Sunday, October 31, 2010

Who's in Charge?

In his chapter "Confrontation" Grant quotes Dan McDonald's intense disappointment when in Dec, 1967 Lea pushed through a decision to leave Rob and Barry in charge during her stay in North Carolina. Dan had been quite instrumental in the search for a country property earlier in the spring and had felt a real pride in Hypno I's purchase of the farm. I question whether Dan in his remarks would refer to the "end of the movement." None of us at that time saw what was happening as a movement. We were doing therapy and we had acquired a farm where we could do marathons.

Leadership at the farm evolved that fall as individuals with time, energy and skills came forward and took it. Adam was there quite a bit as part of an on-going project at the farm house. Stan was there too as ML was involved in the project and they had just begun a relationship. That academic year he was teaching at St Mike's College and living in the city but he spent every moment not in class at the farm. He took charge of the construction work, ordered supplies and worked with other volunteers fashioning the group room from a shed and dorms, a dining room, kitchen and washrooms from the lower barn.

There was another site in which leadership was needed -- Lea's groups, including the seminar/learning group when Lea was not present. As Josie recalled, if her mother could not attend a group or would be late, she would ask Rob, Barry or herself to sit in on the group to let her know what had happened, what was spoken of, and so on. This became the taking of the therapist's chair, an importantly symbolic act. From being an observer to actually "taking" the group was a slippery slope in these circumstances and by late 1967 it was common practice that Rob and Barry would chair the seminar meetings in Lea's absence. They would bring concerns of hers to the meetings and in turn would relay to her the substance of the discussions. There was no dissention in the group about this arrangement.

At the meeting that she called in December at the farm Lea wanted to talk about how it would be cared for while she was away. Lea used a "soft" approach to getting what she wanted: Let's talk about this. What do you think? and so on. Stan was proposed as the obvious choice to continue the leadership role that he had assumed. No, Lea said. Stan has made some bad decisions -- he had once ordered too much concrete; he wasn't a good choice. Well, how about (another person)? No, he's not mature enough. What about so-and-so? No, I don't feel good about him. Each proposal was rejected. Clearly she had some person in mind. Someone suggested Rob. Lea clapped her hands together with delight. Of course, what a brilliant idea. She immediately coupled Barry with Rob and spoke of how well they would work together.

Rob was then 20 years old; he had never held a job and had no experience of management, but, he was his mom's right hand boy. He was her closest child, her consolation in the years of developing estrangement with Harry, the child who had not rebelled against her as had Malcolm and Josie. Rob always experienced himself as the arbiter in the family, the go-between for his parents, his siblings and between his parents and his siblings. He got along at school despite bullying incidents by becoming a clown. He had a quick wit and could be funny and he used these skills to defuse situations of tension. Lea trusted him because he was always there, always faithful to her, always hers. He had finished high school at home and had remained, getting involved with the learning group, doing "therapy" there with his mother, and sharing a room in the family suite on the ground floor of 59 Admiral with Barry, Lea's other "son" of trust and closeness.

Barry was profoundly "in debt" with Lea. Like Rob he was his mother's last child and he was very tied to her. He had left home but eventually transfered all of his feelings for his mother to Lea. She encouraged him in his poetry and his personal development but she kept him close. He was as solidly hers as was Rob. For the next decade this special arrangement endured. "The boys" as Lea referred to them in her writing, were tuned into her concerns and needs and they followed her directions and supported her unflinchingly.

Lea and what was formerly her therapy practice were at an important crossroads in late 1967. I think that even before she went to North Carolina Lea knew on some level that she would never return to her practice as it had been. This was no longer possible for her either physically or emotionally. Up until the purchase of the farm by the Hypno I learners all of the properties used by her clients were her own. Now something new was happening. The numbers of people swelling the ranks were bringing financial resources that could open other possibilities. Lea was a fighter and a survivor. She had come from Wales to find her way in London with little backing; she had survived the Great Depression, World War II, and the the insecurites of the family's early years in Canada. She started with little and had developed a small real estate portfolio of her own. Moreover her therapy practice of inauspicious beginnings had grown into a "community" of several hundred people. Lea was not about to surrender the centrality of her own position especially at this time of personal vulnerability. She was unwilling or unable to sufficiently trust the people with whom she had worked and associated for several years to guide and care for the organization that they were jointly creating. Lea distributed her clients and her groups to the learners but to Rob and Barry she bequeathed the role of practical administration, subject always to her approval. Thus Lea put her stamp upon the future. Rob and Barry would be her executive; she would be governor.

