and pictures of Newman, a woman named Lenora Fulani, and other staff in NY adorned its shelves; for someone so important, I wondered where I had been the past few years and why I hadn't heard of him? I was told about various projects Newman had initiated, besides the therapy centers: an "Independent" Theatre, the "All Stars"--a program for inner city youth--and a consulting firm called "Performance of a Life Time."   It was emphasized that these groups were able to thrive without government funding due to their grass roots and innovative, people-to-people approach to fundraising.  I had a background in dramatic arts, as well as an interest in "post-modern" therapy approaches, so I was convinced from the get go that I had found the ideal center in which to train.
A couple months into my training, my supervisor began to talk to me about the role of politics in therapy, saying "all therapy is political." In retrospect, I wish I had fully understood what he meant by that. I had also started to read more about the organization behind social therapy and learned that it was once called "the New Alliance Party" (as well as many other names).  I had never heard of Lenora Fulani, but my supervisor began to describe another project, a political party (then the reform party, or at least one branch of it), that was based on the idea that "the difference between the right and the left had diminished," and a new, "independent party" was needed that rejected any particular ideology.  I was told it didn't matter what you believed, what one espoused, but rather how you worked together.  Thus, even though they considered themselves Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries,their alliance with Pat Buchanon--which was in the making--was not contradictory, in their opinion.  Working with others of various ideologies, I was told, would afford them a greater chance to make reforms.
While I found the political ideas challenging and intriguing, I was not comfortable talking about politics with my supervisor and questioned what they had to do with our clinical work.  My supervisor emphasized that I, and his many patients, were all "choice makers" and that my presumption that there could be anything exploitive about a therapy practice being involved in a political movement was patronizing and victimizing of the clients.  Because of the close relationship I had developed with him in our supervision--his calm, sincere manner, and obvious intelligence--I immediately wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. If my worse fears were true--that they were in fact using their therapy practice as a front to recruit vulnerable patients--then this person whom I trusted, and who  had become like a mentor to me, was not who I thought.  Even so, my occasional lack of trust in the social therapy premises were at times taken personally by him and he once said that my questions made him "feel dirty...like taking a shower."  This created guilt on my part and caused me to be more critical of outsiders' opinions of the group and far more open to his.
As the months went by, I continued to get more involved in the center activities.  My supervisor began to play an enormous role in my work at the center and in my life in general.  Claiming that dual relationships were "growthful" to patients and trainees, I was invited to participate in myriad other activities at the center, including social.  In addition, the supervision sessions became more intense and personal, sometimes feeling a lot more like therapy sessions than clinical supervision. When I raised questions about the blurring boundaries, I was told that the traditional assumptions about their needing to be some distance in therapy and supervision were "limiting," and that what we were doing was "developmental," that we would "build with it."  I was at an extremely vulnerable time in my career, needing to get licensed (something which had already been postponed due to raising young kids), and my supervisor's relationship and opinion of me felt pivotal to my career development. I trusted his intentions fully, and felt that the other political activities I had heard about had nothing to do with our work. I was told that the various projects (political, cultural, clinical) were all "separate" and that I didn't have to be involved in the political party if I did not want to (though I continued to receive literature about Fulani and our conversations frequently reverted to politics, namely mine and how they were like and not like theirs.) In time, I even began to think of my supervisor as one of my closest friends.  Even our families mingled, and I frequently offered to watch his child when they were having events at the center.
About seven months in, my involvement intensified substantially.  Despite early misgivings about going to NY to do the social therapy "training program" I agreed to do a year-long program.  This was a big stretch for me, financially and time-wise, as I was not making much working at the center, and had a family I didn't want to spend time away from. One of the social therapists said to me that I "shouldn't feel guilty about asking my spouse for the support financially...that if I didn't ask I was denying him the chance to fully give."  She said that by asking her own parents for the thousands of dollars for her training (I believe she was talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 10, 000 dollars total, if I am not mistaken) it "brought them closer together."  When I look back on all this, it is so easy to see that I was being manipulated; hadn't I told my supervisor from early on that my intention was to build my private practice, not go learn a whole new methodology and attend Fred's expensive functions in NY?  Everything was so subtle though; by the time I agreed to do something, after so much hype and suggestion, I was led to believe that it was my choice, that they had nothing to do with it!  The fact that my supervisor had a very powerful role in my life cannot be overestimated.
