Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Blog Break

This Friday my husband, Mark and I are leaving for five weeks in Rome and in Egypt. A couple of days ago I began to turn my attention to getting ready on a practical and mental level for this trip. I find that I cannot at the same time focus on the writing that I have been doing about Therafields. I plan to continue with it on our return in mid-January, however. There are still many areas that I want to explore. In the meantime, if anyone has comments or suggestions for this blog, I will be happy to see them. I will be writing a travel journal and blog while we are away. If interested you can link with that blog through www.italyandegypt.blogspot.com. Have a good holiday season. Brenda.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Families and Children: Part 2

Once Lea's children had returned, not to Toronto to live independent lives, but rather to her bosom, to the centre of the community in which she had developed her practice, her attention turned strongly toward them. Her practice, her business, became the family business, ultimately providing jobs and status for all those closest to her: Rob, Josie, Malcolm, and Visvaldis. Because she was unable to face honestly within herself or with others the true bases of her relationships with each of these people, dishonesty and manipulations by necessity multiplied. Her students and clients, still caught in the confusions of both positive and negative transference -- longing for her love and approval, and, fearing her wrath and rejection -- stumbled along with her, supporting the directions that she took.

A woman close to the situation at that time believes that when her kids came back, "Lea became terribly protective and spread a myth about the family. Rob hadn't been traumatized in the ways that Malcolm and Josie had. They seemed to carry pieces of the family troubles that she had to protect so that we wouldn't know something about them and her. Malcolm had abused Josie as a child. It was pretty terrible. The two of them left the family home for some time but then came back. They were the devourers that Lea became obsessed about saving herself from, interestingly enough. I think it was them that she feared...If you had terrible maternal failures, three kids and some really bad things happened, some really harming things, it would be very disturbing to you. Then you start something and you become the big resource and are look at in a certain way. But then the ghosts of your past begin to come home." This woman said further that when Josie was pregnant with her first child, Lea convened a Christmas project at the farm. "I think that Josie having a baby was scary for Lea. What kind of a mother would she be? All of her own experiences as a mother came crowding in on her."

Lea was living a double life. Inwardly she feared facing or being faced with the troubles between herself and her children. Outwardly she was assuming the mantle of the Great Mother, the ultimate source of knowledge and wisdom with respect to children and families. Over the 1970s her troubles grew into an obsession, not just with already formed families, but also with the question of whether or not various women ought to have children, or, having them, whether they ought to keep them. At a CAG marathon in Nov, 1973 Lea asked the question: "How many people in this room feel that they should not have children?" She asked for a show of hands. She would then nod to a particular person and say, "Absolutely right. Right." To another,"I'm not sure about you. You're a bit young yet." To another who said she wasn't certain, "I don't feel so badly about you." Some women not present were mentioned by her as clearly not being suitable though she said they made excellent helpers. She went on to say,"There are many women who would make very good mothers if they adopt a child. There are many women, who if they have a child, it's like they give something up. It's almost like they become husks. It's very sad." Deciding whether or not to have a family became more than a personal issue for a couple. It became an act of daring, especially for women, a high wire act with enormous potential for failure.

Over the next few years the sense emerged that few women were capable of being good mothers. A CAG woman recalls that, "There was a craziness in Lea and in Josie about anyone having babies except themselves. All this was huge and horrible for CAG women. Only one had had a baby and she had been vilified and not helped at all. We were in our thirties then. We were caught in an odd obedience position because of all the questioning of whether we thought we could be good mothers. It was mad. You cannot mess with a woman's odessey about whether or not to have children. It can take years. Even if someone concludes that she doesn't want to, there can be real grief and mourning about it." Some women were actively discouraged from having children, being told that they were too paranoid. Others were told that their body-type indicated a poor outcome from a pregnancy. When one of Josie's "friends" miscarried, Josie pronounced vehemently that anyone looking at that woman's body could see that she ought not have children. No concern or empathy for the heart-broken woman was in evidence. There gradually developed a feeling that only Lea's daughter, her daughter-in-law, and another woman close to the family could do well having children, and only then under Lea's close supervision. One member of CAG commented,"It was crazy. It was like a bee hive. One female is fed the royal jelly and all the others are workers."

In 1975-6 several children were born despite this confounding atmosphere. Lea resurrected a 1920s or 1930s British Mothercraft booklet for expectant mothers and more or less demanded that its prescriptions be followed. Bran was to be cooked in the oven and sewn into a pillow case for the ideal infant matress. Diapers must be of cloth; no plastic diaper covers were to be used, only knitted ones. There were to be nighties of a certain type, so many sweaters, blankets, and so on. Babies were to be placed in rooms with a particular kind of ventilation. Any woman having a baby during this period would hasten to subscribe to all and any measures suggested. An "inspection" of some nature could occur at any time. One woman's therapist (undoubtedly prompted by Lea) asked to come to see the arrangements for her coming child. While there the therapist pointed out to the expectant mother that there was a thin layer of dust on her furniture, not at all a good sign. The woman was careful to inspect her furniture closely after that reprimand but she resented the interference. It affected her formerly quite good feelings toward the therapist.

Somewhat later another woman was struggling to bond with her child in its early months. Though in Florida at the time Lea heard something of the woman's troubles and decided that she ought to give up her child to someone who really wanted a child. When a vistor arrived at the Florida beach house Lea grilled her about how the mother was doing. The visitor assured Lea that she was doing fine but Lea was not interested in hearing that. She continued to speculate about who would be the best person to take the child. Lea telephoned me from Florida saying that I had done alright with my first child and asking if I would be interested in taking on this one. I knew nothing about the situation. It was flattering to be given such a request by Lea but I knew right away that I didn't want to do it. I also thought that it was weird. I simply said that I'd have to talk it over with my husband. Lea didn't ask again though. There were at least two other women lobbying her for the child. Luckily for the mother one of the women in Toronto who was perceived as "acceptable maternal material" invited her to come to live at her house with the baby. She got other women to come and help out and before long things righted themselves between mother and child.

Lea's disturbance about mothers and babies came to a head when Rob's girl friend, Sheron became pregnant in 1978. Lea had tried to prevent their relationship though when Rob persisted in it, she was at least on the surface accepting. When Sheron told Lea about the pregnancy, "The first thing she said to me was to ask if I had considered an abortion. I couldn't believe it! Then there was a rush to get us married right away. She was so concerned about how things were seen and she feared some kind of scandal." Another woman in the seminar had become pregnant shortly before this. As the time came closer for the deliveries of these babies, Lea became more and more agitated. One of the women close to the family at that time said, "Lea had a fantasy of having another baby herself -- sort of like the old Abraham and Sarah thing. She was going a bit dotty then. She got on a huge bandwagon about Margaret's baby (not the woman's real name) because I think it was tied in some way to her fantasy of having the baby herself. She stormed over to Margaret's house one day demanding to see her clothes for the baby. Margaret was upstairs with all her little helpers. They were doing this and that and Lea would say, 'Bring down the nightgowns! Bring down the sweaters!' It was really crazy. Margaret was already insecure enough about what she was doing. She had been elevated by Lea early-on to a special person status and to becoming a therapist though she hadn't had much therapy herself. When the baby was born a caesarian section became necessary. That shattered Margaret. It wasn't part of the plan for the perfect baby and the perfect childbirth. Lea seized on the caesarian too as a way of discrediting her, saying things in the seminar like, 'She didn't want to give birth to the child.'"

When Sheron's baby was born fairly soon afterward Lea turned on her as well. Sheron recalled: "I took it for about four weeks because I didn't know any better. When the baby was born, Lea called and said, 'I'm sending (one of her companions) over to stay with you for six weeks because you have no instincts.' She said she was very concerned about the baby because I was his mother. There is never a time that you are more intuitive than when you give birth to a baby. She was into this whole thing about only feeding the kid every four hours. I had to sneak around to feed him when he needed it. She found me doing that one day and said, 'What are you, a cow?' After a few weeks I said to Rob that it was all crazy. The child was crying and Lea's companion was walking him up and down and he needed to be fed. If you didn't follow the Brit Mothercraft manual then you couldn't be the perfect mother. It was horrible for me. I hated her at that time and didn't want her in the house. I felt like she was insanely jealous of me, that I had stolen Rob from her. She couldn't join in and be a part of what was happening. She had to control it. That was the worst part of knowing her."

The examples I have given above and in the previous post give some sense of the atmosphere of fear and intimidation that families with children or women wanting children had to contend with, especially in the latter half of the 1970s. It was in this period that Lea was complicit in allowing Malcolm, as one parent put it, to create his own "Ministry of Fear" within the school. He continued,"Malcolm being very power-driven and insecure, basically managed to make the school impenetrable and opaque to the parents. Some parents were badly treated, bullied by their own therapists who had their own agendas -- not wanting to antagonize Lea or to rock the boats. Whoever questioned what was happening was in trouble. There was a fear of being ostracized. In the community there was a system of approbation and disapprobation that was as bad as in any cult you want to name." The question of whether Therafields was or was not a cult is a multi-faceted one but there were unquestionable cultic features that became more pervasive over the 1970s. From these clear damage was done to people, perhaps particularly in the arenas of procreation and of the care of children and their families.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Families and Children: Part 1

It's not hard to see that as the numbers of people asking for therapy accumulated, among them would be parents of children struggling with their family's problems. The answer to the needs of almost anyone coming along at that point seemed to be to put them into a house group, to surround them with others for support. Unfortunately there wasn't enough good judgement shown about who would and who would not be ready for such an experience, who would and who would not be able to handle it in a manner conducive to good outcomes for themselves and those with whom they lived. House group and milieu life was simply not a productive experience for some people. They tended either to act out in ways that could not then be boundaried, or, they were so overwhelmed by the emotional life of the group that they could not access their own thoughts or feelings. As this was true of individuals, so it was true with families. Some undoubtedly benefitted from the practical help and support of the members of their milieu or of those living with them. Others did not.