In my own interviews other than Dan's upset and disappointment I did not come across much strong feeling about Lea's placing "the boys" in charge in 1967, certainly nothing like what Grant describes as "shock and indignation ... from that point forward their (the men of Hypno I's) attitude toward Lea's power and authority was tinged with fear and resentment." Lea had in fact managed this appoinment without the overt show of power she exhibited the following year after her return. Most simply accepted the decision without a struggle. Philip remembers that, "When Lea went away to North Carolina she left Rob and Barry in charge which was absolutely crazy. She would bring up that kind of idea: 'Wouldn't it be great for them to lead things? They work so well together.' Then it would happen. There wasn't much talk about it but it wasn't much of a surprise. By then they were chairing the group when she wasn't there. But they were 'puer' in the Jungian sense -- the boys. We allowed them to take over by not intervening. The number of core people in the group who had come out of religious life aided this giving over. What we knew that was best in religious life was the cameraderie and the feeling of deep connection with one another. We were not used to reflecting deeply on economic aspects."

The rationales that Grant gives for Lea's choice are pretty thin: she needed people who could act quickly on things she felt were necessary; and, Rob and Barry were closer in age to the people who were coming into therapy in those days and so would be more able to connect with them. The reality was that Lea wanted to remain in control of all aspects of the evolving landscape of Therafields and knew that her best hope was to place these young men at the helm in her absence. When she returned, as Grant states in another passage, "the gloves came off." A restored Lea asserted control in ways that did indeed seriously interupt the harmony of the seminar. But more about that in another blog.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Meeting Visvaldis

Grant's narrative of the meeting of Lea and Visvaldis is a somewhat expurgated one. Written out of the record is one of its most troubling aspects. Lea had not, as Grant writes, been asked to see the client of another therapist when she met Visvaldis. Visvaldis' wife, whom Lea in "Tea" refers to as Mildred (and I will continue this usage), was in Lea's Monday-Thursday group. In early 1967 Mildred spoke in the group of her fears for her husband then recovering in hospital from an attempted suicide. He was an architect, an alcoholic, and an inveterate womanizer. Mildred had cared for and worried about him for years. Lea loved a challenge and he sounded interesting. In fact she had already heard of him in the context of an affair that he had had with the former girl friend of one of her learners. Lea volunteered to visit him in the hospital to see if she could be of help. At their meeting she promised to see him daily if he could get himself discharged from the hospital. We hear now from researchers that it takes about 1/5th of a second to "fall in love." I doubt that it took much longer than that for Lea and Visvaldis to recognize something powerful in each other that they wanted and were looking for. Within a couple of weeks Lea was confessing her feelings for her new client to Mike and asking for "advice," that is to say the blanket approval and support that in that stage of his relationship with her, Mike was giving.

The idea that Lea was strictly an asexual, maternal figure prior to her physical work in North Carolina a year later is belied by the awareness that many had of her restlessness in her marriage. She clearly wanted an equal partner, a consort with whom she could find satisfaction in the many levels of her life at that period. Her interest in some of the men with whom she worked went beyond the strictly therapeutic. Joe Dougherty, Tom McNeil, and Mike himself were some of those to whom she was drawn. One of the men close to the pre-1967 scene confessed that he felt relief rather than the resentment Grant speaks of when Lea and Visvaldis got together.

An important feature of Lea's story in Canada is that she had no personal life outside her immediate family. All of her energy initially went into making the family work and then into developing her practice. She had no external context in which to talk about her frustrations and troubles or to get objective feedback about her decisions. She had no "community" of her own in which to develop personal friendships, meet potential lovers, or get supervision for the work she was doing. Her entire context was her practice and it was from this world that she chose "friends," and confidants. And it was within this context that consciously or not she was seeking a mate. For Lea to develop a sexual relationship with one of the men with whom she had worked would have raised ethical questions to be sure. Those would not have been as serious, however, as those raised by her involvement with Visvaldis. He was in a quite broken state when she met him. Within a couple of weeks she was confessing her attraction and desire to Mike. She did not pass Visvaldis on to another therapist, however, but continued to "work" with him, intensifying the bond between them and the need that they had for each other.

The other, more serious ethical lapse in this situation relates to "Mildred," Visvaldis' long-suffering wife. Mildred continued in Lea's group and to work with the Hypno I therapist whom she had been assigned. As a member of Lea's group was she also Lea's client? I would say that she was. She had looked in trust to Lea for help in her marriage but in short order her husband had been taken up in an intensely emotional, later sexual involvement with the therapist to whom she had turned. That this was happening was clear to many of the members of the learning group. Weekly they listened to the tapes from the Monday-Thursday group as a learning mechanism and they were present at the marathon called in May at Prudhomme's motel for the group when Visvaldis appeared as a "guest." They had heard Mildred's plea for help and now met the man himself. Some of these people may have been monks and nuns but they were not all fools. One says, "What was so startling to me was that Lea showed up with Visvaldis at the marathon. It was so imprudent, unethical and unprofessional -- especially with his wife there in the group. There was a real madness to it. Part of it was her desire to have a man to help her. It was her insecurity, a compulsive, ungrounded element."