In addition to agreeing to go to NY for a few different trips (each costing a great deal of money for training and last-minute "fund-raising extravaganza's" of Newman's that trainees were expected to come to--in addition to airfare and expenses), I began to "volunteer" for the so-called Independent Theatre in my city.  As part of that, I hit the streets with other so-called "volunteers" (other patients of the social therapists, mainly) and asked people for money, or if they wanted to get involved. At the time I did that, I sincerely believed that we were working together to build a grass roots, multi-cultural, theatre that would involve people in many levels.  What I found out, however, is that the theatre was anything but "grass-roots;" that decisions were made from NY about what we would do, and that, I suspected, some of the money was being used to support the ESI, and possibly other projects, back in NY (we did not have a large team so we were not dealing with huge sums of money, as in NY).  For example, we were asked to pay to have the "dramaturg" from NY come out and help us with our "street performance."  In essence, it seems to me that we were paying them to work for them!  Around the same time, we were all asked to make monthly contributions to the theatre, and many patients were told that street performance was "mandatory" if they wanted to be involved.
Another time, at a meeting, it was suggested that we take some of the money we had raised to finance the trips of two people to go to NY and train with Fred on theatre building. One of the persons was my supervisor who had to go to NY regularly, and was a 25-30 year veteran of this approach. Why would he need "training" when he was one of the founders?  Was this a way to justify spending that money on other causes?
I now have access to flyers and letters going back years saying what they were telling us, "that they are building a theatre here."  There is no "theatre" folks--at least not what most people think of as a theatre! The "play readings" we did seemed like just another way to raise money, and the plays often contained strong messages about their political movement, as well as promotions of Fred Newman.  In the play I participated in, we didn't have many props or even take the time to memorize the lines.  People paid to come and then money was collected for financial support. Sometimes readings were conducted in patients' or new recruits' homes. For vulnerable people without a lot of support, getting involved with the theatre afforded them contact with others, time with their therapist, and other benefits of community which many of us can relate to. The leaders were charismatic and extremely enthusiastic so doubts were easily suppressed. Nonetheless, patients would frequently say stuff away from their therapists like, "I don't know why the plays don't make sense to me...I feel stupid; I don't get them."  Often such questions or frustrations could be taken up in another activity...or even generate therapy sessions.  Those who didn't "get it" had, of course, to have something wrong with them.  To make matters more confusing, some leaders would employ their post modern gibberish and say, "you don't get it because there is nothing to get. Your "knowing" paradigm will keep you confused."  Oh Fred and my former supervisor, if we all only knew just how right you all were!
I was also permitted to be a "co-therapist" in an actual social therapy group. When I asked for a small salary for that I was told that "all the fees for the groups went to NY" and that social therapists "volunteered" for that...that that was just the way it was done."  Although I did get them to compensate me for the fees of my baby sitter, I am sure it was only because they wanted me to continue to train with them. I dropped out of this activity after a couple of months, however, due to what I discovered and believed to be an authoritarian and extremely unethical practice People who were coming for help with diverse, individual struggles were not getting help, but rather being taught, IMO, to suppress their egos and "build the group."  I am all for building groups and getting diverse people to dialogue, and frequently work with groups in my practice; this kind of group therapy seemed to be eroding people's ability to think critically, however, and my role as "co-therapist" was merely "to back up the main therapist."  I was eventually told to remain silent and "watch" if I wanted to learn the approach (I was told Fulani gave gave some instructions to the lead therapist before our last session).  At that point, I dropped out, causing a great deal of uproar in the process by vocalizing my concerns in front of some new recruits (who had no idea who Newman was nor what they were involving themselves with).
Prior to the group experience, my questions, though dreaded, did not interfere with my relationships to people in the center; once I got invited into a social therapy "study group" that began to change.  In one such group, I was harshly reprimanded and humiliated in front of the group for my questions of Fred Newman and concerns about the independent theatre only showing Fred's plays (which I found offensive, anti-semitic, and deliberately confusing). Patients who were volunteers described similar scenarios to me).  I would have dropped out of the entire community at that point, and my supervisor knew that, so instead of backing up the therapist who humiliated me, he and several others contacted me to tell me "that what transpired was NOT social therapy" and that the particular therapist was merely "one of the more zealous members."  Instead of dropping out, I rearranged my activities and focused exclusively on doing what my supervisor suggested.  This included helping to build the practice at the center, theatre work, social therapy training, and our sessions, which had continued to be very personal--at times outright confessionary, and reminding me very much of Robert Lifton's powerful work on totalitarian environments (where people confess their doubts and misgivings only to have them held against them later on). Indeed, what I thought was a private, confidential relationship, seems to have become a tool to manipulate me.  Much of what I said and struggled with, personally and professionally, was discussed by my supervisor and other members of the community, yes,...including Fred!  When some of it got back to me, and I confronted my supervisor, he typically denied it or made me feel bad for not trusting his intentions.  I was even given a social therapist--an unlicensed, long time supporter of Newman--to discuss my "issues" with.  I paid her for this "over the phone" service, but found it extremely uncomfortable.  Her entire approach was not about me and what I needed but about how to get me to work better "as a political woman" in the community.  My own issues and troubles which this environment engendered were rapidly worsening and the direction was becoming more authoritarian.
