Center for Feeling Therapy
The Center was founded by former members of Arthur Janov's Primal Institute who were dissatisfied with what they felt were shortcomings in primal therapy. The Center started as an offshoot of primal therapy, but quickly abandoned primal therapy and subsequently went through many theoretical shifts, including an emphasis on dream analysis. At its peak it had 350 resident patients and 2,000 members including various branches.
Over time, the Center became cult-like and extremely abusive to its members. The abuse consisted of physical assault, sexual humiliation, verbal assault, financial abuse, excessive demands for ritual, inadequate rest, and enforced physical labor. The enforced physical labor was so severe that some members were permanently injured by it.
After nine years, the members rebelled against the center, leading to its closure in 1980. Some of the former members later sued the founding therapists in what was the largest psychology malpractice suit in California. They were represented by Paul Morantz, who specialized in suing cults.
The Center for Feeling Therapy was discussed in Therapy Gone Mad by Carol Lynn Mithers, a book based on interviews of 48 former patients of The Center for Feeling Therapy who shared diaries, notes and audiotapes with her. Another book on the subject is, Insane Therapy, Portrait of a Psychotherapy Cult by Marybeth Ayella.
The Center for Feeling Therapy was founded in 1971 by three therapists from primal therapy, Joe Hart, Jerry Binder, Steven Gold who had been in the therapist training program at Janov's Primal Institute, along with seven other people, two of whom had been certified as primal therapists. Karle had contributed to a scientific study reprinted in Janov's second book.
According to Mithers,
- "Joe and Riggs would claim that the group had confronted Arthur Janov with their unhappiness and told him they thought patients needed to move beyond past pain to change their present lives. Janov would deny that, comparing any attempt by Joe and Riggs to improve his theory with interns correcting a senior surgeon's technique. Interns, moreover, who were really interested only in power, who he'd pegged as 'abreactors'—people who had emotional outbursts without truly feeling anything—and who were about to be fired anyway."
According to Mithers description of the founding therapists' initial mind set,
- "...although they'd be following Janov's program, they would keep exploring ways to go beyond it. They already knew two things for sure: They would avoid the narcissism that had claimed Janov, by sharing the therapy's leadership. All decisions would be made collectively; that way, no one person's theories or ego would dominate. Even more important, all therapists would continue to get treatment from their peers. That way, the therapy would grow as they did."
The Center for Feeling Therapy initially followed Janov's method described in The Primal Scream by having the patient isolate him or herself for 24 hours prior to the initial three week intensive therapy. Joe and Riggs also extended primal theory using their own ideas.
Going Sane, the book published a few years later describing their "Feeling Therapy", was given very favorable reviews by some, notably:
- "A group of very honest young therapists tell, with great candor and openness, about the new kind of therapy they are developing and the mutuality of relationship it involves." - Carl Rogers
Abandonment of primal therapy
Shortly thereafter, the therapists at the Center for Feeling Therapy had a "major ideological shift... Arthur Janov's theory...of childhood trauma was abandoned." This shift was caused by the realization that patients who had defected with them from Janov's institute "had been faking their primals." Indeed, one of the Center for Feeling therapists, Jerry Binder, claimed that "a lot of what had been said was a lie" for his testimonial in Janov's book. As a result, Joe and Riggs came to believe that primals as Janov described them "didn't even exist" and that Janov's cure was "a cruel hoax." Soon after, the Center for Feeling therapists replaced Janov's formulation with their own ideas emphasizing "present-life feelings." Riggs instituted groups in which there would be "no primaling or trips to the past." Soon after, the "break with Janov was triumphantly complete."
But the "biggest change was in the practice of Feeling Therapy itself... [Groups] started getting wild... Every group, there was something new."  Many of the original patients who'd come for Primal Therapy started drifting away: "[They] started finding the new program a bit much. They'd come to the Center [for Feeling Therapy] looking...to exorcise the pain of the past. They were not looking to have their lives examined...One by one, they began to drift away."
Development of ideas
Over time, the Center for Feeling Therapy went through numerous drastic changes in its basic ideas. The Center started with primal therapy as its main therapeutic approach, then abandoned primal therapy in favor of an emphasis on "present-life" feelings, then abandoned that in favor of other ideas. These drastic shifts of theoretical approach were common throughout the life of the Center.
After abandoning primal therapy, the therapists developed a dream hypothesis, which formed the basis of their second book, The Dream Makers. According to the dream hypothesis, one of the major goals of therapy was to have lucid, clear dreams which were devoid of fictitious elements and which could guide a person through his life. It was claimed that the senior therapists all had such dreams, and that the patients could learn to have them too. To that end, the patients were given exercises to improve their dreams; they were also given charts, graphs, workbooks, and so on, to track the progress of their dreams.
