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.


  1. I remember rumblings about the issue of money and how it was being used. If actual questions were voiced in sessions or in group settings, one was quickly shown how these doubts and wonderings were clearly rooted in one's own neurosis. It was all very dissatisfying.

    1. Money...yes,that issue got me in trouble.What you describe is exactly how every question about money was handled,and it worked beautifully to shut people down. It was also said that Lea personally owned The Willow,and many of the other properties, and had graciously made them available to all- the implication being that you were most ungrateful to even mention it. And were'nt we the real beneficiaries of so called ' Work Therapy '? No,we were used,and I was worn out.What a scam! I recall the unqualified nonsense spouted by so-called 'Therapists'in various groups,the arrogant berating ,even humiliation of people in these groups,which I'm sure must have inflicted long-lasting damage.Thank God that out of 'concern'for me they asked me to leave my 3rd house group.I wasnt working out,wasnt adhering to the party line,and they were'concerned'about me.I never heard from any of them ever again.No one said goodbye or wished me well.Basically,I was shunned. I spent the next couple of months, unemployed, guilt-ridden, sleeping on the couch of a friend,a former Tharafielder,who had extricated himself,with difficulty.I didnt really need Therapy when I got drawn into it,(Therafields thought everybody needed Therapy ) but when I left it, I did.But I had no more confidence in any kind of Therapy.I was emotionally wrecked,hardly any friends,and I had been encouraged,even pressured, all those years, to cut off from my family.In retrospect,it was the best that could have happened, or I might have wasted more years in this dreadful Cult.I did meet some lovely people there,all of whom,like me, were seriously mis-led.But there are lovely people everywhere.Lovely trusting people are the ones cults prey upon.One lesson I did take from the wasted years at Therafields: never believe in Gurus,or any person or group that claims to have the answers-you can be absolutely sure they dont.What they do have is a lust for power,money,and control over others.You have to find your own answers,and you can.If you are Psychotic,or Manic,or so depressed you are incapable of getting off the couch, drugs are about the only thing that can help you. But if you are simply 'confused',as everyone is at one time or another,dont go to any kind of Therapist- no matter how many degrees they have on the wall.. you dont know who you're going to get.Some of these people are downright incompetent,(remember Therafields) and may be nutty as a fruitcake. Do what Lea used to do..go have a drink and a chat and a few laughs with a good friend.

    2. I'm sorry that your experience was so painful and hope that you are well and prospering now. Brenda.

  2. Thanks Brenda. Yes, I'm doing well. I came through all that,and made new friends,and built a good life, and always try to think positive. One of my Therapists told me the 'Nuclear Family' was 'finished ', and though I liked this man, neither he nor any other T'fields people were invited to my wedding, some years later. We've had a really good marriage, over 30 years, and our kids are grown and doing great, one doing a Phd.
    I have thought a lot about the T'fields experience over the years, as I'm sure everyone else has, who was there. I did learn from it too, mostly about how not to treat might have helped had the house groups been simply supportive places to live, instead of the crazy circuses of dread that they were. You never knew if it was going to be your turn tonight to be attacked and humiliated. At any time someone could have a melt-down screaming fit. Nothing good ever came of it, and what a pity all those idealistic young people were wasting some of their best years.An absolutely horrible way to live.Often people would say if you dont get it together here, where can you?
    It's interesting that the very same conformity,and loss of criti cal thinking described in books like 'Listen Little Man', which we were encouraged to read, were exactly what was happening in T'fields. Also, that the heirarchy had come from what I consider another cult, namely the Catholic Clergy.This time they had a female Pope, who, tho a bone fide dictator nut-case, with a dysfunctional family of her own, was considered infallible.
    I drove past the farm some years later,and decided to drop in. I had done a lot of work there, and wanted to show a friend. Ran into one of the priviledge few, who told me it was not a good idea to have brought my friend, as they might 'PICK UP FEELINGS '. I left and realized this poor lunatic was still really caught in a cult, but I was now free.