Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thoughts, Stories, Critiques


This site continues to be read and periodically commented upon. I offer this post as a place wherein people who were a part of the Therafields experience or who are just interested because of some reason of their own, to write about their experiences, thoughts, questions, or critiques of the things that I have, to date, written. Others can then respond to this input, as will I. If you wish to remain anonymous, please give yourself some moniker other than simply anon, so that any responses to your comments can be clearly directed to you. I am happy to hear all and any comment on my writings, even, perhaps especially ones that challenge or contradict my ideas. Just press the comment prompt at the end of this post. Cheers one and all. Brenda.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

About CTP

Periodically I get an email from someone who in their search for a training program in psychotherapy has googled the CTP -- the Centre for Training in Psychotherapy. Along with links to that program they see my blog on Therafields. Reading some of it, they wonder and then write to me asking about the quality and nature of CTP's program. I have no hesitation in responding with my belief that the CTP program is one of the truly good things to have come out of Therafields. It integrates academic, practical, and emotional preparation for therapeutic practice. The teachers are themselves seasoned workers, people who have given considerable portions of their adult lives to understanding and working in the area of psychotherapy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Ending

Though I ended my last post with a promise to write more about work therapy and the ways that many did in fact benefit from the time and labour that they contributed to the development of Therafields properties, I find myself unable to do so. I have approached writing about Therafields three times over the past 14 years, each time putting much thought and focus into it. After a number of months, however, I have found that my concentration on the material begins to wane. The subject is so vast if taken in all of its many components one could continue almost indefinitely a consideration of events, motivations both conscious and unconscious, and, of course, results. This time around I have had the blog format allowing me to not just think and write, but also to publish some of my thoughts and those of the people whom I interviewed.

I appreciate the emails and comments received from the readers of my posts. I know that the publication of Grant’s book and of my posts has stirred memories for many and controversy for some. I have decided to cease my writing on this topic for the time being. I don’t know when or what might galvanize me to begin again. In the meantime I encourage others to write their own thoughts and feelings about this seminal period in the lives of all of us who were a part of Therafields.

June 3, 2012. Looking at this post more than a year after it was written, it is clear to me that I did not continue with my writing at that time because of a sense of having upset and angered some people by my views and statements. True, I had received a fair amount of positive commentary, but there was also another, more negative feeling coming my way that I found difficult to deal with. It's a hard thing to write about an area in which one is as intimately involved as I have been without upsetting people, sometimes people whom one cares for and respects. This has been the biggest barrier to my continuing though it is clear to me that much more could be said about the various aspects of Therafields and of Lea and her family. Our experience is not entirely unique. Rather, parallels can be found in other intentional communities of that and other eras. At this time I am not sure whether or not I will go back once again to reflections on this material.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Work Therapy: Part 1

In my post of January 19, 2011, I wrote about some similarities in the experiences of the Therafields community with those of the Zen Centre of San Francisco during the 1970s and early 1980s. In both cases the thrust for developing the built environment came from the top, and though the motivations and forms differed, the over-all results led to a significant shift and diminution of the original praxis of both organizations. Richard Baker, the abbot of Zen Centre at the time, was not just a charismatic teacher and leader; he was as well an adept businessman with an innate ability to promote and showcase his products in ways that drew not only more adherents but as well, wealthy and influential patrons. Even before the death of his teacher, Suzuki-Roshi, he had worked tirelessly to develop businesses that could keep the nascent Zen community self-sustaining. When he assumed the position of abbot this entrepreneurial and expansive propensity became more pronounced. In time the Centre was running a bakery, a large, sea-side high-end restaurant, a store selling vegetables and other produce from the Centre’s own farm, the farm itself, buildings to house the various individual adherents and often, their families, and, a monastery/retreat house that catered to lay-people.

Needless to say, all of these enterprises required an enormous amount of care. The day-to-day work was carried out by the “students,” those who had entered the community to practice zazan – that is to learn about themselves in relation to the cosmos through meditation and living in the present moment. As the businesses grew and were successful, more and more labour was required to maintain them. In time many of the students were spending most of their time running, for example, the restaurant or the bakery. Working a twelve hour day leaves little time for meditation or instructions from their teachers. The work itself became the practice.