On Pg 105 Grant has condensed some of a piece that Lea wrote around 1976 about an early morning phone call from Visvaldis in Dec, 1968. It was published a year later in the Therafields 15th anniversary booklet. The language used in what is essentially a monologue by Visvaldis is classically Lea's own, especially in the works she was writing at that time, but certainly some of the sentiments were Visvaldis' own. Interestingly, Grant omitted one important paragraph. In it Visvaldis says that he "spoke to Mildred a while ago about all this (his vision and ideas for Therafields) but she frowned on everything. Instantly I felt castrated and found my ideas scattering. But now as I talk to you I can feel them all being drawn back together again." Mildred refers to his ideas as "harebrained." Mildred has become the foil to Lea's ideal woman and partner. In the late 1960s, early 1970s as Lea developed her typology of the paranoid/paranee, her husband, Harry, and Visvaldis' wife, Mildred, became the archetypal paranoids from whom she and Visvaldis had to separate in order to live healthy and productive lives. Lea wanted what she wanted and she took what she wanted but she could not simply say so. Instead she had to elude even her own conscience by developing a theory to explain and justify actions which today would prompt the loss of her licence in any professional association.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Return from North Carolina

In his chapter on Lea's "make-over," Grant writes about ambivalent feelings that surfaced toward Lea on her return from North Carolina in the spring of 1968. He describes her returning vibrant and sexual, transformed from the essentially maternal figure that she had previously been. From the women came jealousy and envy; from the men, resentment. The reality was far more complex. I will focus here on one example but will write later of other components of the emotional and institutional milieu in which changes were taking place between Lea and the others.

Grant speaks of the experience of one member of Lea's second learning group, Hypno II. In a meeting of that group soon after her return, Lea asked peple to speak of their feelings about her having been away. The person Grant refers to felt then a surge of poweful rage toward Lea, occasioned by incidents of abandonment by his own mother when a small child but never emotionally experienced. Invited, he said what he was feeling though he was clearly terrified to do so. A few others brought forth similar feelings. Lea made no attempt to place these feelings in a context for them. Rather she simply said to the group as a whole, "Do you see what we're seeing here?" Frightened, others in the group turned on the speakers as pariah, accusing them of destructive intents. Lea didn't intervene or make any attempt to work with the material. Instead she ended the group session, leaving the speakers until the following week with the terrible burden of having been judged by Lea and the others as monsters. "The sense that we were left with was that what we were feeling was dark, very dark,a hatred of the matrix. We were seen as demonic. That week I was really scared and I hoped that by the time we met I wouldn't still have those feelings toward Lea. In the next group she asked us how we were now feeling. I said that I did still have a bit of that feelng toward her. Actually what was happening was that I had become quite self-destructive. I had turned against myself and was feeling quite physicaly ill. In the group people said all manner of things about me. Lea just sat there and said nothing. I don't know what the hell she was doing. There was no leadership. No distinction was made between the conscious and the unconscious. It was Kleinian in a way. I guess she saw us as the children wanting to kill the mother. The group stayed together until after Christmas but then it came apart. There was no longer the feeling that I had in her morning group that I had belonged to of her coming in and rolling up her sleeves and getting down to work."

On reflection the man with whom Grant spoke believed that Lea was on an unconscious level experiencing similar feelings and that he was picking them up and expressing them. Grant speaks wryly about the man's conclusion as a reversal of the classical "projective identification." Grant dismisses the idea that Lea could herself have been then subject to feelings of that kind. I have for some years subscribed to the idea that many things can be true at the same time. Undoubtedly Grant's interviewee was connecting with powerful reactions to abandonment by his mother. At the same time it is also true that Lea herself had an extremely wounded place of this kind and was now much closer to it. However, Lea had no context wherein she was willing or able to surrender herself and to get help. As a result there was a substantial change in Lea's (as Grant calls it) Kleinian style of working. Earlier Lea would use an upsurge of primitive material in a client as a fulcrum to deeper resolution. The longings, the terrible rages and terrors were all grist for the mill. Not only did she encourage clients to bring these feelings forward but she would deftly work to ensure the individual that these were but the cries of a small child, not an indication of evil or of an unworkable pathology. But struggling to manage and subdue her own troubles, Lea retreated from this position. She could pick up and identify fear and rage in clients and in groups but she wasn't able to work with them as she had formerly. The "Kleinian" approach became more one of identifying this layer of material than of working with it.

