When therapists become gurus and cult leaders

Earlier this week I posed the question of why such a high proportion of psychotherapists either sanctioned for misconduct or awaiting fitness-to-practice hearings seem to be from the Jungian tradition. I’ve had a couple of interesting responses.

One person pointed out that when I ran through the list of cases I’d actually missed one out. Another Jungian, Stuart Macfarlane, was suspended for two years by the Guild of Analytical Psychologists. The GAP is a member organisation of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, but for some reason the complaint hearing isn’t listed in the UKCP complaints archive. The GAP’s page doesn’t state specifically what he did, but it seems to involve some sort of breach of boundaries. Also, surprisingly, the decision page is undated, though the document properties say the page was created in October 2012.

So, why Jungians? I had the following suggestion by e-mail.

Note that the bad boys are all men (and probably all of a certain age – nearing old age and children of the 60’s).

I think the “mystical and mysterious” Jungian approach appeals to the ego of a certain kind of man who wouldn’t otherwise have ever found himself working as a psychotherapist – having to listen to others talk about many and varied problems when all he wants is a stage for his ‘revere me because I’m a wise man’ act.

Children of the 1960s? That certainly would apply to the age ranges of John Smalley and Geoffrey Pick, two of the more high-profile misconduct cases of the last couple of years. Interestingly Stuart Macfarlane is married to Penelope Tree, a former fashion model who was a high-profile figure in the Swinging Sixties until her modelling career was cut short by acne.

I wonder if we’re seeing something of a hangover from the 60s era of gurus offering enlightenment, in a time when there was a seeker born every minute. This reminds me of the debates around 2009-10, when (now-shelved) plans for psychotherapy to become state-regulated were being virulently opposed by a small but noisy campaign. Many of those leading the opposition struck me as being the worst bunch of malevolent hippies since the Dharma Initiative in Lost.

The same names seem to crop up again and again. When I posed my question about Jungians, I received this feedback from Amanda Williamson, a counsellor based in Exeter.

It may interest you to know that a therapist with whom I suffered an unethical experience involving pressure to be naked (a theme common amongst many of the other complainants in this particular case) hero worships Brian Thorne, in particular for his infamous sessions with Sally, where, lo and behold, he and Sally got naked.

Ah yes, Brian Thorne, Emeritus Professor of Counselling at the University of East Anglia. He was one of those predicting that the sky would fall in if psychotherapy were to be regulated. He’d also published a book chapter  describing how he and a patient called Sally got naked together. Given how dodgy that sounds, did he obtain informed consent from Sally?

Before deciding to take off his own clothes, the professor says “there was no question of checking with Sally for it was only I who could give permission to myself”.

The professor experienced “intuitive promptings” which, he says, “enabled me to encourage Sally to undress, or on occasions to initiate a particular form of physical contact, whether it was simply holding hands or, as in the final stage, joining in a naked embrace”.

That would be a no, then.

Thorne insists that this was a unique situation and not necessarily a model for how other therapists should act. Though from these comments it sounds as though there may be at least one dodgy therapist who views it as a model.

Somebody else was also impressed by Thorne’s naked sessions: Derek Gale, struck off by the Health Professions Council as an arts therapist and by the UKCP as a psychotherapist in 2009. He has the dubious distinction of being the only psychotherapist in recent years that the UKCP has actually struck off.

Gale wasn’t a Jungian, but he fits neatly with the suggestion of throwbacks from the 1960s who view themselves as some of guru. He was also a deeply abusive individual, and the findings against him at the HPC were spectacularly damning. He was found to have called one client a “stupid cunt” and humiliated another in front of a therapy group for having self-harmed. He discussed his sexual fantasies with clients, took clients on holiday with him and got them to do unpaid work for him. At the end of the hearings, this was the impression the HPC formed of him.

Having had an opportunity to observe Mr Gale over a long period of time both as a witness and as a person conducting his case in this hearing, the Panel has come to the firm view that he has a cavalier attitude towards the needs of clients and the requirement to follow clear guidelines.  This is demonstrated by numerous instances, including his evidence in cross-examination that he had never read the HPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, the fact that he failed to heed the warning and advice given to him to exercise caution over socialising with clients, and the fact that in stating that he had now modified his practice to accord with prescriptive rules he was doing so only because of the rule and without embracing the rationale for the rule.