Until the purchase of the farm in 1967 there was no “Therafields.” There was only Lea’s practice. Work was needed to transform the farm into a center for marathon retreats. The core of her practice, those of us living in house groups and/or attending her standard groups, threw itself into this process of transformation. By Christmas the farm was essentially ready. But the work didn’t stop there. The farm house had to be fixed up for those beginning to form a staff group. In the summer of 1968 a garden was planted, a vestibule was added to the barn, and, Lea and Harry purchased their farm down the road called The Willow. The Willow underwent a succession of improvements, culminating in 1971-72 with its massive extension and renovation. At the farm various improvements were on-going: up-grading the washrooms and the kitchen, creating a large barbeque pit and a pond, developing what became known as “the cooks’ loft,” a building for the “Striders” group of construction and fine-finish workers, a root cellar and a greenhouse, new bedroom/group rooms upstairs in the barn, and, the renovation of the huge loft in the barn for larger meetings or parties. Other work in the rural setting included the renovation of the schoolhouse across from the Willow and the up-grading of other properties purchased in the vicinity of the farm. In Toronto 310, later, 316 and 318-20 Dupont St were purchased and substantially renovated to create offices, group rooms, bio-energetic rooms, and later, a restaurant.

Like at the Zen Centre, all of this activity required a massive involvement of volunteer labour. The early work on the farm was entered into enthusiastically by Lea’s clients, keen to establish a place of our own. As the needs of the construction/renovation machine grew apace, enthusiasm gradually began to lag. A system of moral press-ganging was begun which started right at the top. Lea used every opportunity to speak in groups or in “emergency” meetings called in the city about the importance of work as a central element of our community. Members were encouraged to speak about their desire to work or to confess their failings to adequately contribute. Each of her learning groups was exhorted to take up the challenge of tackling projects that were unfinished. Their clients were to be brought up to the farm or to the Centre to help out. They were to be taught that they had entered into a working community and that a certain amount of participation would be required as partial payment for their therapy.

Lea would appeal to the men to be manly, to muscle up to the work, in a sense to prove their love for her, their faith in her, by being helpful in whatever desperate need was then being trumpeted. Didn’t they know that Visvaldis’ attraction to the community had been because it was a working group? This assertion inverted the actual progression of events as Visvaldis and Lea met and were drawn to one another before the purchase of the original work project: the farm itself. Moreover, though many of the improvements enhanced living and working conditions in the environment, much of Lea’s urge for driving the literally incessant construction and renovation rolled out from 1967 to the mid-1970s was to give Visvaldis a focus and a sense of purpose within the community. Ultimately the demands of the work projects drained the community not only financially but also morally and spiritually. The central vision of the early movement: to receive, learn about, and utilize psychotherapy in one’s own life and, for some people, in helping others, became mired in the constantly renewed demand for and conversation about physical work, by then an important end in itself.

An example of the kind of focus brought to bear about the constant need for volunteer work can be seen in a meeting held in the large group room of the Centre on Dupont St. in December, 1973. All working therapists were asked to show up that evening for a talk with Lea and Visvaldis about the current state of the various work sites. Lea began by saying that the working side of the Therafields enterprise was in a sorry state. She went on to say,
“All of us have the same feelings about the importance of physical work but we’re not getting across to our dramists (then the word for clients) the importance of this aspect. When we got the farm, we at that moment committed ourselves to becoming a working group. There’s no question about that, but when ten people show up to work instead of a hundred, it’s ridiculous.”

Rob spoke up to say that there were always lots of reasons why people slacked off work but that periodically we just need to have our butts kicked. He was clearly including himself in needing that treatment. Visvaldis then spoke about his view that,
“It seems that the pioneering spirit has gone after building the Willow….There seems to be no urge now for building offices for our therapists and the greenhouse up north is dragging. Lea’s office is slow. The spirit that was with us when the Willow was built is not just around. Not in too many. We should ask ourselves why this is so because it was really a dramatic experience there.”