Lea began to speak of paranoia at some length, about those who were paranoid, ie, those who fomented internally with a desire to destroy the matrix, that is, Lea herself. The ironic piece here is that Lea had herself become "paranoid," that is to say, frightened of the power of feelings that her work had stirred in others. The identified "paranoid" others became for her a present day embodiment of the until then successfuly repressed terrors that she had held since a young child. It is likely that these terrors centred around her father as it was primarily men that Lea began to identify as paranoid. She declared herself no longer willing to work with them. The men who had worked with her as clients, as learners, and as colleagues on the development of the farm became divided into two groups: those who were with her, that is, who didn't challenge her centrality and those who held opinions contrary to her own.

I don't wish to imply that after this period Lea was incapable of doing deeper work with clients. In smaller group settings or with individuals she continued to do so. But something powerfully significant had happened to cause her to back away from areas where before she had courageously gone. From this period Lea gathered around her an entourage of women to travel with and care for her. One woman who was a part of this group for over a decade spoke of the way that as Lea's health deteriorated in the late 1970s, she could not bear to be alone. "That was already happening in 1968 though it wasn't as obvious. That's why she had the entourage. Sometimes late at night she would have someone massage her...It became obvious that she simply didn't want to be alone. She often slept with the light on." In groups also from 1967 Lea was rarely seen alone. Invariably she would bring someone with her, sometimes several people, people specially chosen to "assist" her, people who would never contradict or take an oppositional perspective from hers either in or out of the group. They would defend Lea and her positions in groups and in meetings.

In pointing to the Bigwin experience as central to the breakdown of Lea's defenses, I don't want to suggest that without Bigwin this would not have happened. I think that something of this nature was inevitable given the trajectory of Lea's situation and that of the existing community. But still, Bigwin was a large, identifiable turning point. The break-down of her defenses and the building of new ones with the resultant changes in Lea's relationships did not happen all at once. It was a process that was accelerated by Bigwin, coincident with her failing health, her need to take care of herself, and her desire for greater personal satisfaction. By the time Lea returned from North Carolina there were demonstrable changes. These cannot be attributed simply to the idea that Lea had made up her mind to take care of herself and to live differently. The changes went too deep for that conclusion. Many threads came together during this period: the breakdown of her physical and emotional defenses, her attraction to and involvement with Visvaldis, her guilt and worry about her children, and her desire to bring them into the communal fold in order to get help for them. These became central concerns for her that shaped much of her subsequent involvement with Therafields and with the directions that it took.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lea's Life and Practice Change

At the core of any person's troubles lie primitive fears beyond his or her conscious reach but which are acted out in some form in daily life as well as in the structure and functioning of his or her body. Over the years of her own apprenticeship as a therapist in Toronto Lea gradually developed a confidence in working with deeper levels in her clients as they were revealed. Group work, especially in a marathon setting, allowed an intense but safe context within which terrors and their concommitant rages could be flushed to the surface. Lea and the other group members could surround and support an individual through this experience both within the group and later, outside of it. Supporters would supply the sense of calm understanding, acceptance, and love necessary to an integration and thus resolution of this formerly repressed material. The process worked so long as Lea herself was well and truly grounded and as long as she had enough solid assistance in her groups. However, even as marathon work was developing in 1967-8, those conditions were failing. Work of this depth in a group will inevitably spark even more. If I have repressed feelings and experiences, witnessing or being involved with another's expression of these will not only push my own material to the surface, but it will give me tacit permission for my own revelations. This is the power of the group experience. But it is also its danger. If too many in the group are overwhelmed with their troubles and there are not enough supporters to assist them, not enough energy in the group or in the therapist to facilitate this intensely demanding work, the experience can replicate the terror and chaos of the individual's original situation and further repression ensue. Lea was not unaware of these possiblities. She would speak about the scriptural parable about the man from whom a devil was cast out who was later invaded by a host of seven more. She warned about the experimental sensitivity groups -- T-groups -- in vogue in the 60s, because of damage done when peple were indiscriminately opened to their deepest troubles and then basically abandoned without follow-up.

Early in 1967 the pressure of Lea's schedule and her declining health meant fewer sessions and less individual work with her regular clients and her learning therapists. Yet many clearly needed a forum to address and work with problems that were close to the surface. She proposed a 12 day "holiday"/marathon at a resort north of Toronto on Bigwin Island. This proved to be a watershed event. On the marathon Lea used all of the tools of her craft: relaxation, dream analysis, psychodrama, and increasingly, physical work. Disturbed material poured forth from participant after participant. By the end of the first week, however, the context felt less safe and more chaotic as the sheer number of people close to their own raw emotional states increased and the resulting number of those able to ground and support them decreased. Connecting with scary, disturbing feelings and memories within a therapy context is only one, albeit, essential moment on a path to resolution. A great deal of "mop-up" work must follow. The client must feel in a sense "contained" within a context of quite substantial support in order to explore, connect with, and articulate formerly repressed feelings and the ways they have been active in her daily life. Lea came to Bigwin hoping to deal with and resolve a back-load of therapeutic material with her clients but in the event even more was released.

