Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Insane Therapy

Insane Therapy: Portrait of a Psychotherapy Cult

Marybeth F. Ayella
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 213
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Insane Therapy
    Book Description:

    Sensational media coverage of groups like Heaven's Gate, the People's Temple, and Synanon is tinged with the suggestion that only crazy, lonely, or gullible people join cults. Cults attract people on the fringe of society, people already on the edge. Contrary to this public perception, Marybeth Ayella reveals how anyone seeking personal change in an intense community setting is susceptible to the lure of group influence. The book begins with the candid story of how one keen skeptic was recruited by Moonies in the 1970s -- the author herself.Ayella's personal experience fueled her interest in studying the cult phenomenon. This book focuses on her analysis of one community in southern California, The Center for Feeling Therapy, which opened in 1971 as an offshoot of Arthur Janov's Primal Scream approach. The group attracted mostly middle-class, college-educated clients interested in change through intense sessions led by licensed therapists. At the time of the Center's collapse in 1980, there were three hundred individuals living in the therapeutic community and another six hundred outpatients.Through interviews with twenty-one former patients, the author develops a picture of the positive changes they sought, the pressures of group living, and the allegations of abuse against therapists. Many patients contended that they were beaten, made to strip before the group and to engage in forced sex, forced to have abortions and give up children, and coerced to donate money and to work in business affiliated with the Center.The close of the Center brought yet more trauma to the patients as they struggled to readjust to mainstream life. Ayella recounts the stories of these individuals, again and again returning to the question of how personal identity is formed and the power of social influences. This book is a key to understanding how "normal" people wind up in cults.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0396-4
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. One Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    My interest in “cults” began with a chance encounter with a “Moonie” in Sproul Plaza, Berkeley, in August 1975. In response to what I thought was a pick-up attempt by a man standing behind me at a sandwich vendor, I began a conversation with a man about my age. We wound up sitting and talking as I ate my lunch. He described a wonderful communal group he lived in, in which there was never any conflict. This intrigued me—no fights over who does dishes? over who hogs the bathroom? He invited me to come and see for myself; in...

  5. Two The Center for Feeling Therapy
    (pp. 15-30)

    A forty-year-old patient became pregnant after trying to have a baby for seventeen years. She wanted the child very much. She was required to have an abortion as part of her “feeling therapy.” When she strenuously protested, her therapist “personally guaranteed” that she would be able to become pregnant again “even in her fifties.” She had the abortion.

    “Jewishness” was loosely defined as cultural negativity, and was a term that could be used to describe anyone who was “negative.” As part of a group therapy exercise, a therapist had the patients surround one patient, point their hands and fists at...

  6. Three The Production of Feeling People
    (pp. 31-62)

    Two ideas are central to understanding Feeling Therapy’s theory of personality, theory of society, and the therapeutic techniques supposedly derived from them: “transformation” and “community.” Feeling Therapists promised individual transformation through community.

    The term “Feeling Therapy” succinctly expresses the therapists’ major theoretical assumption: “feelings” are crucial in the process of remedying social psychopathology. Individuals are born with an innate drive to “complete” their feelings. Such feelings are known as “integral” feelings. Young children naturally express integral feelings until they learn from parents and other members of society to “disorder” their feelings. This process of disordering results in “reasonably insane” individuals,...

  7. Four The Intensive
    (pp. 63-84)

    Two things most consistently drew people to the Center for Feeling Therapy: Arthur Janov’sPrimal Screamand some form of personal contact with the Center. Having readThe Primal Scream, many of the men and women I interviewed had become interested enough to contact Janov’s institute. For a variety of reasons, however, they wound up at the Center for Feeling Therapy, not the Primal Institute. Several mentioned that they were too young, or that Janov was accepting only psychology professionals; several others said they were referred to the Center by the Primal Institute. One person noticed an ad in the...

  8. Five Careers as Feeling People
    (pp. 85-96)

    One’s life after the Intensive therapy program began with a move into community housing. Many persons reported that they, and others they knew, moved into housing with people from their Intensive group. This was not true for all, however, as exceptions might be made for various reasons; for example, a woman leaving the Intensive might move into a house with her boyfriend, who was a several years’ patient. Three women I interviewed reported that this happened with them. After the initial three-week Intensive, people could return to jobs, or find jobs enabling them to stay in the Los Angeles area....

  9. Six From Culture to Cult
    (pp. 97-132)

    I will now explore the social world of the Center for Feeling Therapy, seeking to explain how it allowed the therapists to exercise such great influence over patients. I believe six characteristics of this culture were crucial in generating extreme control of patients: the role of the therapist as authority, a therapeutic ideology, a “confrontative encounter” form of therapy, the creation of a therapeutic community, the arbitrariness of Center life (the only constant is change), and the intensity of Center life. Although I think that the notions of the therapist as authority and of therapeutic ideology go hand in hand,...

  10. Seven Coping with Stigma: Rebuilding Lives
    (pp. 133-152)

    One of the most interesting phenomena in seeing how the men and women I interviewed reconstructed their lives was examining the way individuals had to explain their experience publicly so as to regain social respectability. Right from the start of the group’s being labeled a “cult” by the news media (e.g., “The Cult of Cruelty”), persons had to deal with the “spoiled identity” of being an “ex–cult member.” In addition to all the personal problems they had to deal with privately, they also had to confront the public’s sense that their having participated in a “cult” indicated that something...

  11. Eight Recognizing Social Influence
    (pp. 153-178)

    Individuals involved with Feeling Therapy often acted in the same way “normal” persons would, but they lived in a very different social world. That social world, I argue, is what we as a society would term a “cult.” This was the view of society’s representative, Judge Robert A. Neher, who ruled that the Center for Feeling Therapy was a “personality cult.” In asserting that the Center was not a religious cult, Judge Neher seemed to be thinking in accord with a perception that cults, by definition, are religious. However, although many cults are religious, many others are not.

    I choose...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 179-194)
  13. References
    (pp. 195-204)
  14. Index
    (pp. 205-214)