Brian Thorne appears to have formed a different view of Gale. He appeared at the HPC hearing to sing his praises. I have a copy of the transcript (in which for some reason Thorne is referred to as “Professor Robert Thorne”) . He tells Gale,

I have come to respect your honesty and integrity as a person and as a professional, and that for me has considerable meaning; secondly, I’ve come to appreciate you as somebody who is deeply reflective about the work that he does; that he is prepared, as it were, to look at his work with new eyes, fresh perspectives and so on, if that is what is actually clearly being called for.  But to respond quite directly to your last question, I sometimes feel that it may be that it is the very fact that, for goodness knows how many years ago, I think it’s about 30 years, you have been involved in therapeutic work, which is actually rare, which is I think also extremely demanding, but also has within it quite a number of important issues I think which mainstream therapeutic approaches can probably learn from and benefit from. [page 38]

Within the transcript there’s some interesting snippets about Gale’s therapy groups. Skim to pages 56-57 and we learn that one client was allowed to cut Gale’s hair in order to give her extra status in the group from having the privilege to cut the leader’s hair. We also find out that t-shirts were printed with a blown-up picture of Gale and the words “I’m his favourite.” There’s mention in the HPC decision of Gale asking clients to call him “Daddy”.

This isn’t a therapy group. It’s a cult.

Thorne wasn’t the only eminent professor to become involved in the Gale hearings. Gale applied to have his interim suspension lifted, in exchange for having weekly supervision sessions of his practice. But who would act as supervisor?

Andrew Samuels, Professor of Analytical Psychology at the University of Essex – another Jungian, another figure formed in the 1960s, and subsequently to become chair of the UKCP – made an offer to provide supervision. The offer was promptly rejected by the HPC. The allegations against Gale were so serious that simply toddling along once a week for supervision was just not enough to protect the public.

Professor Samuels has strongly denied offering to be Gale’s supervisor, but as it happens one of the complainants obtained his letter to the HPC. Here it is. It’s pretty unambiguous.

Two eminent professors, one of them later going on to become UKCP chair, dancing to the beck and call of a cult leader.

So, what have we learned here? Quite possible the mysticism and idealism of the Flower Power generation may have given impetus to various individuals who liked to inflate their egos by playing the wise man or guru. In some instances such as Gale, the guru became the head of a therapy cult.

Needless to say, such individuals are not suited to the role of therapist.

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The Socialist Workers Party: Sex, Power and the Abuse of Trust

[Trigger warnings for rape and sexual exploitation]

I’ve blogged a couple of times about the scandal engulfing the Socialist Workers Party, an organisation I regard as closer to a cult than a political party. Just to recap, a senior figure in the SWP was accused of rape by a female party member. Rather than call the police, the SWP held an internal inquiry by a “Disputes Committee” made up of the accused’s friends, who completely exonerated him. Details have been published on the internet, prompting an internal revolt.

There’s been intense discussion of this on various left-wing blogs. This has resulted in details emerging that paint the whole affair in an even more disturbing light, bringing to bear issues over possible abuse of power dynamics.

To summarise these details, here’s a post by former SWP member Anna Chen. She replied to an exhortation by one of the SWP leadership not to listen to “filth” on the internet.

WHAT IS FILTH?

“Filth” is an alleged rape taking place when a woman is nineteen, 2 years after she and her party leader meet, at which time he is forty-six and she seventeen.

“Filth” is an appeal to the party’s internal disciplinary body being met with a kangaroo court run by several of the party leader’s friends, who then exonerate him.

“Filth” is the woman denied access to his evidence while he sees hers: the game is surely “I’ll show you mine IF you show me yours.”

“Filth” is a woman ostracised, cast out as unclean with a scarlet letter “A” carved into her forehead.

“Filth” is her friends put under heavy manners by the party’s attack dogs, fresh from their two-minute hate.

What particularly concerns me here – quite aside from what sounds like allegations of disgraceful treatment of the woman by her party – is the age difference between the two people involved. When they met he was 46, and a party leader, and she was only 17?

Given the widespread discussion of the case on various blogs, I don’t think it’s breaching any secrets to say that the accused is Martin Smith, former SWP secretary, and currently the national organiser of Unite Against Fascism. My understanding is that he denies rape – not that the truth can now be established either way. The SWP’s kangaroo court will have massively prejudiced any attempt at a criminal prosecution. However, he admits to having had a consensual sexual relationship with the girl in question.

There’s references to this in the transcript of the Disputes Committee report, which was leaked onto the Internet.

We also however thought it was important to be clear that the disputes committee doesn’t exist to police moral, er, bourgeois morality, so we agreed that issues that weren’t relevant to us were whether the comrade was monogamous, whether they were having an affair, whether the age differences in their relationahip, because as revolutionaries we didn’t consider that should be our remit to consider issues such as those.