The impetus for the development of house groups formed around individual families would have come from Lea. No initiatives were developed without her spear-heading energy and interest. But the project was too broad, too ambitious given the level of understanding and therapeutic skills available. Lea considered herself to be a specialist in the area of children and families though this was not the reality. She had been unable to resolve her own disturbances with respect to her family of origin and with her own family. One of the women close to her through most of the 1960s said, "Earlier she was helping people but then her own disturbance came to the surface. In order to continue to help people she had to look into herself and do her own work. Instead she kept on taking on more and more distractions." Taking on the enormous job of working with and supervising the care and mental health of such a huge and complex situation was one more of the "distractions" that Lea embraced as she moved away from going deeper into her own troubles and those of her original clients.

Doing this work stirred even more of Lea's own troubles, making objectivity impossible. Another woman close to her recalled, "Pressure from her work with the families on Brunswick brought up a lot of her own personal difficulties, reminding her of bad times in her own early years. During a marathon in the city with the Brunswick groups Lea called me during a lunch break and asked me to come and give her a massage. When I saw her I was appalled because she was in no shape to be working with anyone. She was a woman in a large emotional pressure cooker and she had to deal with issues similar to her own with these families. I remember thinking that she was so personally involved in what was happening with them that she had entirely lost objectivity. I asked her to talk to me but she didn't really do so."

I have written earlier about the way that Lea presented her own family of origin and her relationships with her children in glowing terms. She had to maintain that fiction, even to herself. She believed that her instincts were right and were to be followed with respect to the needs of children and their parents. But in fact she acted in ways that sometimes had the effect of significantly damaging those whom she wished to help. Her certainty about decisions swayed others and brought them along with her in arrangements which in truth interfered with some of the families in harmful ways. There was a prototype. Lea would speak about how she had rescued a young boy from a terrible family. She would detail the visits that she made to the family and the arrangements that she made to take the child out of his situation. In fact over time that child lived in several family situations, suffering from these dislocations. Seeing this intervention as a success she was open to other situations presented to her that would indicate that, significantly, the mother was not up to the job of caring for and protecting her children. Lea's solution was cavalier. Give the child to another woman who could manage.

In early 1967 a young couple was visited by Lea's daughter. She noticed that their infant had an ear infection and suggested that they take her to the hospital for treatment. The father of the child recalls, "The next day in my group much was made of this. It was said that we had no idea how to care for her and that we could put her in danger without even knowing what we were doing. I had already been told many times that I hated women and that I was jealous because the baby interfered with my relationship with my wife. An older woman in the group offered to take the baby for awhile. When the child was about 10 months old she was brought to the Therafields farm to see if she and my wife could bond. This didn't happen and another woman eventually adopted her." The mother of the child was suffering from a profound depression which within the limits of therapy as practiced by Lea in those days, was not treatable. Another practicioner might have dealt quite differently with this situation, recommending forms of medication, then available, for the mother and getting supports for the father, who in fact had good nurturing skills, to be active in the care of the child. To Lea, however, it was all about the mother, the woman. This situation had very painful consequences for all concerned: for the child who had three different sets of parents within the first year of her life; for the parents of the child who drifted apart in their grief and unhappiness; and, for the adoptive mother, who struggled for years to help her troubled child.

During the life of the Brunswick milieu several children were removed from their mothers and placed in other situations. In one case the mother simply left the home and the father found other women within the group to help him with his children. Another father had left his wife and children around 1969 under the influence of talk about paranoid partners. A few years later his wife who was caring for their three children was judged a poor mother by her therapist. The children were taken from her and placed in a home in the milieu with the father and his new partner. Another boy whose troubled mother was similarly judged unfit was taken by a couple and raised as their own.

One young woman who moved over to the milieu in order to live with and support the children recalled, "In the house where I lived all of the people there were good with kids so I learned a lot. It was solid and wholesome. But I saw bad things happening with other families. I made myself a promise that I would never have a child in a house group setting. Families are pretty fragile in general unless you have a strong, loving, extended family. Living as we did right with the families their problems were readily apparant. If people were too quick to point these out, the parents could only be made to feel guilty. Anyone may not be the best parent or be doing the best job but the bottom line is that kids would rather have their own parents with them. Instead of supporting people with their problems, there was a lot of criticism, a looking for perfection where it couldn't exist."

A woman who moved into the Brunswick milieu in 1971 remembers that, "All of the action then was oriented to building the Willow so we didn't have many groups. The milieu focussed around the the families and the children who lived there and I was involved with them. The families lived in a fish bowl in that setting and were greatly interfered with. Some parents had problems but to my knowledge there was never any outright abuse. If it was judged that a mother, for example, was not sufficiently present to her child emotionally, that could be seen as sufficient cause to find another parent for him or her. It was said that that woman should not have had children." This happened to one family in the following manner. The relationship between the parents was coming apart and the mother was deeply shaken. Her therapist believed that she was not able to provide emotionally for her children because of that and other troubles. The woman was convinced to leave the family and to stay at the farm for a time, accompanied by her therapist.

Speaking of this situation in the seminar, Lea decided spontaneously that one of the learning therapists would be very good with children. A report had been circulated that another one of the fathers had hit his son, so she designated the learner as the new therapist in charge of that child. Saying that he ought to work with more than one child, she assigned him the younger of the two boys whose mother had just been taken away. The boys were separated, the older one moving in with another family who had a daughter of similar age. The younger boy was moved over to the house group where his new "therapist" lived and was cared for by a succession of well-meaning volunteers. This was originally intended as a temporary measure but it went on indefinitely. Later the boy lived for a number of years with a couple. The scars of his removal from his formerly intact family at such a young age remain with him to this day. A woman involved in the boy's life from that day (and remains an important friend to him) remembers that the learner who was assigned this role, "was a decent person but he had no training or experience with children, yet he was suddenly his therapist. People were brought in from all over the community to take care of the child. I went over a couple of nights a week to put him to bed. He was only four years old then and didn't know any of us. It was so destructive. His parents just vanished. His father was so angry with everyone that he disappeard from the boy's life at that point. Children were seen as disposable. It was all Lea's decision."

Looking back on this period this woman is appalled by the things that happened. She realizes that she went along with Lea's decisions, doing her best to be helpful in any situation despite an inner sense of discomfort with what she saw around her. "I don't ever remember having doubts about Lea. If I did I certainly buried them. I had lots of doubts about myself. I always thought there was something wrong with me, that I couldn't fit in though I tried harder and harder. I bought the whole myth but I felt terribly at odds with the world." Another woman who worked closely with Lea and who was called upon to implement or to defend decisions that Lea made says that if she had doubts about any decision, "I would feel that she was right and I was wrong. I had no confidence at all. That was the tragedy of my therapy with her. She was not able to give me any confidence in myself and I think that unconsciously she deliberately did that to keep people dependent on her. She brought me to a certain point but then wouldn't go any further. She wouldn't set a person free."

It was within the context of Lea's "work" and methods with families in the Brunswick milieu and elsewhere that the school developed. So many parents and their therapists and helpers were in various ways held in thrall to Lea's imprimatur, to the by-then infamous "Lea says!" that the gradual manoeuvring of Malcolm to seize total control over the children was but of a piece with directions long in motion.

In my next blog I will write of Lea's increasing obsession with the fates of mothers and children.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The School: Part 4

There are many things to consider when looking at what happened to the children who attended Malcolm's school in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The events that unfolded at the school are undoubtedly the most abusive and painful experiences that occured under the Therafields umbrella, precisely because they were experienced by children who had a right to protection and proper care. In examining the legacy of Therafields this chapter must be faced squarely as its most heinous and shameful. We cannot simply say, "Many good things happened in Therafields and many gained from being a part of it." This is true and those things need also to be documented and acclaimed. But like most "family" histories there are other threads that are ignored at one's peril. What went on at the school cannot be seen as something that happened 'over there.' Rather it was a central facet of the dynamics put in place well before its formation when Lea's focus shifted from the provision of psychotherapy to the care and fostering of her family and her lover, Visvaldis. So many distortions of original ideals and purposes had to be swallowed and acquiesced in by so many of us to allow what came to be. Issues of individual and collective responsibility need to be faced, not in order to focus blame, but in order to more deeply understand our own fallability.

The full horror of what had been happening at the school only emerged into general consciousness in 1984 when Malcolm was arrested and convicted of being sexually involved with two of the under-aged girls. Malcolm cleverly had engaged a woman lawyer to defend himself, giving the appearance of shock and innocence. His claim was that the accusations were fabricated by people from his mother's cult, determined to destroy him. A further plank of his defense was, through his lawyer, to claim that girls like to fantasize about romantic and sexual adventures and that their statements were a simple reflection of this tendency. The judge found against him, however, stating that the young women were very trustworthy witnesses. He stated, moreover, that Malcolm had clearly alienated the children from their families, perversely taking control of their lives. Malcolm was sentenced to four years in prison but served only a portion of that amount in a medium security facility. Those brave young women who spoke out, stopping his reign of terror must live all of their lives with the memories of what was done to them. Others, like the other girl whose experience I detailed in the previous blog suffered in other ways. There are many stories from the school cannot be told out of concern for the privacy of the (former) children themselves. The following exerpt is from my interview with a second girl who was with the school from the time that it moved to the farm in 1975 until the summer of 1980. She reinforces some of the statements made by other student, and adds further commentary of her own.