A few people spoke enthusiastically about the work projects and about getting their clients more involved but as usual with these meetings no real answer was given to Visvaldis’ question: why has the spirit gone out of the work? Most present generally kept a low profile. No one came right out and said – “because we are tired of always having to work. We have other things in our lives that are important to us. We are constantly under pressure to perform and moreover, to pressure our clients into performing. We’ve had enough. Give it a break. Stop pushing more and more projects”. To utter such truths would run counter to the myths that Lea and Visvaldis wanted to perpetuate. Lea’s initial statement underlined her determination and delusion, if in fact she really believed it, that “all of us,” i.e., all there present had the same feelings about the primacy of on-going physical work within our community. This particular meeting ended with Lea joking a bit and then saying, “I having a feeling that people are raring to go. Is this right or not?” From a few: “Oh, yes.” Lea: “Would anyone here really interested in tackling this, utter some sound?” Great deal of sound then and laughter. Fade to black. Little accomplished.

One of the group therapists reflected later that “The notion of work as a form of therapy had its good aspects. People said, ‘We can make use of the work experience as a revelation of inner conflicts and work with them.’ But soon there was pressure to exploit people who were in therapy to help out with the building of facilities. There was quite a variety of ways that the therapists handled that pressure. I protected my groups. I gave speeches about people being able to come and work if they felt it would be good for them. I didn’t want to use the super-ego. But that wasn’t common. The stated position was to use the authority of the therapist and to get one’s clients to go. So that was a bad scene.” Like at the Zen Centre the centrality of physical work had the effect of eroding the values and the spirit of the original group as well as diverting its energies and focus from its primary praxis.

In the next post I will write more about work therapy, this time from the perspective of the men and women who dedicated much of themselves to its success.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Farm: Part 2

Last summer I deleted the material in this blog as the person whom I had quoted at length was distressed by it, feeling that I had transgressed on her privacy. In my interviews with people I had made it clear that I intended to write about the things that we discussed but seeing issues in a published form can be difficult nonetheless. I have apologized to her and do so to any other interviewees whom I may have injured by my writing.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Farm: Part 1

I realize that many of my posted stories of people who were a part of Therafields have highlighted painful experiences. I believe that it is important for the voices of these people to be heard. At the same time few, if indeed any, of the people with whom I have spoken maintain complete regret about having been a part of the community. At the very least people have expressed gratitude for the friendships that they made and sustained from that time. Many have spoken of things of great value that they learned, sometimes from positive, sometimes from negative experiences. The vast majority of my interviewees spoke of regrets which linger to this day that they were not more energetic about decrying abuses of which they were aware, even if only dimly. There were people who refused to be interviewed when I approached them 14 years ago. Some of these people simply did not want to go back into a place of painful memories which they had put behind them. A few others I believe felt so bitterly about the damage to themselves or to someone in their families that they would not enter into a dialogue with anyone whom they considered to have a more positive view or perhaps was seen to be in some way a part of the problem.

I think unquestionably that some of us were more fortunate than others in what we have taken from the experience. Those who were most injured have been in large part people who in some manner were associated with Lea or her family. I am thinking specifically of the families and their children who were harmed by involvement in Malcolm’s school. Even there, some were more fortunate and the traumas were slighter. There were other men and women who were drawn into involvements with Lea’s daughter to satisfy needs of her own. Then there were those who were caught by Lea’s views and dictums about motherhood and homosexuality. There were people whom Lea lionized and then abandoned as their behaviour or her mood shifted. There were people in Lea’s own inner circle who dedicated themselves to her and her family but who were ultimately left with little. Some of my friends have told me how for years they longed to be close to Lea and to one of the “chosen,” but who now congratulate themselves on having been passed over. To be close to Lea in the 1970s meant being loyal to her personally at the expense of one’s own life and needs. It required a fairly high degree of self-abnegation. To be at the edges of the inner circle was a special place: one had a certain amount of knowledge of what was happening even though the realities were screened through the particular spin of “Lea says.” At the same time one was free of intensive interaction and scrutiny by Lea and able to establish not only various skills but also loyalties and relationships of tremendous value to oneself.

