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Cultic Studies Journal

Therapy Gone Mad: The True Story of Hundreds of Patients and a Generation Betrayed

Psychological Manipulation and Society

Cultic Studies Journal
Psychological Manipulation and Society

Vol. 11, No. 2,  1994

Therapy Gone Mad: The True Story of Hundreds of Patients and a Generation Betrayed
Carol Lynn Mithers. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, 1994, 409 pages.
Reviewer: Doni Whitsett, Ph.D.

In her recently released book, Therapy Gone Mad, Carol Mithers chronicles the birth, life, and demise of the psychotherapy cult known as The Center for Feeling Therapy, of which I was a member. Born out of the hopes and dreams of the 1960s, the Center flourished through the 1970s, reflecting the psychological and social climate of the times. Mithers uses the single case history of the Center to tell the story of a generation disillusioned by politics (Watergate), grieving for its fallen heroes (Martin Luther King, JFK), and searching for true community and the meaning of life. The book describes a generation caught up in the human potential movement, who searched for "self-actualization" and worshiped the "peak experience." Therapy Gone Mad is also the story of some of the casualties of those times.

With sensitivity and respect, Mithers captures the idealism, the grandiosity, as well as the struggles and suffering of the people who were there. Her characterizations of the two charismatic men who emerged as leaders—Joseph Hart and Richard Corriere—are perceptive and highlight personality characteristics of many such leaders. Mithers documents the two men’s journey from obscurity as a professor and a student at the University of California, Irvine, to sought-after talk-show guests, catapulting themselves and the little Hollywood community into first national, then international status. While the book lacks an in-depth understanding of the dynamics between the two leaders, this deficiency is more a reflection of the secrecy that surrounded their relationship than any failure on the part of the author.

Without ever using the word cult or labeling Robert Lifton’s eight criteria for thought reform, Mithers describes in easily readable narrative form the systematic dismantling of the Self. Through the eyes of 48 former members, the author clearly depicts the regressive techniques that destroyed individual boundaries until only one giant group ego mass remained. The book illustrates how Lifton’s well-known characteristics of milieu control, loading the language, demand for purity, and so on, each came to be manifested at the Center, infantilizing its members, and how the threat of insanity if one left kept them psychologically hostage.

Therapy Gone Mad is accurate in its description of the nature of the Center, its practices, its evolution, and the forces that led up to its demise in November 1980. Mithers utilized not only personal interviews, but also audiotapes and videotapes, personal notebooks, court records, and books and research articles published by the leaders themselves. However, as the saying goes, there are 350 stories in this community, and hearing each one would add another piece of understanding to a complex phenomenon. For example, omitted were the experiences of older patients, men and women in their thirties and forties with already established lives, who came for therapy seeking support and guidance during times of crisis and/or loss. Although the author alludes to their experiences, a more in-depth treatment would have added a dimension to the book that is currently missing.

In defense of Mithers, she was handicapped by needing access to a population so traumatized by the experience that few would agree to be interviewed. We had tried to put the past behind us, to salvage what we could of our previous lives; we had struggled to move forward and were protective of our identities. Still reeling from having our idealism and trust betrayed, the last thing we wanted was to have our wounds exploited as well. Having read the result of Mithers’s extraordinary efforts to be accurate rather than sensational, I am thankful that she persisted despite the obstacles. Upon reading the book, one is left with a sense of validation and self-respect, rather than a sense of victimization.

I believe that former members of other abusive groups will easily identify with the stories related here, and will perhaps end up with a better understanding of their own experience. Although a history of one abusive group, this account is a tale of all such groups in which the principles of thought reform are operating. Therapy Gone Mad is recommended to all who strive to understand the powerful influences whereby relatively normal human beings can give up all that they hold dear, including children and their own identities, in the name of a higher purpose.

Doni Whitsett, Ph.D.
Encino, California

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