"A lot of the structure of the school collapsed or at least changed after Sharon left. She had groups of kids for different things. Then it became stupid school stuff -- the blue group, the peach group, and so on, but really based around the good kids and the bad kids. It was totally judgemental. There were only five of us older kids so it was more fluid with us. After Sharon left we didn't really have classes. Some kids would show up at certain times at 59 but it became less and less like that. The weird thing is that after a while Malcolm was never there. He would be in the coach house. The five of us had different responsibilities but
it was mainly one other girl and me. She and I ran the school.

"There were three women who came to be with us. I made up the schedule for them. When one would arrive I'd sit with her for a bit, then send her to the kitchen to make tea. These three were the only parents that Malcolm allowed to be around. None of them was very secure about her position there or about how Malcolm felt about her. I'd sometimes have them crying on my shoulder. Malcolm didn't want anyone there who was more certain of herself.

I'd bring the kids in and get them settled. I collected all the fees and paid all the bills. Malcolm would come in every now and then and ask how things were going. He was obsessed with cleanliness. The place was beautiful and immaculate but he insisted on ridiculous cleaning schedules. There were cleaning shifts that all the children had to participate in. I don't remember learning anything, at least in any formal way. There was no instruction. We had these lady bug books. We'd get everyone to chart their progress through them. Malcolm would come in sometimes and say -- what's going on in here? Other times he'd be in a different mood and say, 'Let's play this fun game.' He would then talk to the kids about Einstein or something, but in the day to day running of the school, he had nothing to do with it.

"Malcolm didn't want any of the other parents involved and he was very good at manipulating things to ensure that that is how it was. His big thing was to say that kids are weird when their parents are around. He would say that it was disruptive to the learning process. I can't imagine what all the parents were thinking about that. It wasn't cheap to send your kid there. I was responsible for the finances so I know. There were 3 or 4 terms a year and it was about $3000/term. I would go to the bank with all the cheques. I had signing authority. The bank clerks were very nice but they were curious. Here I was about 13 then and going to the bank in the middle of the day when I should have been in school. They had no idea what was going on.

"I was intimidated by Malcolm in those days; all of us were. He could come in in any kind of mood and he could be irrational. He would totally freak out about things, for example, if there was dust on the bannister. When I look back on it now I can see that he was just losing it. It's hard to lay blame on anyone for the things that went on then, but people's ability to blindly follow is staggering. It's clear to me and I'm sure it was to others that he was falling apart in some way. I don't know what he would have had to do for people to admit it. It was the mythology about the Hindley-Smiths that made him. People just would not see what was there. It's doubly ironic because he hated his mother and what she stood for and he hated the fact that people considered him a part of her group. It's so weird that anyone would entrust kids to him. I don't know how Lea Hindley Smith and her son became so venerated. In some ways Malcolm had a clear view of what was happening in Therafields but he wasn't able to escape it and he lived off the fruits of it. He did see all of the hypocrisy, all the syncophantic behaviour, the cultic personality, and how damaging all of it was.

"My understanding is that in the beginning Lea and the others were fundamentally kind and good and well-meaning, pretty much like with any religion. But then the cultic stuff happens and absolute power does corrupt absolutely. And there's the lemming thing as well. I think that Malcolm was just falling apart, especially after he started living at the coach house. It's unfortunate that he isolated himself because if he had been around other adults, he might have gotten help. But the problem was that everyone was so easily led and intimidated by him. For years he had no contact with adults and he lost it. He had very weird mood swings. I don't know what was going on in his head. Definitely he either thought you were the best thing in the world or else he lost it with you. There seemed to be no external reasons for his reactions. It was completely arbitrary. The sad thing is that he could be so great with the kids, so brilliant and so able to inspire.

"But there clearly was abuse in a lot of areas. He was messed up and he was abusive in many ways. When you have someone that messed up and they have absolute power over a bunch of kids, it's not good. I still wonder what people were thinking. Aside from the possibility that he might come on to young girls, did it not occur to people that it wasn't a good thing for adolescent girls to be out of touch with women from whom they could learn? Malcolm did do horrible things. Quite a few people though made him the focus for their hatred without examining their own stupidity and blindness. It was abdicating their own responsibilities. I don't mean by this to absolve Malcolm of guilt. He did what he did and he has to live with that.

"I left the school in 1980 but went back the next year for a bit. They had moved by then to Davenport Road. I would go over and help with the Montessori stuff with the younger kids. I would arrive, do my thing, and leave. I also helped with teaching swimming but I didn't have much to do with Malcolm then. He seemed worse to me by then, more out of it. I think that he kept away from me because I had a different life then and his moods were no longer the be-all and end-all of my life. The kids were still into the heavy cleaning schedule. He was still obsessed by it and would freak out over uncleanliness as before. After awhile I stopped going all together, not because of Malcolm, but because of the other kids. I think that they resented the fact that I wasn't any longer in their enslaved position.

"I think that some of the kids were really damaged by the way that they were treated. But it wasn't just Malcolm who was hard on us. Certain children were isolated, consistently singled out as bad. That definitely came from Malcolm but also from other people. I'm thinking about things that went on in the Kendal back yard. Things would be said, like: 'Watch out for that kid or that group of kids. They're bad.' Other kids were seen as perfect. It was bad for all of the kids. I hope that the ones who were given those labels have been able to shake them."

It's clear that children who passed through the school under those conditions of oppression: taught little other than to be wary of their parents and of Malcolm, utterly dependent upon Malcolm's whims and moods, and made to feel that they were inherently bad or found wanting in some profound manner, could not escape unscathed. In the microcosm of the school there are threads and outcomes of directions that Lea was taking as early as the late 1960s in her obsession with the evils in society at large and the necessity of intervening in the lives of families and of children in ways that ultimately brought suffering to many.

I want to invite readers to leave comments about this or any of the other posts. I would appreciate feedback, whether or not it is in agreement with the ideas and information I am putting forth, or whether it introduces other pieces that I have ommitted or been unaware of. Thank you for your interest.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The School: Part 3

In the summer of 1977 Therafields celebrated a fifteenth anniversary with a gala weekend at the farm and a booklet of short essays about its various aspects. The originating date was taken from the 1962 formation of the first house group, five years before the purchase of the farm and the naming of that property Therafields. One set of essays is entitled 'Education.' Sharon Healy contributed a piece outlining the history of the school from the summer of 1973. Another parent who was very involved in this process also wrote of her experiences. The third piece was written by Josie. None of these essays reflect the struggle that had already occured, placing the care and responsibility for the children soley in the hands of Malcolm. Reading them now one is taken back to those days of naivete and group self-deception. Like all of the pieces in the booklet they are determinedly up-beat, positive promotions for the values and activities of Therafields. But in the light of what came to pass the ironies inherent to the essays are both staggering and painful. In her essay Josie states: "Not until Malcolm Hindley-Smith got involved in the education of our children did I start to feel secure about things. I knew the welfare of the child would be his main concern. This has proved true. He has in no way countenanced the oppression of children....Since Malcolm has taken over the reins of what has been called the KA school, my own anxieties have largely come to rest. Spared conflict with parents and helpers in the running of the school, he is confident to function freely on his own intuitions, which focus completely on the welfare of the child."

The problem with freeing Malcolm to follow his own intuitions with respect to the children was that it was precisely at that time that Malcolm was losing his grip. A strong person in charge of a school for kids can do wonderful things for them, as witnessed in A.S. Neil's Summerhill school. But Neil was grounded and emotionally healthy in ways that Malcolm simply was not. At the beginning of his involvement with the school Malcolm had been all energy, passion, and innovation. But by 1977 he was obviously "languishing," as Lea put it. And it was at that moment when he most decisively took the reins with the children, marginalizing and stigmatizing anyone attempting to intervene. Malcolm had many hatreds and took no care to shield the kids from them. On the contrary he encouraged them to share his feelings. He hated Therafields, his mother, his sister, people who were a part of Therafields, and significantly, the children's own parents. Over the next several years Malcolm arranged that more of the children essentially became residents at 59 Admiral, living with him in a progressively warped universe.

The following is an exerpt from my interview with one of the girls who was in the school from 1973-1980. She was nine or ten when the school moved back to the city.

"We didn't have any classes. We played and went bug hunting in the yard. We were made to learn Elton John's song 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart'. We had to recite it and sing it. That was weird. We had exercise time. People would be rotated through to lead the exercises in the back yard. You would stand up at the front and lead. On the first floor was a library where Malcolm had all the Ladybug books. You could go there and read if you wanted to but there was never any structure. We just went there and hung out. There must have been some things that he told us to do but I don't remember any.

"Sometimes we had to get together in the big room in the basement. If someone was mad at their parents (which I think was not us being mad at our parents but Malcolm telling us that we were), he would put pillows on the floor and say, 'Just imagine that is your parents there on the floor.' He would totally work people up into a head space. I remember him doing that with one of the girls, getting her so upset, crying, and jumping up and down on the pillows, and saying, 'I hate you.' He stirred that up in everyone. It was very conflicting because you felt like you had to keep him happy which we all seemed to want to do. To make him happy we had to totally dislike our parents. If we didn't, we were in the wrong and he would manipulate everything we did or said to make us not want to be at home. We had to keep secrets all the time about anything we were doing at the school because if our parents knew stuff, we would have broken the trust with Malcolm. He would say,'Your parents might take you out of the school.' They wouldn't understand and they were bad anyway. So we would just go home, eat dinner, go out to play, go to bed, get up and do it all over again. It was a split life. There was a room on the third floor at 59 that we could use to stay over on the weekends when we wanted. He had us do his laundry, shovel his walk, rake the leave and do everything around the house.

