Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Learning Groups

Grant writes on Page 109 about the two streams created in Therafields by the newer, younger therapists who used bioenergetics and massage to explore emotions through the body and the older therapists of Hypno I who followed the more traditional talking cure. There was never such a clear-cut division. People trained in and using the physical approach were few compared to those in Hypno I, CAG, and the later learning groups who did what was often called "chair therapy." Those who did use the physical approach also incorporated techniques of hypnotherapy and inter-active interpretation used by the others. Similarly some of those not specifically oriented to physical work made use of its basic insights and methods with their clients. Abreactive work which required both hypnotherapy and a physical component was utilized by many across the spectrum of workers.

Founding the Character Analysis Group (CAG) in October, 1968, Lea took its name from the title of Wilhelm Reich's major opus. She had become interested in his work through Alexander Lowen's book on bioenergetics. But physical work was only one part of the orientation that she wished to take with this and subsequent learning groups. The way that Hypno I is working is too slow, she said. I want you people to go more directly after defenses, to learn how to confront these by doing it here in the group. Reich was not at all about the kind of confrontation Lea was espousing. His work was looking at the body, being aware and getting his patients aware of muscular blocks, places of tension, shallow breathing, etc. He saw that from an early age a person could develop specific tensions to prevent him or herself from feeling painful or frightening experiences. These tensions became chronic adaptations. Putting tight muscles under stress and opening up the breathing could release tension and liberate the underlying emotional substrata. Reich would have a patient breathe more deeply, allowing a greater flow of energy throughout the body. Sometimes this led to spontaneous crying or rage. Memories might surface that would make clearer the sources of the tensions. It was very interesting work, a really important departure. Lea incorporated Reich's work by having DJ begin bioenergetic groups in the summer of 1969 with the men and the women of both Hypno I and CAG. In these groups we followed the exercises that Lowen had developed from Reich's work. As feelings were released we helped one another as a group. Some stayed with this process and grew with it. Some found it too intense or scary for themselves at the time. In the meantime Marje Kabin had become a registered masseuse, using that modality as a further complement to expressive therapy, and others from CAG followed her to the massage college. About ten people engaged in physical work, developing it as a central focus in their practices. For the other 70 or so group members, CAG was simply another learning group with a focus on confrontation.

Of the people whom I interviewed from that group only one said that he had liked and learned from the Character Analysis Group. Many of us gained greatly from being in the group in that over the years we developed quite deep connections with one another and participated in work, play, and friendships together at the farm and in the city that were in the broad sense therapeutic and wholesome. But the groups themselves were often agonizing. About 80 people would sit on the floor in a small room with the expectation that someone would confront and someone else would be confronted. One never knew when another might bring up a personal discontent directed at oneself. Lea preached from time to time that confrontation should not be done out of personal spite. One ought only do it out of love, she would say, because you care about a person and want to help him or her. Good in theory but in the real world more often it was those less in touch with their own vulnerabilities and those who enjoyed hearing themselves (or having Lea hear them) who would do the confronting. Unquestionably personal irritations and emnities were sometimes at work. Those not on the "hot seat" would hide, hoping to be overlooked. One member spoke of the way that she lived in fear and trembling of those groups. "I remember feeling that you could do something completely innocently and then get lambasted for it."

Not long after the group began, however, Lea invited some members, like the Hypno I people in 1966, to try their hand at working with the constant overflow of new clients seeking therapists. Thereafter the groups gradually became a seminar. In that format the groups were not as threatening, though they could be boring. Sitting on the floor for an hour and a half hearing details of a problem client wasn't necessarily stimulating, especially in a room charged with unexpressed feelings and confusions. The amazing thing is that we stuck around. But we had committed so much by that time. This was where we lived, where our closest friends were, where our visions of the future lay. Those of us who aspired to be therapists wanted to continue with the body work that we were learning. Also many of us had histories with Lea in which good things had happened. We had to accomodate ourselves somehow. It became a relief when Lea wasn't at the group and she was often away. Many of us just learned to stay quiet and to get on with our lives in the diverse ways that they were developing. The whole large question of why we stuck around, why we went along with so much, not just the good or the neutral stuff, but things that were outrightly wrong, is a centrally important one that I hope to address later.