People who had done substantial work with Lea date that period as the end of their personal therapy with her. The farm had already been purchased and work would soon begin to turn it into a centre for marathons. Lea's group and individual schedule was impossibly over-taxed. The nascent community now demanded not only Lea's time and energy but as well that of many of the Bigwin participants. The learning group became more of a seminar and less a place in which personal work could happen. But the real centre of change that made the continuation of deep and consistent work for Lea's client/learners was within Lea herself.

Grant rghtly points to Lea's exhaustion and Type-2 diabetes as major components in her changes of direction in 1967-8. But there were others. The very intensity of the work at Bigwin opened the floodgates not only for Lea's clients but also for herself. Lea had presented herself as a woman from a generous, supportive and creative family, who had in her turn produced a similar family of her own. Examples drawn from her own life and that of her children would highlight those qualities. As Grant has documented, this picture was far from accurate. Material which Lea had been able to rise above earlier surged to the surface with the combined pressures of failing health and energy and the depth of the work done at Bigwin. Lea's early terrors and her profound sense of abandonment surfaced but were never worked with in any manner that could allow for resolution. The failure of Lea's defensive structures over the period 1967-8 presaged not a deeper level of self-awareness but rather new structures of defense as well as new ways of life and a truly altered relationship with what had formerly been her own therapy practice. It is during that period that the organization that came to be known as Therfields came into being and so it is that period that requires more scrutiny and understanding.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lea's Early Practice

It's about 25 years since the dust has settled on Therafields, yet Grant's book is the first major accounting of its development and demise. As such it is an important work for all of us who lived and breathed and literally had our being within that experience. It has occasioned much talk and feeling and will continue to do so. I find the book strongest after 1975 when Grant brings himself into the narrative. Lots of concrete details serve to illustrate the disaffection that arose between the administration -- Rob, Barry, and Rik -- and the working therapists. Economic factors were huge as was the fading of Lea's presence and influence. But like with most if not all "failed" relationships or endeavours, the seeds of collapse were sown years before its terminal stages. I would like to pick up on some of the pre-1975 threads that I have explored in my own interviews and reflections.

Grant's involvement with Lea preceded the coming of the Catholic group.When he writes of those early years it is difficult to get a sense of his own location. He did therapy with Lea, with some depth and consistency, and he lived in one or more of her early house groups. When some members of the Catholic group and some of Lea's earlier clients met with her in 1965 to form a learning group, Grant was of their number. But what was it like for someone who had been with Lea prior to the evolution of the Catholic group to be confronted with the formation of a fairly homogeneous, well-educated, and interesting group of people who took up more and more of Lea's energy. In a family it would be like the arrival of an un-asked-for sibling. Grant's interviews are not with those with whom he shared Lea's work. Rather they focus on the Catholic group members almost exclusively. And Grant's responses to their recollections and feelings are not particularly sympathetic. He denies many of their views and experiences, often calling their comments bitter. In the second part of the book though Grant is more clearly aligned with those same people as they struggled with another, if you like, set of siblings, the group that Lea chose in 1967 to represent her in administrating the quickly developing, newly-named Therafields.

When I came to 59 Admiral in July, 1966 to meet with this Mrs Smith who was doing therapy with groups, there was no Therafields. There was only Lea and her practice. As Grant has described it, she began with card readings and tea leaves in the 1950s but gradually developed a clientele through advertising and word of mouth. As her practice grew, she experimented with groups and then with house groups. The advent of Greg Baum's students moved Lea into wholly new dimensions not only in numbers but in the kinds of therapies offered. When I met Lea she was already ill and exhausted with over-work but there was never a question of my not being accepted into her practice. During that period of rapid expansion, in great part through referrals made by Catholic group members, Lea took on everyone. Why she did is an important question because the situation was clearly untenable. So many elements of Lea`s own make-up come into answers of this question. She was clearly moved by the people who came to her, seeing in them promise, seeing the troubles that blocked them from living fuller lives, and knowing that the therapy that she was evolving could be of help. There was literally little else availble at the time in Toronto. She could not bring herself to refuse the people seeking her help. I question the hypothesis that at that time Lea had a vision of a developed therapeutic community of the kind that Therafields became. Rather I view the development of Therafields as a result of ad hoc decisions and directions made as conditions arose. A discussion of the impact on these directions of what Lea began to term in the early 1970s her `cyclothymic personality,` I will leave to a later blog.