Trouble is, this isn’t just about “bourgeois morality” but power relations. Let me draw an analogy. Normally, the age of consent for sex is 16. However, if the older person is classed as being in a “position of trust” over a younger person, then the age of consent runs up to the 18th birthday, for the simple reason that trust can be abused. Teachers are an example of this, and I previously made this point while discussing the Jeremy Forrest Case. As a nurse in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, I too would be classed as being in a position of trust. Hence if I slept with a 17 year old patient I wouldn’t only be committing gross professional misconduct. I’d also be committing a crime under the Sexual Offences Act.

Obviously, leaders of Trotskyist sects are not subject to the same legal obligations as teachers and nurses. Even so, the power relation still exists. When considering the power relation, remember that the SWP is absolutely notorious for authoritarianism, control-freakery and groupthink.

At its most extreme, the sycophancy appears cult-like.  A number of [Central Committee] members are big fans of jazz music. Under their leadership over the past few years, the party has organised a number of (mostly loss-making) jazz gigs as fundraising events.  Regardless of their own musical tastes, comrades were told they were disloyal if they didn’t purchase tickets.  This elevates the cultural tastes of the official leadership to a point of political principle; and clearly is not in any way a healthy state of affairs.

This is an organisation that claims to speak truth to power. Yet they seem incapable of understanding the potential for abuse of power when a middle-aged party leader is having sex with a teenage volunteer barely old enough to be out of school.

Then again, maybe their relationship had nothing to do with power relations, and Mr Smith cuts a dashing Robert Redford-style figure?

 

The Socialist Workers Party and the Rape Committee: When organisations become cults

[As the title suggests, this post contains possible triggers for rape]

Part of my interest in the (lack of) regulation of psychotherapy is to do with what happens when organisations and ideologies can accountable only to themselves. When the only idea of “correct” and “proper” conduct is that which a closed organisation says it is, then that organisation becomes, for want of a better word, a cult.

A pretty shocking example of an organisation behaving as a cult emerged on the blogosphere in the past couple of days. The Socialist Workers Party has always been a rather strange little organisation, albeit one that has at times punched above its weight politically. If you’ve ever been involved in any kind of protest march or rally, chances are you’ll have spotted them turning up, handing out placards, trying to sell copies of their magazine, the indescribably-boring Socialist Worker, and generally trying to convert the whole shebang into their event. If you were unlucky to have a conversation with any of them, you’d have no doubt been regaled with a Citizen Smith view of the world followed by a look of, “This is what you think, don’t you?”

Yesterday a transcript of an SWP conference was leaked onto the internet. A senior member of their party (referred to only as “Comrade Delta”) had been accused of rape by a female member. Unbelievably, the party’s Central Committee didn’t call the police, but referred it to their “disputes committee”. As the transcript freely admits, several members of this committee were friends of Comrade Delta.

The committee found Comrade Delta not guilty of rape. Admittedly rape is a notoriously difficult crime to prove, often coming down to one person’s word against another, it’s incredible that they set up some kind of kangaroo court to attempt to deal with what is, after all, a very serious crime. One conference attendee even stated, “Comrades, we have to welcome the fact that we have a disputes committee. We have no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice.” And an ad hoc tribunal of his mates could deliver justice? And what exactly did they plan to do if the allegation had been found proven? Build a proletarian prison?

There’s all kinds of allegations in the transcript about the way the complainant (as well as a second woman who made further allegations) were treated by the committee. I don’t feel qualified to comment on the truth or otherwise of these allegations, but their nature is deeply concerning.

While the left has usually allied itself with feminism, this isn’t the first time a far-left group has been the subject of claims of sexual abuse. The Workers Revolutionary Party in the 1980s is a notorious example. It attracted celebrities such as Vanessa Redgrave until their leader Gerry Healey was accused of sexually assaulting up to 26 female members. The allegations blew the party apart.

This contemporary version of that infamous case is currently being hotly debated among the various Trotskyist groupuscules. I notice people are already making statements such as, “As you’re well aware, there’s a serious possibility that such a case could be used by the state to damage the whole organisation.” I suspect that in practice “the state” won’t have to do a thing. They’re already doing a more effective job of destroying themselves than MI5 ever could.

Arguably this case isn’t so much about the far-left as about what happens when a group thinks it is definable by and accountable to only itself. It paves the way for the abuse of power – which ironically is what cults like the SWP claim to be against.