There is much to be said about the learning groups that Lea founded after Hypno I, about their orientations, processes, and outcomes. Hypno I seems to have been a site wherein Lea worked long and hard at the actual business of therapy, teaching her students by doing. None of the subsequent groups was particularly successful. Some participants did become therapists for the long haul, but significantly fewer with each succeeding "generation." After Hypno I there was Hypno II, disbanded after a year because of "unworkable resistances" to her, then CAG, a short-lived Hypno III group (also disbanded because of the amount of questioning and disagreement with Lea's ideas), the Brunswick learners, Gemini I and II, and in 1979, another short-lived group, the New Learners. Why did Lea continue to found these groups? Was it as Grant contends that she found the newer groupings more congenial, closer in spirit to herself than the boring old stick-in-the-mud Hypno I members? When Lea returned from North Carolina she essentially surrendered her practice to the therapists who had taken over for her. This work had been her source of income. Around that time the finances of what was now called Therafields became administered centrally and therapists were paid a salary based on their practices. Lea needed a job. Having more and more learners provided a focus for her and a raison d'etre. She was Teacher, Supervisor, and Ultimate Leader. The groups also provided an impetus for the organization as a whole. Pairs of neophytes were turned loose on the constant stream of people still coming to Therafields for therapy in the early 1970s. Learners did not receive remuneration for their work. Rather, all revenue generated by them went into the general coffers to pay for the administration, the farm, the on-going construction projects promoted by Visvaldis, and his and Lea's salaries.

Looking back on some of these groups it could be almost amusing to think of some of the directions taken, were it not for the fact that the so-called learners were putting a great deal of time, energy, and money into the process and yet learning little. The things that Lea incessantly talked about through the early 1970s: the paranee/paranoid issue; the emotional plague; cyclothymic versus schitzoid personality types; fasting and related health issues; the importance of viewing Therafields as a working --i.e., building community; and increasingly, the fantasized Environmental Centre. All of these flowed from her own issues, her own unresolved family problems, and the needs of Visvaldis and herself.


  1. I think you may have given Lea's neurosis too much power when you conclude "...The things that Lea incessantly talked about through the early 1970s...[including] the importance of viewing Therafields as a working --i.e., building community; and increasingly, the fantasized Environmental Centre. All of these flowed from her own issues, her own unresolved family problems, and the needs of Visvaldis and herself."

    I do not think she could have had that level of influence (power over the direction of Therafields as a community) had it not all have been taking place during the 70s when the "back to the land" movement influenced our thinking; in our quest for 'wholeness' we turned to such things as organic eating and farming, forms of self and group sufficiency, 'dropping out' of mainstream capitalist culture and seeking new more collective values and a healthy lifestyle. The 70s era provided fertile ground for dreams of a pioneer community where we would live, relatively self-sufficently with a core of like-minded friends.

    I remember a summer marathon group session held in the converted shed near the old farmhouse when Maurice and Philip tried to turn the discussion to social class issues and a mild critique of the hierarchy of the organization. They were shut down immediately.
    I wonder what might have happened had we been able to apply a critical social/political lens to the organization at that time (1971)? If intellect had been allowed some 'air time' in the highly regulated, hegemonic emotional atmosphere;if a 'balance' had been sought?

  2. I actually think this person, Lea,could indeed have had that level of influence over any group she chose, in any era, because of her amazing charisma,intelligence,and intuition, the like of which I have never encountered, before or since. Consider this ; suppose Lea had remained in England, and had gravitated to Politics. !! She might have given Margaret Thatcher a run for her money. .....Can't you easily imagine Lea having high tea with the Queen at the Palace, or 10 Downing Street ? Maybe she missed her true calling........just a thought.