"Malcolm wasn't always around. Sometimes he would go out with the two older girls and do things and we would just be there by ourselves. We were put into groups. At one point I was with three other kids about my age which was cool. We would go back and forth between the back yards on Admiral and Brunswick. I don't know who was in charge of us. We were left to our own devices a lot of the time. Later he changed the groups and put me in one with four young girls. I was eleven then and they were about four or five. He told me that I was in charge and that I had to teach them. I remember thinking, 'Teach them what? Who'se teaching me?' I was so nervous about everything I did. I knew that Malcolm would be told everything and I was so afraid of getting in trouble.

"Malcolm would pick on different people to get mad at. He would rotate it. He would pick on the boys for certain things. He would pick on me by saying that I had no opinions on anything. Once on Canada Day we were all going to stay over and watch the fireworks. Then he told me that I couldn't stay. I was devastated. He dragged out a table and said that I could only stay if I stood on the table and told people two opinions. I made up a couple of things so he let me stay. I thought, 'What was the point of that?' Then I had to go to his study every week and tell him three opinions. After a few weeks he let it go. Then he got onto someone else. He went through all of us. He would pick something for a few weeks and get on to you about it and totally intimidate you. I was very afraid of him. He was weird and he was manipulating us all. He would scare us but we also wanted to please him to stay in his good books. You wanted him to invite you ino the coach house or give you some special task because you would feel relieved. Malcolm thinks I'm OK so I'm OK.

"You never knew if it would be a good day or a bad day. You never knew if he would be happy with you or your group. To clean his car was a big favour, like a huge reward for good behaviour. He would chose you and you would feel so great. Then he would chose someone else and you would think, 'Oh, what's wrong? He doesn't think I'm good enough now.' You never really knew where you stood. I remember we'd be playing in the back yard and he'd come down the back stairs at 59 and my heart would just stop. You'd never know what mood he would be in and if he was going to pick on you. When one of the kids was picked on there was nothing we could do. Our friendships were quite strong and we all felt the same things though we would never say so. No matter who was picked on we felt badly for that kid and we knew that the others felt badly for us when it happened to us. But if we said anything to support the one being picked on, we were accused of being bad too, so we had to just sit there and watch.

"At the school we had fun but we had to grow up fast also. We learned to be careful, how to watch our backs, how to suss out a situation before we said anything or before we chose which way to go on an issue. Because if we went the wrong way, forget it. No wonder he thought I had no opinions. I had to figure out what my opinion should be before I said anything. I was very stressed being in charge of the education of the little kids. I was in charge but I wasn't told what to do. I felt that it was another way that he set me up to get me in trouble so he could get rid of me."

"When one of the boys was taken out of the school in 1980 Malcolm told us that his parents had kidnapped him. I remember thinking at the time that I wished that my parents would take me out, but I would never admit that. I would go back and forth between: I hate my parents, and, no, I don't. He's telling me that I do. This is my group and my friends and we're all supposed to be together. He built up the thing with this boy who had left, telling us how bad his parents were and how bad our parents were. He would say things like: 'You have to be careful with your parents. You can stay here. This place is safe.' All of us were staying at the school to be safe from our parents who might want to take us away from his safe place. It was all mind stuff. Finally though, someone told my parents that I couldn't go to high school without a grade eight diploma -- thank you whoever told them that -- so I went to a regular school that fall. I had to put a face on it that it was terrible leaving the school but part of me was so relieved that didn't have to have all of that pressure from Malcolm and the weird scary feeling one always had. You never knew when he was going to like you or hate you or make you feel like shit. If you were really in favour he would let you come into the coach house and rub his feet. Man, did he ever have us -- unbelievable! I had to pretend to be upset when my parents first told me I was leaving the school. When I left though Malcolm told me that I couldn`t play with the other kids any more. I was devastated by that.

"It was awful at the other school for the first year. I had never sat at a desk nor done regular school work. It was really hard. I was OK with math because Sharon had taught us the times tables and some other basic things. Later we had learned the binary system and some computer stuff. But everything else was really hard, especially spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The socialization stuff was really hard too. I came from a place where we just hung out and played. Suddenly there was the whole thing of what group you belonged to, the regular social pressures of kids. I just didn't know how to do it. The next two years were really growing up years for me. Once during that time one of the girls snuck out of 59 and came to see me. That was the best day of the whole year. Malcolm had told her not to see me, that it wasn't safe because my parents had me now. Years later one of the other girls told me about Malcolm having sex with her and a couple of the others and the kind of pressure she had felt to please him and make him happy. She said she was glad that I had left because as soon as one of the girls developed he would begin to move in on them. I didn't tell my parents any of the things that had happened at the school, because we had been taught that our parents were bad and that they wouldn't understand how great it was at the school. We felt in some way that Malcolm was going to protect us from them.

"Looking back I can see that my parents withdrew me for other reasons than the grade eight diploma issue. My dad was good friends with the other two families who withdrew their kids from the school that summer and so he knew a lot of what was going on. As I got older I asked myself why no one did anything. Didn't people think that it was weird that we were all staying at 59? People were probably intimidated because Malcolm was Lea's son and so he was protected. But how could people send their kids off to a place where we learned nothing and spent our time taking care of Malcolm? Malcolm seemed to know when different parents were having personal problems and he'd tell us about them. Also he had a way of building us up and then shooting us down so that we would do anything to please him. Once he told me that the school was for gifted kids and that as I wasn't gifted, I'd have to leave. He had me tested by Tom O and I guess the results were OK because I was allowed to stay.

"I didn't stay in close touch with any of the other kids after I left though I did see one or two of them now and again. Those who stayed longer than I did weren't able to stay close with each other either because when Malcom went to trial, some testified against him and some for him on the stand. That put big wedges between them. By grade ten I had adjusted but I think I may be the only one who went to a regular school after KA. Those kids had a hard time once it ended. I think that it really affected some of them badly, that they came away feeling very badly about themselves. It's amazing that one person could have such an effect on us, to be able to make us want to please him, and to do whatever he wanted. I don't know if he planned all of that. It was so sick: building you up and then cutting you down and then making you feel so special that you would do anything for him. It was very special to be called into the coach house. He'd put his feet on your legs and say, 'You can rub my feet.' I remember thinking, 'Boy, this is big.' Now I think it was disgusting. Yes, master, it is an honour for me to rub your feet.

Anyone who was in a learning group, a parents' group, or who supported the school, or who was in any manner an integrated part of Therafields during the 1970s and early 1980s will recognize the patterns that emerge in this girl's statement. In the 1970s Lea gradually became more closed to outside influences and less able to bear with dissention. She began to distinguish between those whom she could trust to support her and those who were against her. She used her considerable influence with people to get her own way and to set agendas, even to framing what was to be seen as truth. Like Malcolm with the children she could raise people up and cut them down in progressively more arbitrary ways. As Malcolm withdrew from any intervening forces his power over the children increased but so did the depth of his disturbance. Ultimately I think that Malcolm was acting out some version of his own childhood terrors, making himself into both the scary monster and the one who would be the Pied Piper, the one to protect and rescue the lost children from their evil parents.

In my next blog I will give the account of another girl who was a part of the school from 1975-80. During her tenure there she gradually picked up the practical running of the school as Malcolm disappeared more into a darkening place of his own.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The School: Part 2

After Sharon left the school, it continued in part-time residence at the Therafields farm until Christmas time, 1976. In January, 1977 the school was relocated to Toronto full-time with 59 Admiral Rd as the official and main location. At first the school was restricted to the large basement room but later got rooms on the first floor as well. Malcolm had an office there and in the "greenhouse" room at the back the kids sometimes watched black and white movies. Malcolm's personal quarters were in the coach house at the rear. As his antipathy toward Therafields had grown with time, Malcolm wanted to clearly distinguish the school as his own, not as it had earlier been called, the Therafields' school. He gave the school the name of Ka around that time. (The word represents 'a life-force component of soul in ancient Egytian religion.') Malcolm's feelings about Therafields were by no means kept from the children in his charge. One of the older girls recalls: "Malcolm was very anti-Therafields. He hated it; he thought that the whole thing was evil and that everyone involved was a lemming."

Lea continued to worry about Malcolm. She had pushed for his becoming a part of the school and then supported his take-over, but she felt that he was languishing. She believed that he had talent with the children but that he needed support. She designed an elaborate scheme to help him by establishing house groups of promising people from her learning groups to surround and be involved with the school. As I mentioned in an earlier blog this scheme failed as Malcolm became progressively more irascible and rejecting of the milieu's assistance. One of the women who lived there spoke of her experience: "We had been carefully hand-picked by Lea to do a job but Malcolm wouldn't allow us to do it. He permitted me to have some role in the school though for most he simply refused. I was very careful with him as he was an extremely scary man. I figured that if he disapproved of me that I could be thrown out and I didn't want to take that chance. He had gotten one of the younger boys to leave his father and live at the school and he asked me to be involved in the boy's care. I welcomed him and looked after him but it was very difficult. Malcolm was completely in control of every detail of how I looked after the boy. If I did any slight thing he did not approve of, I would get a phone call. He expected me to clear everything through him, absolutely everything. The more he squeezed though, the more I threw up my hands.

"Eventually it became clear that the milieu was not working though no one wanted to say why. There was a sort of admission that Malcolm was a tyrant but the whole focus was always on seeing what we could do to salvage the situation. There were months of groups about this kind of thing with Grant or Adam. After a year or so Malcolm was belly-aching to his mother and it was decided to move us all out of 59 and 61 Admiral. We moved to 55 and started another house group. After that I had no contact with the boy I had cared for until years later when he was no longer in Malcolm's grasp. He had been told that I was his enemy. Even after we moved to 55 the milieu continued for another year and we endured more of those awful groups."

