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.

1 comment:

  1. I was part of the outside edge of Therafields 1970-74. What I saw at the tender age of 20-24 was a hoard of people looking up to Lea and various therapists (many priests and nuns)to find themselves and a place to belong as one would hope to in one's family. What I couldn't get was the dramas that many "clients/patients" took on/pretended/became "Sybil" just to be a part of this movement....just to fit in. I felt an unspoken pressure to continue to belong and by leaving after only 4 years "I couldn't have dug down deep enough to have become "in touch with myself and really be me". On the contrary what I learned from the Therafields experience was to hold on to the good in me and the direction that luckily my loving and supportive family had instilled in me. I believe I would have made a damn good therapist, but didn't want to play the game and of course had not put in enough time or enough fees. Anyways, I guess Therafields may have saved a lot of lost souls.