Lea developed the Catholic group in 1964 and 1965. In the summer of `65 some of those people met with other clients of hers to constitute a learning group. A year later Lea proposed that some of their number begin to work with the hordes of new arrivals beating a path to her door. In the month that I met her Lea was beginning to make these assignments. When she met with me at the beginning of the month, she proposed that I join her on-going Tuesday-Friday group as she was then too busy to begin individual sessions with me. Within a few weeks, however, she assigned me to one of the newly-minted therapists, Marty Pieke. I was to continue in her group and to have individual sessions with Marty. In this arrangement I would have a therapist with enough available time to see me twice a week as well as the benefit of Lea's expertise in the group. At the same time seeing me in her group would allow Lea an on-going sense of my issues so that she could supervise Marty's work in the new seminar group. This solution to the impossible demand on Lea's time and energy by so many new clients had its up and its down sides.

The most obvious benefit is that most of us who came to Lea then and in subsequent years could not otherwise have been admitted into her practice. For this I am very grateful. The arrangement also gave to her fledgling learners actual clients -- called then "patients" as in the medical model -- with whom to begin an apprenticeship in her art. It gave Lea breathing space and made possible her decision the following year to address her own serious health issues. The downside has at least two components, problems that recurred as each succeeding "generation" of new therapists took on clients of their own. Firstly, the people who began to work varied greatly in the depth of their own personal therapies. Some had had few sessions of their own and had done whatever work did occur in the group setting. It's pretty much a truism that you cannot take people where you have not gone yourself. If I have blind spots, areas of denial, or split off components, I will be unable to detect them in you, let alone be able to assist you in recognizing them and working them through.

The second difficulty arose from the very power of Lea's personality and work in her groups. Many of us centred our therapeutic transference on Lea rather than with our own individual worker. Lea was clearly the parent; the other therapist was more like an older sibling, albeit, in the main a kind and well-meaning one. With some of the therapists, the transference was split. In a situation like this resolution of the all-important transference material is next to impossible. None of us, Lea included, understood the dynamics created by this arrangement.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Coming into Therapy

Rather than simply critique Grant's narrative, I will begin a narrative of my own, one that reflects my own experience and the understanding that I have formed in my conversations with friends and with those whom I interviewed in 1997-8. People like myself who came into therapy in the wake of the 1963-4 advent of the "Catholic group" to Lea's practice, did so out of personal necessity. We were not a different "generation" from those religious who met with her at Greg Baum's suggestion, but were formed by many similar influences and had many similar concerns. Our parents reflected the conservatism born of life in the Great Depression and during World War II. Get a job and stick to it; marry and have a family; get a home and live a solid, predictable life; and, importantly, if you have areas within yourself that confuse or trouble you, don't talk about or reveal these because you will be seen as weak and of no account. Mental illness or emotional problems that might indicate that spectre can only bring shame and stigma to an individual or a family.

Coming into adulthood in the 1960s we lived a quite different reality. The economy was booming and jobs were readily available. Access to higher education gave a forum to explore other values, discourses and options than those we had absorbed from our parents. It was no longer necessary nor particularly valued to keep one's personal conflicts to oneself. Those of us fortunate enough to share our troubles with someone already connected with or knowledgable about the work being done by a cetain Mrs Smith on Admiral Road, soon found our way to her door and into what became the community of Therafields.

To be sure many if not most of our contemporaries did not take that particular direction. Some followed along the lines encouraged by their parents' lives and values, putting their own particular spin on those values. Others found different ways, for example, in political activity, to forge paths reflecting the spirit of the era. I came to see Lea in the summer of 1966 after talking with Stan Kutz, then Father Stan Kutz of the Newman Centre, U of Toronto, because I knew that I needed help. In February of the previous year I had left the order of The Religious Hospitalers of St Joseph, a primarily nursing order of Sisters who ran Hotel Dieu hospitals in Montreal, Kingston, St Catherines, Windsor and other places in Canada and the USA. I had decide five months before that date not to renew my temporary vows when they came due in February but was intensely conflicted about my decision. With other young professed sisters I was living in Ottawa in a small section of the Grey Nuns convent and going out to study at the University of Ottawa. My superior arranged for me to seek counsel with a priest from the university. Rather than trying to convince me that I was wrong to abandon religious life, this priest encouraged me to talk about my reasons for entering the convent and about my desire to leave. He intuited and questioned me about my personal history and issues and helped me to begin dimly to understand that my entering religious life was less an embrace of a vocation and more a solution to problems that I had with sexuality and intimacy. The conversations that I had with him allowed me the freedom to move on to the next stage of my life as a twenty-five year old woman living in Toronto completing my degree in history.