Thereafter, the therapists abandoned the dream hypothesis and replaced it with yet another concept, called "Psychological Fitness." The concept of Psychological Fitness was claimed to help the patients succeed in life and make a lot of money. The patients were encouraged to wear very expensive clothing, to appear professional, to start business ventures, and to work very long hours. The patients were told that they would "teach the world to excel."
Organization of the Center
The Center for Feeling Therapy was organized as a hierarchy of groups, with the highest group ("Group One") having the most successful patients, as determined by the senior therapists, and the lowest group ("Tombstone Group") having the least successful patients. Patients could be promoted to higher groups, or demoted to lower ones, based on how thoroughly they had carried out the assignments or commands given to them by their therapists.
Life at the Center
Life at the center was rigorous and abusive.
Patients were often belittled, demeaned, insulted, or humiliated. Patients were frequently called names, such as "weak," "crazy," "fat," "loser," and so on. Patients were often subjected to insults from the entire group, since the therapists often required the other patients to gather together and collectively insult anyone whom the therapist deemed to be out of favor.
Patients were given frequent therapy assignments by their therapists which they had to complete, or they would risk being abused and demoted to lower groups. The assignments often involved activities which were demeaning or absurd. For example, one woman who was judged to be overweight was assigned to act like a cow and to make "grazing" motions on the carpet.
Patients were often physically assaulted by their therapists. The assault was part of a practice called "sluggo" in which the therapists would break the patients' defenses by hitting them. Patients were often struck repeatedly during therapy sessions, which sometimes led to bruising and bleeding.
Patients had their lives controlled by their therapists in the minutest detail. The patients were told what to wear, what to do, which job to hold, whom to have sex with and how often, whom to date, whom to marry, whether to have children or not, how much they could weigh (for women), and, most importantly, whether or not they could leave. Almost all patients who expressed a desire to leave were informed by their therapists that they were still far too disordered mentally to succeed in the outside world.
For some patients, life at the Center involved very long hours of grueling physical labor for very little pay. The physical labor was so severe, that some of the patients endured permanent physical damage from the excessive labor coupled with inadequate rest.
After the ideals of "Psychological Fitness" came to the fore, patients were not only abused, but often subjected to monetary fines for lack of performance, or for insufficient work.
In a nine-year span, none of the 350 resident members had a single child even though most of the women were young. Women who did get pregnant were told to get abortions. One woman who got pregnant in her 40s was told she "was not ready" to be a parent, and was pressured to get an abortion with the promise that she had time to get pregnant again.
Patients at the Center were isolated from the outside world and were expected to socialize and work only with other Center patients.
Rebellion and closure
After nine years, the patients rebelled and the center in Los Angeles (along with its satellites in Boston, Honolulu, Munich and San Francisco) was shut down in November 1980 and the therapists were subsequently (1986–1987) banned from practicing in California as a result of lawsuits initiated about five years earlier by the patients against the therapists, accusing them of rape and other forms of mistreatment. The victims and some observers of the case were shocked and dismayed that criminal charges were not brought against the therapists, and the victims never received the apology they had hoped for from the founders. A lawsuit involving as many as 55 former patients that charged the Center with fraud, brainwashing, and physical and emotional abuse was settled on favorable terms in January 1986.
- Ayella, M.B. Insane Therapy: Portrait of a Psychotherapy Cult, page 141
- Ayella, M.B. Insane Therapy: Portrait of a Psychotherapy Cult, page 153
- Ayella, M.B. Insane Therapy Portrait of a Psychotherapy Cult, pages 11-12
- Singer, Margaret, Cults in Our Midst, Josey-Bass, 2003
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page 55
- "Cult linked to Val-David spiritualist disbanded after abuse allegations" GEOFF BAKER. The Gazette. Montreal, Que.: Sep 26, 1995. pg. A.1
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page 352
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page ix
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page 60
- Janov, A. The Anatomy of Mental Illness, pages 198-210
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page 57
- on cover of paperback edition of Going Sane (1975)
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page 70
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page 71
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page 72
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, pages 72-74
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page 77
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page 117
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page 83
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, page 85
- Mithers, C.L. Therapy Gone Mad, pages 199-202
- "Cults and Families" Doni Whitsett, Stephen A Kent. Families in Society. New York: Oct-Dec 2003. Vol. 84, Iss. 4; pg. 491
- Mithers, C.L., Therapy Gone Mad, pages 325-326
- Mithers, C.L., Therapy Gone Mad, page 394
- "Therapists Settle Fraud Suit" Los Angeles Times Los Angeles, Calif.: Jan 18, 1986. pg. 3