My experience from then on was extremely difficult and confusing and it's impossible to go into all the details here.  Suffice it to say, that the blurred boundaries were extremely troubling for me, so much so, that one year into my training, not only did I lose weight and have trouble sleeping, I was literally losing my hair.  I had begun to notice more and more discrepancies in what I was being told about social therapy and what I was actually experiencing.  The heat was turned up and my supervisor and the other staff were no longer open or patient with my questions. On the contrary, my questioning and pointing out dynamics in the practice which could be harmful, caused some terrible fights where my supervisor lost control of himself and became extremely angry and harsh. Later, a much more subtle kind of punishment ensued, which involved shunning, and secretive meetings to which I was not invited.  It was all extremely hurtful and hierarchical.  When they made a decision about something there was nothing you could do or say to change it. Having invested a lot in the center and my relationship with my supervisor, it was very difficult to let it all go.  In so many ways, it was like an abusive relationship where you stay in something harmful, thinking somehow that there really is something good, or perhaps that you deserved the treatment, or asked for it.
Clinically, the moment I realized just how destructive the group was, occurred in NY at the annual summer institute.  A patient from our group was "invited" to come without my knowledge or consent.  I felt that this was extremely dangerous to do, not to mention exploitive. The person had mentioned financial troubles and this trip was very costly for all.  At the institute, Fred sat up on the stage inviting long time followers to come up and  say whatever they would like to say if they were at an APA (American Psychological Association) conference. One by one, members went up with emotional testimonies about how Fred "saved their lives."  One person, a professor who was very involved, shouted emotionally, "I want in, I have been on the fringe for too long, I want in!!" Others used vulgar language to tell off all the psychologists out there who "fucked up" their lives.  It was extremely disturbing, and at one point the client asked me if "this was a cult."  I was torn by my common sense, knowing this was not in their best interest to be there, and my hope that what I suspected just wasn't the case. To invest a lot of time and energy into a group like that, to make friends and relationships, and then realize you were conned is not an easy admission!  How could these people who knew me and cared about me bring me into something so deceptive and harmful?  How could I be so naive?
Many things happened to speed up my exit, but when I finally got out, a year and a half later, it felt as if I had been there for ten years.  The only thing I can think to compare it with is going to live in a very remote, foreign country, with a totally different culture, and being immersed into it, and then, without notice, getting plopped back into your old life with all ties cut forever more with the other place.  Getting out was like experiencing culture shock, not just in the mental health field, but in my life!  I realized that, little by little, in those months I had been subjected to a highly sophisticated program of thought reform, where everything I believed was turned upside down (deconstructed as they say in post modern therapy).  The problem was that once taken apart, I was not left to reconstruct my beliefs and ideas as I preferred, but rather in a way that suited them. My training was never about helping me in my personal practice as a therapist; it was about how best they could use me to build their practice.
I left the center completely traumatized. I had been told by a member that a decision had been made "from above" to shut me out due to my questioning of the practices.  Even so, I had also had enough. Without getting into too much of the details, it was only after meeting people who had worked with cult survivors and talking to other former members of this group, and others like it, that I was able to fully understand what happened to me.  I went for therapy training and ended up almost recruited into what I believe is nothing other than a political cult. What should I or the many, many patients who go for therapy in my city have to do with the "political" meanderings of a guy named Fred Newman?  I think to most mental health professionals, the answer is pretty obvious, but I wonder what people who support them politically would say? I never knew or cared about NY politics particularly; why would I?  Well now I and people from around the country do; we are looking and wondering why on earth people in political offices there would support this group?   Their controversial past and ties with people like Lyndon La Rouche are well-documented (see Dennis King's work, especially).  How many people have to have their lives destroyed before people catch on?  Marina Ortiz has been speaking out on these issues for ten years, or so.  I am so sorry I waited till the end to take those concerns seriously.  Your words have not been spoken in vain, Ms. Ortiz.