That period was liberating and satisfying in some ways but not in others. On leaving the convent I entertained the fantasy that I would soon meet and marry some lovely fellow and have a family. After more than a year in Toronto I had to acknowledge to myself that I was lonely in ways that I did not know how to deal with. I could see that the men with whom I spent time tended to be rather immature, not people that I was able to take seriously. On the other hand I found more mature men intimidating and would avoid connectioning with them. I also had trouble making friends with women, a fact I realized had always been true. In nurses training in Kingston I bonded with women that I shared the "trenches" of hospital ward duty with, then a much more physically demanding job than in the present. In the convent I also bonded with my novitiate-mates and with some of those with whom I studied in Ottawa. In both settings we lived in shared accomodations and many aspects of our lives were commnunal. Living in a small apartment in Toronto and taking classes with people several years younger than myself did not help me to find people who could understand and like me.

Faced with a realisation that the sexual and intimacy issues discussed with my counsellor in Ottawa were probably connected to my current unhappiness, I decided to seek help. I turned, naturally enough, to a priest. When I met with Stan at the Newman Centre, I told him all of the above and asked him rather tremulously if he thought that I needed to see a psychiatrist. At that time, in 1966, I knew of no other avenues for help with personal or emotional problems. But the idea of seeking psychiatric care deeply frightened me. During my year and a half at the Hotel Dieu in Kingston I had spent three months as a student affiliate at what was then called The Kingston Mental Hospital. The things that I saw and experienced there both interested and appalled me. Options for patients then being treated were limited: elecro-shock treatment, insulin shock therapy, and psycho-tropic drugs that left them in unreachable states. Invisible lines clearly demarked who were "patients" and who were not. Patients were the "Other," the scarey ones who stirred our own doubts or fears about the stability of our own mental health. The idea of falling into that group was profoundly threatening. To my relief Stan said that he didn't think that I needed psychiatric help. He told me about a lady on Admiral Road who was doing very good therapy with people, much of it in groups. He thought that I could benefit from that work and encouraged me to call her. I was really excited about this possiblity. I was interested in psychology, though I had read and studied little at that point. The idea of meeting others with similar interests was very appealing and even a fantasy snuck into my mind that in her group I might find some good fellow to marry.

In my next blog I will write about meeting with Lea and my early connections with her.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grant's book

Once anything is in print it takes on a powerful validity regardless of its content. It becomes a part of the canon on that topic and thus part of the "truth" about it. In reality it is A "truth," the truth of that particular author, rather than what it can easily be taken to be: THE TRUTH. It is not possible for anyone to write THE history of Therafields because each of us who lived it and were shaped and affected by it has our own stories and understandings of that history. There are "objective" facts to be sure -- dates, names numbers, and so on. The rest is dependent upon the recall and interpretation of each "subject" of that history. Just as each member of a family will have his or her own narrative of the life of that family, each of us who lived within the "family," or "community" of Therafields will have our own vision of the community, shaped not just by the whole of what we experienced there but also by the whole of who we are and who we were before and since that experience. Grant's interpretation is but his own. It is not neutral because neutrality in historical writing is not possible. Any author shapes his or her work within his own personal narrative whether consciously or not. To pretend otherwise is naive at best.

For me a a major difficulty with Grant's work lies in his unproblematical use of Lea's manuscript "Not For You Tea in the Afternoon." All of Lea's writings were autobiographical in nature, and all were written as thinly disguised apologia for her own life and work. It is hard to find anything remotely like a confessional note in her writing. Susan, her protagonist and alter-ego, is portrayed as the universally good woman, the woman who struggles valiantly against all odds, all evils, and prevails through her own intelligence, courage, and creativity. This is not said to denigrate the reality of these aspects of Lea herself. She was intelligent, courageous, and creative. But that was only a part of her truth. She had her own dark and secret places that she was unwilling or unable to share in any effective manner to receive help. It's not that these elements went unexpressed but they were revealed only to people who were in some manner dependent upon her and in no position to challenge her increasingly disturbed behaviour especially in the late 1970s as Lea moved closer toward the total collapse that engulfed her in the early 1980s. It was during this period of gradual disintegration that Lea wrote "Tea," a book that Grant quotes from uncritically as not how Lea wanted to portray the past, but as the way that things actually had been.

