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.


  1. I am enjoying your blog responses to reading Grant's book very much. It is important to "fact" check and offer an alternative interpretation of events. Your writing is evocative and refreshing. Memories of Therafields are coming back in floods.

    Here's my initial response to the book - I was disappointed for the following reasons.


    This is a loveless book. No passion, no joy and no laughter; a stale whiff of male detachment escapes from each page. I search in vain for a description of the freshness of youth, of the boundless energy of young people living in an experimental community that held so much promise and shaped their lives.

    Therafields was all about the central place of feelings in people’s lives, yet the author avoids any real feeling. He merely chronicles events, offering the "preferred reading" of the history of Therafields. The power structure of this hierarchical institution and its underground politics re-emerge, reified in the many quotes of former “religious” used to support and frame the author’s version of its history. The tone of the text makes the reader wonder if the book had been pre-approved by the former priests and nuns who were members of the elite, Hypno I.

    The narrative silences the voices of the hundreds of "little" people who were not members of the "inner circle" of therapists. Missing are the stories of vibrant young people who threw themselves into the experiment, emotionally and intellectually open, trusting, vulnerable and filled with the idealism and hope of the era.

    [I remember their stories...with deep feeling and much affection.]

    1. I was very struck by the entry by "professoronline." I was one of those enthusiastic youth. It was the most moving and meaningful time of my life and shaped me in many ways. I regret it not and am still able to love the very human and fallible people who both led and participated in it. What a ride! I still carry on the work.
      Another Therapist

  2. I just found out about Grant's book, which I have not yet read, and this blog, which I am reading from the first posting onwards.

    So far I am liking the blog and I have ordered the book.

    You are providing bits of history of which I knew very very little. I keep wanting to shout out, "what in hell did we all think we were doing?"