According to the group, I left because of a personal thing with my supervisor..."with a chip on my shoulder" or something like that. The insiders probably call me things like "traitor," "leftist," or even "dead." They even tried (unsuccessfully) to discredit me at an academic conference where I and another ex-social therapy person gave a general talk on cultic and abusive groups and treatment issues for former members (a talk we got extremely favorable reactions to). This was very interesting considering that just a month or so before I left, my supervisor wrote a letter for me stating his "unequivocal support" and that I was, "very intelligent, thoughtful and personable...as well as an asset to any organization."
Because of the personal therapy and supervision I was involved in, however, it feels like a kind of emotional black mail to get me to keep my mouth shut.  I don't plan to keep my mouth shut, however, Mr. Newman and crew! I do not think it is me who should be ashamed. I am terribly sorry I got involved in this group; I am sorry for my family and for everyone I contacted in a professional capacity while involved with them, but I am not going to be scared into silence like other defectors.  What is going on is extremely shocking and unethical, in my opinion.  I haven't even scratched the surface.  I don't think everyone who gets involved will get recruited, though, and not everyone who gets recruited, is invited into the inner party (the IWP or inner core); today, it seems to me, they take what they can get. If they have a patient willing to shuffle files, or clean their office, why not? After all, as they say, people don't need to be alone, and "experiencing different roles with your therapist is healing and developmental."
What is so troubling today,is that--it appears to me--they are rapidly trying to infiltrate legitimate mental health institutions and associations.  With their current banner of "post modernism," I think they are able to get people to withhold their judgement and common sense about right and wrong, ethical or unethical. Questioning the status quo, questioning labels and psycopathology, is something I'm in favor of. Our notions of mental health conditions and treatment are informed by the social, cultural and political contexts we live in. What is outright immoral, though, in my opinion, is to abuse post modern concepts as a way to get people to stop thinking and then basically strip their egos so they can work for the group.  They constantly call into question the idea that there is such a thing as an individual, for example.  This battle on one's autonomy, over time, can render people totally powerless and dependent. Gradually, in time, the social therapist gets more and more say-so in how people live their lives.  I found many of the long time patients to behave like children around their therapists, looking for approval and not wanting to do or say the wrong thing. Therapy should be empowering and inclusive; it should help people build the lives they want to build, not be used to steer them and hitch them to a particular movement.
Anyone who is seriously working with these people or doing therapy with them should read the materials available on the web, read about other similar groups on various cult web sites, and get a second opinion.  If something happening with your therapist doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't.  What I learned from this, as a smart, critical adult woman, however, is that anyone can be duped.  If you find an instant community, with wonderful new friends who care about you, and "speak the same language," take a second look at who you are dealing with.  Friends and community take time to build, and anyone who thinks they have the "right way" may not be quite so pleasing once they have your heart and soul.
I hope the mental health field and the political players in NY who help them will start to seriously consider what and who they are supporting.  My story, though hard, was nothing compared to those of others I met who got out of this group (not to mention the families who lost loved ones to Fred's inner core). There is obviously much more to this story, but I hope this will demonstrate that, contrary to what Fred says about cult allegations just being "political accusations..mostly of leftists" there are many people separated in time and space affected by this group who are all describing the same kinds of exploitation!!  I am not coming from a place of leftist or rightist; rather from a formerly, politically clueless therapist whose interest is in helping people with their problems without imposing my own agendas.  Towards the end of my time when I struggled to take something good from it all (and there were and are many good ideas), and asked if I could do social therapy "without being part of the whole deal," I was told, "no...that wouldn't really be social therapy."  I was also told that we might switch from doing Independent Theatre fund-raising to All Stars fund-raising, in my city, because, "people preferred and had easier times giving money to youth than to building a theatre." According to one recent NY Post article, the attorney general Spitzer of NY is looking into allegations that the All Stars is using its money to fund the political party-activities, something many people claim. But hey, wait a minute guys...I
thought these programs were all "separate?!"
Jane Doe (pseudonym),
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and, thanks to social therapy,
Educator on harmful and cultic groups,
Atlanta, GA.

version 1.2
last edited 1/11/03


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