My sense of the book is that Grant wanted to write an ode to Lea. This is fair practice but his ode ought not to be written then as a history of what happened among us. In the book members of the community are bundled into two groups: the older, Hypno I-based crowd and the newer "counter-culture" group who came after the aforesaid. Both sets are given common attitudes and characteristics, seemingly opposed to one another in their views of Lea and the purposes of the developing community. One has only to speak with people across that divide to brush up against the enormous diversity of locations, understandings, and ambivalences about every aspect of the life of Therafields and of Lea during the periods that Grant is writing about.

The subsuming groups and attitudes into a general "them," occurs throughout the work. Grant writes as though "the community" moved along as an integrated organism toward clearly identified and agreed-upon goals. For example, he says that "In 1974 the community committed itself to finding sufficient land to feed a community of a thousand. A fourth one hundred acre farm was purchased..." Pg 135. "The community" -- if he is speaking here of the several hundred who were then members -- had not only no forum to discuss such a project, but no knowledge of the purchase until after the fact. Even then it became known only gradually as people heard of it while up at the farm. Decisions of this nature were made by a small group, by Lea with Rob, Barry, and Visvaldis. Rik would be involved as he handled financial details. There may have been some talk with, for example, John Dean, who was then farm manager, and others from the seminar who might have been visiting the Willow. She may have spoken of the idea in the seminar itself or in another of her groups, but it was never the practice of any of these individuals or groups to effectively dialogue with Lea about issues that she felt strongly about, certainly not in a way that would impact upon actual decision-making. These decisions and their implementation happened only at the top. To my knowledge this farm was never used for an expansion of organic farming. The resources for yet more labor-intensive work were simply not available.

That Grant's book is written as an ode to Lea seems clearest in his use of quotations from his former colleagues whom he interviewed. Rather than using their thoughts as springboards to explore the diversity and complexity of feeling and opinion within "the community," he uses them as examples of what has become known recently in political circles as "the bad apples" arguement. Philip, Jim, and Mike Quealey are quoted about their discontents with directions that Lea took in the early 1970s. In various places in the book these Hypno I men are labelled conservative, bitter, and too rigid to go along with Lea's expansive agenda, an agenda understood and embraced by the others, the "counter-culture" crowd. Refuting the statements made by "the apples," Grant declares that "Lea had preached from the first the broad, European sense of therapy, which for her included a community and social revolution, as opposed to the narrow, medicalized American sense of specialization." Now that is a considerable mouthful, one that demands not only an examination of the sources of this "European" sense of therapy, but also of Lea's own ambivalence stated periodically in seminar groups, about the developing community. "It was you people who wanted this, not me," she would direct at the former religious. Another important piece to critically examine is the evolution of Lea's ideas and theories about "social revolution" and the medical model.

Getting Started

In the fall of 1997 I began a series of interviews with forty-five people who had belonged to the Therafields community. I taped and transcribed each interview. My initial idea had been to obtain material for publication in a magazine. The more I spoke with people, however, the more the project broadened and became complex. By the summer of 1998 I had had enough of an activity that was consumming a major part of my time and energy. I was then too busy to continue to devote enough space to do the topic justice. Beside I could see by then that the deeper reason for my research was an attempt to understand exactly what had happened during the years 1966-83 while I had been so involved with Therafields. To me it seemed that I had lived in a large and complex extended family, a village almost. As I "grew up" within this community I experienced and intuited changes that were happening in the broader context of the organization as a whole but was unable to fully understand or articulate them. In my interviews I had the opportunity to talk in some depth with people who had had different locations within the community, often with very differing experiences. Out of this phase of my work I began to understand more what had been happening to others and how their experiences and mine were interrelated.

A couple of years ago I returned to my interview material to try once again to put some order to the vast array of information and thoughts received from others as well as from my own experience. During my Christmas vacation I wrote out the whole of my own personal journey through Therafields, a journal piece of about fifty pages. I then essentially edited the relatively chaotic interactive format of each of my interviews into a more linear declaration from each person of their thoughts and experiences. I sent copies of each edited interview to the person interviewed to ensure that they were comfortable with my formulation. Close to half of those who responded asked that I not directly publish their interview or that I not directly quote them. The reasons for this caution varied but there was a general concern that if feelings expressed in the interview were openly published that some people could be hurt or that animosities could be stirred that were best left dormant. Though I understood these fears I found the response disappointing. The material in my interviews is so rich and interesting and shines so many lights on the Therafields experience that I believed it important historically for it to be revealed in some form.

Reading Grant's book in the last couple of weeks has galvanized in me a desire to return to a reflection on my own experience and that of those who have spoken with me about their own. I want to use this blog format as a way of putting forth my thoughts. I invite responses from anyone connected with Therafields, responses either in agreement or opposed to the ideas that I put forward. I will begin the blog postings with some of my responses to Grant's work.