In my last post the discrepancy between what happened at the Willow, Lea’s home, and at Therafields’ farm was mentioned. The farm was purchased in 1967 as a location for marathon work with Lea’s groups. Having a place of our own would allow on-going weekend groups for more intensive therapy than the twice-weekly groups permitted. The work also would be private, not scrutinized by the administration of the various sites where marathons had been previously held. By the early 1970s when the Willow had expanded to become not simply Lea’s home but the locus for most of her work, the farm had also morphed into a space for the performance of functions other than the ones originally conceived. An organic garden was begun and gradually expanded, requiring intensive volunteer labour. Striders, a group formed in 1969 to focus on construction and renovations, was situated at the farm and a building specifically for its use was built. At the same time marathons for most “standard groups” of therapists other than Lea were held at the farm, making use of its facilities and requiring people to provide meals and to clean and care for the premises. A staff living full time at the farm and employed by Therafields gradually evolved to take charge of the garden, the various buildings, and the care and feeding of volunteers and group members who primarily came to the farm on weekends.

A number of the staff came from the group who had been part of the months-long Willow project group that had begun in October, 1971. Some of the group members stayed on after the project wound down and the Willow renovation/construction was concluded. Most had given up their city jobs to remain at the Willow and now wished to continue their close involvement with the farm and the Willow. Remuneration for these positions was modest: room and board as well as a small monthly stipend. Those who stayed on had their own reasons for doing so – a love of the country, a sense of safety at what had become their home, a commitment to Lea and/or the community as a whole, and possibly, an unclear idea of where life might take them if they were to pull away from the closeted life they had been living and move back to the life of regular jobs and house group living.

For most of us involvement at the farm was a regular but partial activity. We had jobs that required our attention during the week. Also those of us in the early learning groups had taken on clients whom we saw for sessions weekly or bi-weekly. Our involvements at the farm consisted of coming for our own groups and of volunteering in the garden, on construction sites, or in the kitchen. A custom was established that members of a therapy marathon one weekend would provide the staff for cooking and cleaning the following weekend. As well a core group of people began to come regularly to the farm on Friday nights, staying until Sunday afternoon, to organize and direct the other volunteers. Tony and Judy most famously led this contingent for at least a year. Others who took charge were Marilyn, Maureen, Lorna, myself, and others, all of whom became accustomed to the routine of the caring for up to 200 people/weekend. It was steady work but often fun and satisfying. We got to meet and spend time with lots of interesting people. On Saturday evenings we would dance to music in the dining room or go out together to the local pub for drinks and music. The farm felt like it was ours because we spent so much time there and contributed such a lot to its functioning.

It was never the same at the Willow. From the fall of 1967 we had done a lot of work fixing up the barn and the farm house for group use and this kind of work continued at the Willow as it went through various expansions and renovations. In the early 1970s from time to time a call would come down to the city on a week-day afternoon, asking for workers for the job site or for a team of women to come up to the Willow to clean. Despite just being home from work a bunch of us would rally, grab a bite to eat, drive up to the Willow, and help out where needed. There was a sense of obligation to help especially when Lea called, as well as a feeling of being close to the “inner sanctum” by being allowed to clean up Lea’s own area, but there was never a real comfort in being there. Learning group meetings took place at the Willow. We would have breaks between sessions there but spend the nights and take most of our meals at the farm. From time to time Lea would cook a meal of fish and chips together with her helpers and we would eat outside on the Willow patio. After my daughter was born in October, 1976, she and I would be given a room at the Willow when we came up for a marathon. I was never comfortable staying there. There was an aura of unreality and tension that I could never quite identify but which I attributed to my own problems. Since I have spoken with many others who had groups there or who worked or stayed there. My own experience was reflected in those of many with whom I conversed.

At the farm the regular weekend menus were fairly simple, even Spartan. Usually lunch consisted of a hearty soup and the famous “Lisa bread,” a dense multi-grain bread made by a local woman. Supper might be baked potatoes, a salad, and perhaps a dessert. As Lea went through various dietary fads, these would be reflected in the menu. However, those of us working in the farm kitchen would be aware that the foods requested and taken down the road to the Willow tended to be more select and varied. Foods consumed at the Willow were paid for out of the same financial pot as those at the farm but there was a definite distinction about who got what. In the next post I will give the experiences of one of the women who worked at the farm for a number of years. She was in a location to experience many of the changes that occurred at the farm and the Willow over the years.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Homosexuality: Part 2