My own sense about Malcolm at that period is that he was not simply "languishing" as Lea indicated, but that he was sinking into a profound depression with numerous characteristics of outright mental illness. As Lea was deteriorating in the late 1970s, so was her son. The control that he established over the children extended to their acting out his views about Therafields in general and the people living closely with them in particular. One of the men there during that period says: "The way the kids were allowed to talk to adults was totally objectionable. The kids were always very distainful. That would have come from Malcolm. We were given a list of things that needed to be done at 59. One day another fellow and I went over to fix the doors. Malcolm came outside and went ballistic. I had never met him but he was screaming at us that we had no right to be there."

Malcolm became obsessed with spotless cleanliness and safety issues. Another man living for some time in the milieu told me: "My first encounter with Malcolm happened on a Monday evening about 9:30 after one of our first milieu groups. I had gone over to 59 to visit a couple of my friends. We were with some others in a sitting area on the second floor. I heard a noise coming up the back stairs. It was Malcolm and two of the boys. I didn't even know who Malcolm was . The boys had a mean look on their faces and Malcolm was furious. He began: 'You people don't seem to realize that you have a real responsibility living in a house with children and a school. I found this in the dryer and I'm not happy about it.' He then held up some fluff and went into a tirade about fire hazards and irresponsible people. I just stared. Everyone else knew him and they were cowering. I just thought, 'Who is this asshole?' He threw the fluff on the floor and left. I asked the others,'Who does he think he is?' 'Don't you know?' they asked. 'He's Malcolm Hindley-Smith.'"

Over time the situation with the milieu and Malcolm, Lea, the children and their parents became progressively more Orwellian. Things that were true could not be spoken without fear of censure. One man living in the milieu found that, "The reality of our lives there was that everything about it was focussed on pleasing Lea. No one took a real position on anything. It was impossible to raise real issues about how things were going so long as Lea took the groups, which she usually did. For example, no one was allowed to suggest that Malcolm was something of a nut-bar. It would be turned back as a problem of one's own." In the seminar a father spoke of an incident at the school in which his son had been treated sadistically by Malcolm in front of the other kids. The details certainly bore out his conclusion that it had been sadistic. Lea said, 'Well, there's always two sides to every story.' This man who told me this story concluded," Lea simply wouldn't touch it. Malcolm was quite crazy and Lea was trying to defend and protect him at all cost. It was terrible, criminal, in fact. It's amazing how with all of her insight she so entirely blinded herself in that way. On the other hand she would speak about how rebellious Malcolm was and how he didn't want to have anything to do with Therafields."

A parents' group had been established in the Brunswick milieu in the early 1970s to support the many families resident there. As the relationships with the parents and Malcolm deteriorated issues related to the school came more frequently to the fore in their meetings. The therapists taking this group were greatly influenced by Lea's determination to support Malcolm, however, and I believe that it would have been difficult to in any way mount a concerted protest about Malcolm's methods and his treatment of the parents themselves. In 1977 Lea decided that the parents of Hypno I ought also to form a group to discuss their children and to help one another. It was a quite unpleasant experience. The group met every couple of weeks in Josie's living room at 105 Admiral. True to her sense that she ought always to take on the role of the therapist, Josie consistently led the conversation. There was never in this group a sense of safety and hence trust for people to talk openly about their own concerns and struggles as parents. Increasingly, however, there developed talk about Malcolm and the school. Over the next two years I heard progressively concerned stories about Malcolm's contempt and rudeness and of his exclusion of the parents from any form of participation in the school. He would not allow any of this vastly educated crowd to teach the kids. The only activity given to a volunteer was cleaning. Toward the end of our "parents group" in early 1980 the tenor was growing more desparate as clearly some of the children were going to be withdrawn from the school, making the already heavy fee schedule even more onerous. One of the parents lamented this direction, saying passionately,"We need new blood!" My elder daughter was nearing school age and I was already under pressure to enroll her that fall. "Not my kid's blood," I thought.

In the next blog I will recount the experience of the kids at the school with Malcolm after returning to the city in 1977.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The School: Part 1

Jim Healy's younger sister, Sharon, came to Toronto in the late 1960s to do some therapy in the then developing Therafields. During her stay she lived in a house group, saw a therapist, and at the same time was trained in the Montessori method of teaching. When her training was completed, she took a job in Kitchener for a year. In 1973 some of the parents in the large Brunswick milieu approached Sharon to start a school with their kids. They wanted a system that more closely reflected their philosophy of living and one that would be more sensitive to the individual needs of the kids than the public system as they were then experiencing it. Sharon was delighted and very keen to work with them. They began with nine kids, using the basement of 477 Brunswick Ave. and had full use of the enormous open space behind the houses on Brunswick and Kendal as well. Over the next year or two Sharon's school continued in this fashion.

In the meantime Malcolm had become very interested in education as his infant daughter grew older. Malcolm read widely about schooling and had many interesting and innovative ideas about ways that it could be conducted. His own early education had been an unhappy experience and no doubt he wished to avoid that fate for his daughter. Josie and Lea were keen to have him work with the young children as they came along and some of the Brunswick parents were interested in his ideas as well. He began to do some "classes" with the older kids at Sharon's school. In September, 1974 Mary Lou moved back to Toronto from the farm and Malcolm began a more structured connection with her two children, Josie's son, and his daughter. Fairly soon after this, pressure began to build, especially from Lea and Josie to amalgamate the two small schools into one with both Malcolm and Sharon as teachers. Lea was happy to see Malcolm involved in a project that she believed in and that he seemed well suited for. It gave him a focus, a job, and a legitimate role within Therafields. Josie was Sharon's therapist at that time; she brought a lot of pressure to bear on Sharon to go along with the idea of one school. Sharon thought then that it was probably a positive step for the kids and she liked Malcolm and his ideas. At the same time she was nervous about him.

The amalgamation was effected by early 1975. It was decided to bring the newly formed school, then generally called the Therafields school, to the farm. The kids were bussed up from the city on Tuesday mornings with a few of the parents attending. They slept over a couple of nights with the older kids at the schoolhouse, though later in the dorms in the barn with the younger ones. They had classes in the group room and outdoors and would return to the city on Thursday afternoon. Some of the really young children had difficulty making the transition to sleeping in the dorms but the older kids loved it all. It was a great adventure. They would meet in the group room, sitting in a circle while Malcolm talked with them. They had spelling bees and would act out scenarios on the stage in the upper barn. There was a structure to the day and within it they were learning and having a lot of fun. One of the older girls remembers: "It was so beautiful up there. In general the kids were smart and interested in a lot of things. We would be outside all day, wandering in the fields and the woodlot. We older kids would sleep at the schoolhouse. After dinner we would all walk down there through the woods, the sun going down behind us. It was so beautiful. Sharon was a part of the school then and she was terrific. Malcolm was pretty great too at that phase. Everyone was into it in a special way and it was fun getting to know the people at the farm. One of the great things about being there was the focus on nature, the garden, the greenhouse. We were lucky to be there with other kids of all ages. We never wanted to go back to the city."

There were other pieces to the experience at the farm that were not as wholesome, however. There were attempts to do some group therapy with the kids. Each week they would be gathered in the group room for a session -- sometimes all of the kids but more often just the older ones. The same girl said, "There seemed to be an assessment that some of the kids were problem children. I think it was quite arbitrary, bearing no relation to the kids' actual emotional make-up. I was always sceptical and irritated by all the therapy stuff. I thought it was a lot of shit and that a lot of it was just made up. In the groups I would steel myself to being attacked or to watching someone else being attacked. The group leaders would direct the conversation. They would decide to talk to one kid and would bring up something that had happened and get some other kid to say something to him or her about it. Before long whoever was being focussed on would be crying. Once you reached the point of crying or raging, they would say: there, there. That's what they wanted. I never did it though. I would think -- what is it about these people?" Malcolm was not in favour of these meetings though they bear a resemblance to some of his own practices with the children in later years.

Not all of the parents in the Brunswick milieu had been happy about Malcolm joining the school begun by Sharon and them. One recalled: "When Malcolm first got involved we had a so-called interview with him. I asked him what his qualifications were and he became livid. He mentioned OISE and said that he'd done something there. In my opinion he had no educational expertise and little to offer. I should have sent up 18 red flags in the meeting and said, 'This is dumb. You don't trust your children to someone like him.' But I trusted Sharon and she really tried to make his involvement work. It just became a take-over though."

At the farm tensions among different factions became palpable. There were a series of fraught exchanges in the dining room among the parents focussing mainly on the children's diet. Food combination rules should be followed: No peanut butter with bread, but, peanut butter on celery sticks was allowable. All fruits and vegetables should be washed and peeled, or, washed in a particular manner and not peeled. Whatever the topic one could sense a deeper, unspoken agenda that related more to the discomfort of some about their loss of autonomy with their children and the desires of others to go along with the directives of and to please Malcolm and Lea.