In my last post I presented the painful experiences of a homosexual man in therapy for years as various attempts were made to “cure” him of his homosexuality. It is true that the idea of homosexuality as an illness had been dominant in the mental health community for years. Previously it had been regarded as not only “unnatural” but even criminal behaviour which in many countries could result in punishment by the legal system. In her work Lea challenged many of the accepted views of psychiatry, citing Robert Linder’s book “The Revolutionist’s Handbook” which rails against the psychiatric community and its diagnoses. Yet she encouraged the reading of Bergler’s book “Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life” which placed homosexuality squarely in the realm of pathology. I have mentioned how her own theorizing on issues such as paranoia could lead to statements about profound disturbances lurking within homosexual people.

Yet in practice her treatment of various people who were known to be gay or lesbian varied considerably. Two women who were close to her own household and met certain of her personal needs were known by those close to them to be lesbians. Their relationship was conducted with discretion and was above comment by Lea and others. If anything, Lea would indicate the importance of the relationship for the two women as a healing and growth passage. Another woman who was open about her sexual orientation from the first did not fare so well. Her experiences are detailed below.

“In the fall of 1966 at age seventeen I came to Toronto to go to university. In retrospect I think that I was just a mixed-up teenager. I was already out as a lesbian and had no trouble with that. My girl friend and I were rooming together then. Our relationship caused more turmoil for her at least in part because she had more of a connection to her Catholic roots than I had to my Jewish ones. My family was left-wing and not at all religious. Because we were having problems my girl friend and I went to talk to Mike Quealey at Newman House. He sent me to Lea. Barry tested me and I started working with Grant who was just then beginning to take on clients. My girl friend came into therapy as well but it was decided that we couldn’t live together or even see each other. She immediately became the good guy and I was labelled by Lea, the aggressor. We had a session together with Lea one day and went immediately from living together to not being able to see each other. We moved into separate house groups right away.

Two of the men in my house group, who were sharing a room, had an affair. People went nuts. I can’t remember which one was seen as the bad guy, but they were never able to make peace with one another after that. It was treated almost as a crime. And yet they were perfect for each other. They were both artists and they had similar sensibilities; they were both good looking. It was a match made in heaven.

When the farm was purchased and people began to work up there I wasn’t allowed to come because I was seen as too psychopathic. That became my label for the next 16 years. I think it was because I was a lesbian. I think that beyond that fact Lea just didn’t like me. When I couldn’t go to the farm I just had to take it in my stride. Those things were very painful but the tragic part is that they stopped being painful and just became my own self-image. That’s when the real trouble started for me: my self-image had become what these people thought of me. I got little attention in the house groups. If I said anything my head was bitten off. I got into a lot of trouble for things that I think were just normal, not a big deal. I suffered from obsessing about women that I was attracted to. I couldn’t do anything about my feelings and there were a lot of attractive women around. I think that some of them were lesbians too because there would be an electricity between us and I never kept it a secret. Others kept it a secret and didn’t get into trouble.

One day I was cooking at the Willow. I had Lea’s grandson standing on a stool, helping me to stir the soup. Lea went by and had a fit. She said I was endangering his life. She called an emergency session at the Willow and I was told in front of everyone that I was having indigestion on the flesh of the boy’s mother because I was so devouring. If I had had a car then I would have left but I couldn’t. I became an untouchable. Nobody talked to me for weeks. They just side-stepped me. I think that I wasn’t liked because I saw through things quickly early on. I didn’t like the fact that Rob was spending so much money on himself. I knew that it was really our money. I was told that any issues that I had with Rob had to do with my father. But they weren’t. He was ripping us off. They were all ripping us off. They were living the high life on our money. I remember once cooking a very fancy meal at the Willow. Visvaldis in his robes and Lea in her fancy clothes and her false crown were like the king and queen. I said something about all of the food in the pantry at the Willow and how they were eating seaweed down at the farm. I was told that I had ocular malice.