At the same time another situation central to the future of the school was being played out. Malcolm had flirted with and had had liasons with at least a couple of the mothers. But he was becoming attracted to Sharon and wanted to develop a relationship with her. Lea was very keen for this to happen. She no doubt thought that Sharon would be good for Malcolm, a stabilizing factor in his life. She talked with her a couple of times, encouraging her to give him a chance. But Sharon wasn't interested. Malcolm accepted the rejection in seeming good part but before long differences between them became more underscored. Sharon says,"Malcolm's revenge was simply to get rid of me and everyone else just hopped on the bandwagon. He had basically taken over the school once we were at the farm. Malcolm isn't a team player; he's basically into slave labour: you do this; I do nothing; but, I get all the credit. I forget what the ultimate issues were but it came to a point where he and I parted ways over a number of things about the way the school should be run, who was going to put in the time, what the kids should be learning, and so on. Almost every issue became a controversy. But the real thrust was: this is my school. If you aren't going to be involved with me, then get out. Then all of these supposedly impartial people like Lea and Josie got involved. At a Hypno I meeting at the farm the decision to support Malcolm was made. I wasn't at the meeting and I wasn't consulted. I felt very let down, especially by some of the Hypno I women who were involved in the school. I felt that they were just like sheep then, doing what they were told and afraid to go up against Lea. They basically railroaded me out of the school and also out of the Brunswick learning group. Lea and Josie both told me that if I didn't want to go along with Malcolm that I was out of the group. They said that I was showing obvious signs of disturbance. It was all cloaked in terms of the school and how I didn't want to go along with the way he wanted to develop it. I realized then that Therafields had crossed a line and that Therafields and I were parting ways."

When Sharon left the school none of the kids was told that she had been ousted. Without explanation, she just was no longer there. One of the girls who had been with Sharon's school since she was six said, "I had liked Malcolm at the beginning but when Sharon left I felt some resentment towards him as I believed that she had left because of him. I remember thinking that there was something weird about the transition. We felt abandoned. She had been so good and so involved with us. We always had neat things to do in the Brunswick backyards. I was very sad when Sharon left as things were different without her. After she was gone we didn't have structured teaching. It was all very vague." Another recalled: "When you are young as I was, nothing seems that unusual because you don't have a reference point. Sharon's gone -- OK. Still, it seems that a lot of the structure of the school changed or collapsed after Sharon left."

Malcolm now had a fairly free hand with the directions that the school would take. In the next blog I will look at these directions as they were acted out when the school returned to the city.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lea's Children: Part 2

To write about Malcolm and the school is to look into the heart of darkness. But Malcolm by no means stands there alone. With him stand his mother, his family, her close companions and confidants; all who from early on knew the disturbances that Malcolm harboured; all who entrusted their children to him despite misgivings; all who directly or indirectly supported the school despite growing evidence of the pathology at its core; all who did not speak in an effective manner against what was happening; in sum, all of us who were a part of what Grant calls "the community" from the mid-1960s to those terrible days in the mid-1980s when the extent of Malcolm's abuse of his charges was laid bare. In this space we all stand accused though the degrees of our responsibility lie upon a wide spectrum. Regardless of our personal location along that spectrum, it is a painful but necessary exercise to stand there along with Malcolm. The alternative is to trust to the divisions that our society provides to protect us from positions of shame. We have categories of criminality and insanity that give us neat divides between Us and Them. Rather than leaving Malcolm alone in the shadow of evil, in all honesty we must look upon him as a fellow human and try to understand why he took and how he was allowed to take the path that he followed within Therafields.

When Malcolm came back to Toronto with his wife, Judy, late in 1968, only a visit was planned. They were en route to Manitoba. He had completed his bachelor's degree at Queens University, his master's in Windsor, and he was enrolled in the PhD program at Penn State. When they arrived here, however, Malcolm seemed to be experiencing a kind of break-down. Judy, meeting his family for the first time was very taken with Lea and Robbie. She pressured Malcolm to remain and to receive therapy. Malcolm worked for a while with Tom O and Judy with Lea. Lea purchased 63 Admiral, gave Malcolm and Judy the third floor apartment and induced some of the Hypno I people to move in as well. She dearly hoped that her son could be helped in ways that would solve some of his troubles and diminish his estrangement from the rest of the family.

Lea would speak in groups sometimes about the early life of the family during the war when they lived in Yorkshire. Because Harry could not find sufficient work, she took a job, leaving Malcolm as an infant with one or more local women. She worried about damage this might have done to him and speculated about the possibility that he had been sexually molested at some time in that period. She spoke also about the way that Harry would take up each child in turn as the centre of his life, only to abandon him or her when the next came along. Moreover, she said, Harry would make complaints about her to the children, turning them against her. Of the three children Malcolm would have been the most subject to the difficulties experienced by and between Lea and Harry after the war and during the transition to their new life in Canada.

Malcolm was a socially awkward child. He was brighter than most kids, his interests were different, and he was not a handsome boy. At school he never really belonged and he had a terrible time. Only at university did he begin to feel respected and understood. Within the family he had taken the role of supporting his father, believing that his father's life had been ruined by the move to Canada. This estranged him from the others who, as their parents' marriage deteriorated, had less respect for their father. Malcolm nursed resentment and outright contempt for Josie and Lea. There was another component of the family experience which was spoken of at the famous Bigwin marathon over a year before he and Judy came to Toronto. Malcolm had evidently abused both Josie and Rob when they were younger. Whatever the details or substance of this report, they were known to all present and they were not introduced as a concern years later when Malcolm's take-over of the school became a fait accompli.

Soon after his arrival in Toronto Malcolm became a presence on the tiny strip of Admiral Rd close to 63. He and Judy got jobs but his lasted only a couple of weeks. He had a great deal of trouble getting along with others in any work situation. His arrogance and contempt easily came to the surface making co-workers uneasy and angry. After this attempt I don't know if Malcolm held any actual jobs before his involvement in the education of the children around 1973-4. His relationship with Judy was unravelling and he was attracted to the young women at 55 and 59, having affairs with a few. It can be said that at this point Malcolm was rather attractive, clever, somewhat charismatic like his mother when he so chose, and, charming and funny under the right conditions. Undoubtedly the women drawn to him responded to these inducements though at the same time they were aware of his mother and his wife in the background. Here is an early example of the latitude given to Malcolm though allowed to no other. Another married man trolling for the affections and passions of a series of immature women would be confronted and curtailed. Tom, his therapist, whose own marriage to Josie was coming apart, seemed amused by Malcolm's behaviour. "Maybe he's got it right," said Tom.

Malcolm attended the family group for a time, where Lea would confront him and Josie about equally. Malcolm considered some of the things happening in Therafields at that period to be misdirected. He was against the development of an entrenched community. He thought that the position Rob had been given by his mother was ruining him. He wanted Rob to leave home, to go away to university. He took Lea on over these issues and received abuse from her and others as a result. Though Lea would confront Malcolm in the family groups she would support him in public. Other people could not successfully confront him as he simply would not take it. He would mount a serious defense to any attempt and as Lea would not support the confrontation, it inevitably would fall flat. Over time if people spoke to Lea about him she would ask why they were telling her their complaints. Did they not know that he was her son! Throughout she was in a constant state of guilt and worry about him. As she seemed unable to influence him herself, she engaged ML to be his periodic counsellor, a listener though never sought as a therapist.

Malcolm was never part of a standard, house, or learning group where people could collectively address him about concerns. As his involvement in the school developed, Malcolm gradually asserted his position as sole decision-maker. When the school was located at 59 Admiral Rd, Lea devised an elaborate scheme to surround it with a milieu of her most trusted young learners, people she could count on to support his work with the children. In the event, however, Malcolm refused to work co-operatively with them, seeming to deliberately work at antagonizing one and all. He managed to render the proffered assistance ineffective. As Lea's health declined and she was less present, her awareness of his activities also diminished. Her caretakers eventually protected her from knowledge of his state, knowing the pain and worry that it would evoke. After moving into 59 Malcolm dropped any pretence of co-operation with the children's parents or with any Therafields associates. Over the next years he began to live in a world peopled solely by the children over whom he developed a profound control. Freed of the society and the constraints of adults, I think that Malcolm sank deeper into a category of mental illness that had been taking him over for some time. It was characterized by irascibility, depression, megalomania, and, obsessive-compulsive and controlling features. These features were acted out in multiple ways with the children and with any adults coming into his sphere. Through the various agencies or passivity of many, Malcolm now had a free hand in a darkening world which contained children of the community.

In the next blogs I will write about the development of the school and what it became over the ensuing years.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lea's Children: Part 1

In the early days Lea would speak of her children in quite glowing terms: Josie, the lovely and talented singer and Malcolm, the mathematical genius. Just as Lea presented her family of origin in pristine terms, so she depicted her children and her relationships with them. The reality was much more troubled. Malcolm was barely on speaking terms with her and Josie. He had not introduced his new wife to his family. Josie, who had been openly rebellious and contemptuous with her mother for some time, had gone to England, trying to start a singing career. Lea was unsettled about both of them, feeling the guilt that any parent has over problems with her children. She was aware of the toll taken on them by the vicissitudes of the family's life and she longed to be able to repair the damage. She was undoubtedly pained by the realization that many in her practice were making strides to resolve residues of their own family backgrounds, becoming freer to live productive and happier lives.

Lea's boundaries in dealing with people were, unfortunately, not very good. She would become involved in various ways in the personal lives of her clients, seeing these interventions for their good -- as they often were. However, because she had developed such faith in her instincts, interventions could easily verge into outright interference. There are many difficult moments in the life of a parent with a child. One is the time when a parent must allow the child to forge his or her way in the world precisely without the kind of interference that can bind the child to a pre-adult state of dependency. Lea wanted too badly to make things better for her children and her interventions on their behalf had disastrous results for all involved. The adage "be careful what you wish for" was in this situation, spot on.

At Christmas, 1965 Josie came home for a visit. Then twenty years old she had been living in England for over a year and had every intention of returning. Contracts had been signed for the spring; England was now her home. But Lea was worried about her. She was a very young woman living a long way away. She had been involved in relationships that would give most mothers pause. Lea was very keen to keep her in Canada and to involve her with the people of her new learning group. Every inducement was attempted. Josie was a recent convert to Catholicism and Greg Baum was to her a hero. If she joined the learning group she would get to know him personally. People from 55 and 59 Admiral (prompted by Lea) introduced the topic of the learning group into conversations, saying how excellent it would be for her. As Lea's daughter she received particular attentions from some of the men in the group. None of these inducements swayed her, however. What changed her mind was a scenario in which Lea used the influence of one of her clients to get Josie an audition. This led to a union job, and a contract for a gig on Avenue Rd. In the event, however, the job fell through and Josie was unable to claim her rights in the situation because the boooking agent was her mother's client.

In the meantime Josie had committed to remaining in Toronto. Lea sent her to Tom O for a battery of psychological tests, necessary she said for the kind of self-knowledge one ought to have when entering the learning group. Tom scheduled a series of meetings with her to "explain the results of the tests," though this was in fact her intoduction to therapy. When he became attracted to her, Tom withdrew from that role, becoming before long her fiance and husband. Lea then organized a "family group" for Rob, Josie, and herself as a locale for Josie's therapy. Others closer to the family like Tom O were invited to participate to lend greater "objectivity" to the endeavour. When Malcolm and Judy landed in Toronto late in 1968 Judy was included in the group and Malcolm may have attended sometimes. Clearly this was never a situation in which issues could be discussed openly and fully. So much of Lea's history and troubles were hidden from all present, even from herself. The others were either her children, her clients, or her students. Tom wasn't entirely in any of these categories but he was her son-in-law and he carried to the end of his life a strong belief in her. In these groups Lea would baldly confront Josie about things she wasn't happy about. Attempting to do therapy with one's own mother, a mother with whom one had had an uneasy relationship, would be hard for anyone. Josie found it, "horribly, horribly painful. It was all difficult. It was flaming hot. My mother could be very hard on me in those settings though I don't think it was because of any ill will. I think it was just an impossible situation from any point of view."

Early on Lea invited Josie to come as an observer to a morning group that she was just beginning. "I couldn't be involved with any of it because I was her daughter and because I wasn't a therapist. I would make the occasional comment though. I learned a lot being there. If she was sick or couldn't come for some other reason, she would ask me to keep an eye on things. I saw that as the group running itself with me there as an observer, letting her know what had happened for the sake of continuity." Over time Josie began to see clients. When she and Tom moved into 105 Admiral in 1967 they were the house group therapists to the other, newer people who shared the first and second floors. Over the years Josie developed a practice.

None of Lea's children could receive therapy of any depth within the Therafields fold. Given the circumstances, they would have had to go to people outside for either objectivity or for a chance to explore their complex relationships with their parents, in particular with Lea herself. But this was never going to happen. And so there was "therapy" of a sort, looking at this but not that, going along so far but not beyond. Always in the foreground was the reality of their roles, their positions as part of "The Family." As her children took on more visible functions Lea had more deliberately to enlist their public solidarity. It would be deemed unseemly, destructive even, for Josie to question or oppose her mother in any public forum. For all her promotion of confrontation as the new golden rule of therapy, Lea herself did not handle it well. She would not only defend her position but would gather supporters to refute any challenges made. Others might be confronted but by affiliation with Lea neither could Rob, Barry, Josie, Malcolm, Visvaldis, or any other particular favorite of hers. People learned that attempts of this kind led to having the tables turned against them. One would be variously accused of destructiveness, paranoia, or ignorance. As Lea had more and more issues in her own private life and those of her children to protect, open and free discussion within the seminar necessarily dried up.

Josie was in the anomolous position of being lauded in public and scolded in private. During the years of Therafields Josie says, "I could never question my mother, certainly in any public way. Permission wasn't there at all. I dreaded having daughters because I thought that my relationship with my mother wasn't so much bad as unexplored. I feared that whatever was there would be acted out in some dramatic manner with a girl that wouldn't happen with a male child." In fact Josie felt that her relationship with her family essentially ended once Therafields began. "It all had to do with the fish-bowl effect, the sense of always interacting in a public place, of there always being an audience. In my dealings with my family 90% of the time, if anything came up between my mother and me, it couldn't be dealt with naturally. Years earlier we might have just gotten into a fight and then gotten over it. But within the Therafields context everything had weight and meaning. It's true that people couldn't confront me the way they might have someone else, but it was also true that if they had done so we couldn't have just had it out. I was in the position of trying to be a therapist in every situation."

This is a particularly sad commentary. It is a reflection of how Lea viewed her own life as it evolved in that same fish-bowl. But the bowl grew naturally from the fact that Lea did not have a life of her own separate from her work, her clients and her students. Her homes were used by these same people to such an extent that real privacy was impossible. Josie also chose to live in large houses with other Therafields people even after the birth of her children. Like her mother she enlisted impressionable, often vulnerable people to assist not just with the care of her children but also herself and her home. Over time she developed a "court" comparable to her mother's. And always in this court, like her mother, she remained the ultimate arbiter, always the "therapist," always unassailable.

Calling Josie "the therapist" though is a misnomer. It was simply that she took control of any situation that she found herself in, deferring only to her mother and her brother, Rob. She had learned enough of the discourse of therapy to be able to use it for her own purposes -- for flattery, to punish, or to soften the needs of daily life. She had never learned or appreciated therapy as a dispassionate relationship with another for the good of the other. Clients were eased into roles as baby-sitters, house-cleaners, drivers, or masseuses. Josie seemed to believe that merely being in her presence, within her ambiance, would impart special value to the fortunate client-cum-servant. And like her mother she would brook no opposition. Even the mildest complaint would be turned back on the complainant as an indication of serious faults of one's own. In the process the individual would be shamed, likely in ways similar to the manner in which Lea managed to shame Josie herslf.

I don't think that Josie ever understood how she had used and abused people. Even as Therafields was falling apart in the early 1980s and the dynamics became clearer to formerly foggy-minded people like myself, she remained puzzled by animosity that came her way. She would approach people asking to renew friendships though no relationship of that kind had ever existed. Since, she has connected with musicians in Toronto and is enjoying working once again with her earliest passion.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Money

So much can be said about the finances of Therafields though all will never be fully known. Grant writes about this area in the early chapters of his book as though all was well and happy and flowing from an open concensus among the various parties. At no point was this true, however. When Lea managed to give administrative control of the developing organization to her son and his friend, Barry in 1967, she was claiming it as her own business, ultimately, her family business. Doubtless she did not articulate this to herself at the time but in essence that is what happened. She was not able to trust the senior, more mature members of her seminar to nurture and care for the assets that were accruing. She had to maintain personal control. Before long that control was utilized to manipulate resources in ways unknown to the seminar and certainly to the average Therafields member.

In 1970 when the Therafields Foundation was created principal officers had to be named on the papers going to Ottawa. These could not be the same as the names of the administrative officers (Rob, Barry, and Rik) of the incorporated Therafields. Dan and Larry were asked to lend their names to the Foundation's patent. Dan recounts though that, "We were told right from the beginning by Lea and Visvaldis that these were purely legal titles. They would carry no authority. It was couched nicely: 'The way we do things, the way we run things.' Larry and I both knew that there was little we could do about it. But when Visvaldis died in 1983 we had to go in and clean the whole thing up. He had used it as his own personal bank account. He was the president and Larry and I were the vice-president and treasurer but we were never consulted on anything. We knew nothing about what was happening. Earlier the farm had been deeded to the Foundation. Rob made the decision but no one was ever asked about it. The Hypno I people had bought the farm but the records had been lost showing who had put in money."

From early days the various accounts were used in ways to benefit Lea and her immediate family without any accounting to the members who were in fact footing the bill. Visvaldis was promoted by Lea as a visionary architect. But his good ideas could be undermined by the fact that he needed supervision himself in keeping projects on course and limiting them to a manageable scale given the financial and human resources available. In 1971 construction work was planned for the Willow. It was to be a couple of new bedrooms on the second floor and a new vestibule. Soon after it began DJ came up to observe its progress. "I was shocked to see an enormous hole in the ground. Visvaldis had been unleashed. About one-third into it I was in the dining room with the both of them and I asked, 'Where are you going to get the money for this? It's going to cost a bundle.' Lea burst into tears and ran from the room. Visvaldis ran after her saying, 'Lea, you didn't worry about the money before.'"

A solution for this difficulty was found by consulting with Rob and Rik. It was decided that Therafields coffers would be opened to pay for the renovations and expansion. That detail was not mentioned explicitly when the prospect of a joint venture was discussed in the seminar and in groups. Rather the plan was couched as this terrific idea to develop the Willow as a special harbour for therapists while at the farm for marathons. They could stay at the Willow and so have respite from their interactions with clients. Marathon groups and meetings of the therapists or learning groups could also be held there in a more luxurious setting than the farm could afford. This was a further mixing of Lea's private estate with that of Therafields. Years later the Willow (together with its Therafields-built-and-paid-for expansion) was sold by Lea to Therafields, a tidy deal which allowed her to buy two adjoining condos at the Palace Pier. A clause of the sale agreement gave Lea the right to live at the Willow for the remainer of her life notwithstanding the sale. The Palace Pier apartments were combined to make one enormous unit, renovated like the Willow at the expense of Therafields and by the volunteer labour of its members. Once again the idea was floated that the gigantic apartment could be used as a site for future meetings of the seminar and other groups. When Lea died, Rob inherited the place, in essence benefiting not only from equity gained by his mother's earlier labours but by the financial and physical output of Therafields members.