Once I was with a work group at the Willow washing windows. I had a herniated disk and was in a lot of pain as I stood on the ladder. Lea was inside having a tea party with her special people. They could see me through the window and I guess I looked angry and in pain. At a group later Lea told me that I was an arrogant Jew because I didn’t want to wash her windows. That’s another time that I should have left but by that time I believed these things. I lost the ability to think and make judgements on my own. I began to believe that I was a bad, irresponsible person. I got switched over to another therapist at some point and she really tortured me. I don’t think that she was a bad person but she was a total puppet. If I was upset and called her, I would get into trouble. Once I had a brief fling with a man who had been my client for about 10 days years earlier. I got into so much trouble about that. My therapist called me and laced into me about my psychopathy. Sometimes I saw her and another man together for a session and he would tell me that I wasn’t really homosexual. He wanted me to try to get involved with a friend of mine who is probably as homosexual as I am, or at least asexual.

I was told that I was one of those people who had to burn her bridges, to have nothing to do with my family. I did it though I believe that it was one of the things that caused my mother to die early. I had nothing to do with my parents for about five years and I was an only child. It really destroyed my mother. She was, of course, a very difficult women but she didn’t deserve that treatment because she loved me. She just had her own difficulties. I always felt loved by her but not by these people. Grant was good to me but many people were discouraged from having friendships with me. If it was a girl they would try to separate us. I loved and was attached to one woman, with whom I’m still friends. Barry and I were close. I guess that was allowed because he was a boy. I had a little fling with another fellow once but that was broken up because I was seen as not good enough for him. There was a mood or feeling that some people had toward me that was more than just particular incidents. Once at 82 a house group member told me that when I walked into the room it made the room stink. People could get away with stuff like that. Nobody came to my defence in those groups. I was lucky though because all of that time there was still a little nugget inside me of who I was. I was so demoralized that it was hard for me to hold a job. I got a degree at the university during this time. God knows how. I had been an outstanding student before university but in Toronto I just passed. I also lost my teaching job even after I had tenure because I just couldn’t do it.

In the early 80s one day Lea came over to 82 Admiral with her whole entourage for a visit. I happened to be around. It was my home but I was asked to leave the living room because they were talking about something that I wasn’t to hear. I was so angry that I walked out of the house and got an apartment at 81 Kendal. I started studying the violin with an Israeli woman who started my deprogramming. She would tell me that the Therafields people were crazy and they would tell me that she was crazy. They didn’t want me to have anything to do with her. My therapist gave me a hard time about seeing her. When I moved over to Kendal I tried to enter the local lesbian community but didn’t have the skills to do it. I had lost 15 years.

My ultimate break came over Ka school. I had a pretty good sense of what was happening. I was good friends with one of the men who lived at 59 Admiral. All of a sudden I wasn’t allowed in the house. All sorts of people weren’t allowed in there and weird things were happening. I started to see what was happening in Therafields though I still didn’t feel good about myself. I was very supportive of the parents who removed their children from the school in 1980 and was roundly criticized for this by one of the women in my former house group. I told her that it was none of her business where I went or who I visited. She said that I was being taken in by the powers of darkness. That was the beginning of the end for me. I hated her for a long time but that’s gone now.

Eventually the relationship with my violin teacher was as destructive as the Therafields thing. I was very vulnerable after Therafields and she used me. I was an empty shell, a marionette. The one good thing she did was to force me to reconnect with my parents. I am forever grateful for that. My parents came running though my mother never recovered. She was cruel to me over the next few years. She was angry with me and wanted to get back at me. I had a good conversation with my father about the whole thing. I told him how hard it had been for me in Therafields. He said -- you’ve always had a great sense about injustice. That’s what would have driven you crazy – the hierarchy and the inequalities.

In 1983-4 I started getting very sick. I had a kind of breakdown. I met a fantastic psychiatrist who helped me to put the pieces back together. I saw her two or three times a week and went on an MAO for depression. I saw her for 5 or 6 years. She was very supportive of my relationship with my new girl friend after I had met her. Basically what she did for me was to remind me of who I was before Therafields – my politics and the songs I loved, and I started to heal. I told her in an early session that I had been treated for 15 years for being psychopathic and a paranoid devourer. She just laughed and said I wasn’t the least like that.”


This woman’s experiences underline some of the ways that individuals could be treated if they varied significantly from norms that were accepted by Lea, by therapists close to her, and by extension, within the community. Her reference to the inequity between conditions at the Willow and at the farm where most worked and took their meals bears closer examination. In my next post I will look at these inequities.