Bob Luker has spent much of his professional career working with and studying not-for-profit groups. He reflects that "in Therafields there was never even the minimal level of democratic practice. In other groups, like the United Church ministry for example, people add up the money now and then and give a financial accounting. I went to Rik once and argued for some accountability to the people who were paying fees, paying the rent, and contributing their time to work. I said that we should be told where the money was going and that there ought to be some collective decision-making mechanism about how it was spent. He made it clear that I was wrong, that it wasn't any of my business. Later I realized that I had always been given that message, 'Hey, mind your own business; don't interfere.' Not being in the seminar made it seem even less my business but most people in the seminar didn't know what was happening either."

By 1975 there was more overt dissatisfaction about this state of affairs. Several in the seminar began to press Rob for an accounting. A stagnation in the evolution of Therafields had hit about that time. The numbers of people looking for therapy fell precipitously bringing a corresponding drop in over-all income to the corporation. Huge amounts of money continued to be poured into work projects. There was a growing sense of discomfort that no one beyond the administrative troika seemed really to know how the money was managed. There ensued a period during which the group from the seminar endeavoured to identify the amount and uses of Therafields' gross income but to little avail. As Grant reports the struggle led to some difficult scenes with Rob and Lea but the group's quest for transparency was fully justified. Jim remembers that "when I complained to Lea that Visvaldis was receiving a salary double that of the hardest-working therapist though he did no work, she said that it was my problem with my father. Regardless of what problems I might have had with my father, we were taken for a ride with Visvaldis. We were asked to pay him a large salary on the basis that for a couple of years he had donated his services. After this he did little. Lea and Rob covered for him and no one did anything about it. Any effort would bring forth pretty dire threats from Lea." In their discussions Rob would promise Jim or Philip that he would show him the figures but this promise was never realized. To the end the "administration," specifically Rob and Rik stonewalled attempts for an accounting of Therafields' affairs. But more about this at another point.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lea's Health

Lea's health was clearly a major issue in the unfolding of Therafield's history. Grant speaks of her diabetes and the mental deterioration that resulted from its ravages toward the end of the 1970s and early 1980s. Her health problems were more complex than simply diabetes, however, and must be regarded in their mental, physical, and psychological components and the interactions of these. By the mid-1960s Lea's health and energy were noticably dimishing. When Sharon came to see her in October, 1965, she saw immediately that "she was so unwell that you couldn't miss it. Her skin was white. She was given to wearing dark glasses as she had diabetes and her eyes were sensitive. I couldn't work with her...to see someone suffering like that -- it seemed indecent to start talking about yourself." Though Lea carried on with her practice, taking on even more responsibilities, by 1967 she feared for her life. In a Tuesday-Friday group rather than initiating work with someone, she brought out a dream of her own, asking the more experienced members like DJ, Annie Miller, and others to help with its interpretation. She believed that the dream was a warning about her own impending death. The mood in the group was somber. For those of us still quite new, this departure was both surprising and sobering. It felt like hearing or over-hearing information about the difficulties of your parents that were hitherto unknown, even unimagined. Lea was in her mid-fifties and in the groups to this point had been energetic and even dynamic. It was about this time that she decided to admit herself to the clinic in North Carolina that specialized in Type-II diabetes, a condition which had been diagnosed earlier.

At the clinic Lea was put on a regimen of diet and exercise, the usual treatment for her condition, and it was successful. She lost weight and got her blood sugar levels under control. What made her situation difficult though, was not simply this illness. Over time it's control was stymied by problems that Lea already had relating more to her psychological and mental health. Lea's father had been hospitalized for years before his death after "descending into madness." The nature of that "madness" was never spelled out but he had clearly been psychotic. When a young woman Lea feared that a similar fate could await herself. She asked Mike, her therapist in England, if she could inherit some aspect of her father's disturbance. He assured her that such ideas were just old wives tales. But in truth the greater the degree of consanguinity with a person with a mental health condition, the greater is the likelihood of developing it. In that era psychoanalysts were attempting to understand all forms of mental or psychological disorders as stemming from one's family history, from the "nurture" side of the nature/nurture dyad. Little was known at the time about the interactions of one's genetic inheritance and one's psychological history.

Lea openly spoke about periods of profound depression that she had suffered as a child and as a young woman. Again, this condition was not understood as a complex syndrome involving cognitive, physiological, and mood disorder symptoms. Depression of this nature is triggered by a genetic pre-disposition as well as by damage done to brain function by extreme stress in early childhood. When others spoke in groups of depression she would tell stories of her own experiences. No one has suffered from depression as deeply as I have, she would assert. She would sometimes encourage a period of intensive therapy for the sufferer to try to connect with the events or conditions that had "caused" the depression. Other times she would simply state that her own depressions usually passed with time. In the meantime she had found that being with friends and sharing a drink would help to cheer her.

Lea also had periods of hypo-mania during which she would feel elation, enormous energy and confidence, and periods of sleeplessness. It was possibly during periods of this kind that she would take on larger and larger loads which once that phase passed would leave her feeling overloaded and exhausted. Dan was aware of these cycles from early days. Lea would "speak of going up into a manic phase," he said. "She loved the euphoria, the ascending, but it always pushed her over the edge. When she went to North Carolina (these cycles) were coming more to the fore. Her attempt was to deal with their effects while hiding from them through focussing on her physical problems. The condition came obvious more and more as she got older and the pressures of the community came to bear on her. By the time she came to do her writing in the mid-1970s it was completely unmanageable."

In 1973 or 1974 Lea began to talk in marathon groups about two personality types: the cyclothymic and the schitzoid. A few years earlier another great divide at the fore of her consciousness was the paranoid and the paranee. Here was a new framework on which to judge or be judged. (There is an old joke that goes like this: There are two kinds of people in the world -- those who catagorize everyone into two groups, and those who don't). At any rate there was endless discussion about this typology, the characteristics of each personality, and which it was more desirable to be. It seemed that being cyclothymic gave one a leg up on the schitzoid type. Lea identified herself as cyclothymic, a personality expansive and creative. The poor little schitzoid, by comparison, was a plodder, a dray, a boring but diligent person who could be depended upon to complete the large tasks envisioned by his or her cyclothymic counterpart. Ouch!! Just as one did not want to be labelled a paranee, the idea of being schitzoid was dreadful. There wasn't any sense of humour about these designations either. Lea was seriously trying to understand elements in herself that she was all too aware of. In the process though many others were scourged by the sense of being diminished and thus not respected or valued.

Without the impact of her mental health and psychological difficulties Lea might have been more able to deal with her diabetes in a consistent and grounded fashion. A woman who travelled with her from the late 1960s says that, "In North Carolina Lea learned a lot about Type-II diabetes. At Duke University they were at the forefront of work with that illness. She knew what it was and what to do about it but she didn't do it. I know others who are doing well on the regime -- basically just diet and exercise. But Lea had a lot of food compulsions. She could have been quite well if she had followed their directions. But instead she chased one fad after another. She'd believe the most god-awful ridiculous things. It was saviour-hunting rather than simply getting down to taking proper care of herself. I think I've met most of the quacks in the western world."

Throughout the 1970s Lea followed a succession of programs in the name of health but at root were a way of distracting herself from issues that she was not prepared or able to deal with. Macro-biotics and fasting would alternate with periods of bingeing. Nutritionists and healers of many stripes would be consulted and their ideas incorporated into her practices and those of the people who most closely followed her. In the process Lea certainly undermined her own health and compromised that of several others. One man died after imitating Lea on an extended fast from which he never recovered. Another was significantly weakened by his lengthy fast and succumbed to the swirling waters of a river in which he was swimming with friends.

By the mid-1970s Lea was clearly losing it though in public she maintained the demeanour of the woman in charge. It was about this time that she began to write her autobiographical novels. Over the next several years her mood swings and behaviour became more erratic. In Florida her companions would gather up the mountain of things that she had purchased that day and return them to the stores. The phases of mania became more pronounced and she became more difficult to control. No one though was willing to bite the bullet and declare that she was no longer fully responsible for her behaviour. People living with her and others who visited or who were kept informed with events remained intimidated or perhaps still in thrall with her and were unable to restrain or to contain her. One of her caregivers recalls: "Part ofthe difficulty with Lea was that even in an irrational state, she was still in charge. It became clear to me how many people were still in a transferential dream with her. People were treating her as sane even though she was crazy, so alot of the damage that she inflicted on herself continued."

Lea had preached a quite anti-medical model position from the late 1960s. Earlier she had been proud to state that her uncle had been a doctor. She also claimed to have been trained as a nurse at Great Ormond St Hospital. Influenced by the writing of Robert Lindner and likely because of her own insecurity about education and credentials, she gradually became more distainful of medical, especially psychiatric, approaches. This bias remained a legacy within Therafields for many years and likely continues with some of its former members. Because of this it was never possible to have a dispassionate look at the bipolar condition which was more and more taking her over. Her caretaker continued: "I have never conceptualized her ultimate break down as a manic-depressive condition but that could certainly summarize it. She was a powerful person and in many ways the power came from rising up above the depression -- that was, at first. Then she became more and more obsessive in her activities, especially her health activities. She would fast with intensity. She was always going for the intense activitiy. She didn't recognize that those experiences were wearing out her physical body as well."

In the early 1980s Lea suffered through an outright psychotic period and was hospitalized. Though diagnosed with a psychosis triggered by her bipolar condition, a not uncommon event for someone untreated, many people around her could not stomach the idea that this was the cause of her condition. Over a decade later Tom O was furious with me when I mentionned her state during that period. He clearly believed that to say Lea suffered from a manic-depressive condition was to insult her. To acknowledge a mental health issue in an important other was to styigmatize them. It was part of Lea's own legacy of anti-medical theory and practice that prevented her receiving help at a stage when her health might have been salvaged and her life have been more productive and happy.