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"Cletus Nelson is an LA-based freelance writer who covers issues relating to hidden history, cultic phenomenon, and authoritarian trends. His work has appeared in EYE, PANIK, COUNTERPUNCH, disinfo and several other publications including the recently published disinfo anthology YOU ARE BEING LIED TO."

The article below, "killing the beast within: the rise of re-evaluation counseling," appeared on the website in January of 2001.

Deep within your subconscious lurks a fiery cauldron of emotional hurt which radiates an internal stream of reactionary thoughts and impulses. Unless you purge these intra-psychic demons you will never reclaim your "basic loving, cooperative, intelligent, and zestful nature." This, in a nutshell, is the central message of a unique therapeutic collective known as Re-evaluation Counseling (RC), which constitutes an unseen force within the broad framework of left-wing political dissent.

The notion that activists need to undergo a thorough psychological cleansing to remove the effects of past trauma and/or societal conditioning dates back to the 1970s when the nascent Human Potential movement compelled introspective revolutionaries to flock to various self-anointed gurus and encounter groups in the hopes of achieving greater sincerity and empathy in their organizing efforts.

However, the programmatic goals of RC or "co-counseling" sharply diverge from its historical predecessors. The Seattle-based group considers its blend of psychology and ideology to be a dynamic revolutionary sub-current with the potential to transform the planet into a peaceful, non-racist, classless society.

The peer counseling concept is far from complex. According to the organization's Web site, the process involves two consenting individuals who "take turns counseling and being counseled. The one acting as the counselor listens, draws the other out and permits, encourages, and assists emotional discharge."

As our life experiences color our perceptions in regards to race, gender, and other social issues, it is vital that we "discharge" these negative experiences in order to rid ourselves of oppression (or the urge to oppress) and reclaim our "rational" selves. According to former member Matthew Lyons, this involves the use of "cathartic processes such as shaking, crying, laughing, and yawning." [1]

Estimates vary, but at a bare minimum, some 10,000 followers around the globe are actively affiliated with the International Re-Evaluation Counseling Communities (IRCC) and their numbers are steadily rising. This accelerated growth and a shared belief that RC is a "possible source of correct thinking and policy for all human beings" has led the organization to cast aside its onetime resistance to publicity in order to openly promote its secular doctrine. This includes a high-profile Web site and over two dozen publications and books devoted to the politically-oriented peer-counseling program. A cursory Internet search will unearth a number of RC-influenced college courses, seminars, and workshops, along with various learned individuals who praise the untapped potential of RC teachings.

Yet their focal point remains in the realm of radical politics, where RC organizers are flocking in droves. Targeting college towns and notoriously bohemian districts throughout the country, co-counseling communities are popping up in New York, Kansas City, Austin, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Santa Barbara, and other locales. "They have a long history going back to the 1960s of infiltrating political movements," says Margaret Deirdre O'Hartigan, a Portland researcher and writer who has chronicled the influence of Re-Evaluation Counseling in the Pacific Northwest. This venerable tradition of allowing incognito organizers to proselytize among those dedicated to unrelated political causes is referred to in the group's argot as "naturalizing" or "Wygelian" work.

Yet peer counseling proponents are rarely content with being mere foot soldiers for a selected ideological cause. According to O'Hartigan, they frequently "work to establish a monopoly to exclude people from power who are not members of RC."

In Oregon, where co-counseling is rapidly gaining ground, O'Hartigan asserts that its advocates hold leadership positions in the state's Democracy Project, Tools for Diversity, an anti-racist political faction, and a surfeit of like minded groups. Indeed, RC is gradually entering the mainstream political process. For example, Beverly Stein, a Portland politician and avowed RC supporter currently presides over the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, which coordinates county public services and controls an estimated budget of over $900 million.

"I've found it to be a powerful tool for listening to people," she informed reporter Bill Redden when asked about her affiliation with the shadowy group (PDXS, June 7-20, 1993). Yet this is merely the tip of the iceberg. The organization's influence extends all the way to Washington DC.

"I was one of two hundred people from around the U.S. invited to the White House this morning for a breakfast meeting and workshop with U.S. President Bill Clinton on the issue of hate crimes," recounts veteran RC organizer Cherie Brown. [2]

As head of the highly acclaimed National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), Brown is credited with providing "the most successful 'university in diversity' training workshops in government agencies, organizations, and businesses," according to journalist Leo Lazo (Outpost, November 12, 1997). These seminars and classes given to federal bureaucrats and corporate executives, Lazo asserts, are based on concepts forged within the co-counseling community. Although centered in Washington DC, this RC front group is national in scope, claiming some "50 city-based leadership teams" and over three dozen campus chapters.

The prominence of the IRCC in the human rights movement can also be evidenced by its notable presence at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women. While Hillary Clinton waxed eloquent on topics ranging from female genital mutilation to global poverty at the UN-sponsored summit, some 300 RCers, (as they like to be called,) held over two dozen workshops on "women's health, internalized oppression, women in leadership, mothering, disabilities, and ending racism."

The growth of the NCBI and other affiliated groups dedicated to easing racial tensions has even given rise to a new operative paradigm in the public policy milieu known as the "Prejudice Reduction" (PR) model.

"As a diversity training model, PR applies the RC framework of exploring and healing past hurts, focusing on the hurts of being a target or a colluder [sic] with prejudice and bigotry," explains Patti DeRosa in Bright Ideas (Winter, 1996). Yet De Rosa questions the establishmentarian nature of the RC experience. "The emphasis is on the prejudice, not necessarily institutional oppression. By focusing on personal hurt, it may obscure the very real differences in power," she asserts.

However, RC have little time for this type of constructive criticism, as the organization considers its presence a solitary bulwark against a murderous society which is covertly targeting various demographic groups for imminent "destruction."

The group offer dire warnings of an impending secular apocalypse should humanity fail to heed its clarion cry of personal liberation. University of Ulster academic Dr. Dennis Tourish articulates the dark prophecy promulgated by RC leaders:

"Nuclear holocaust and incalculable horror is in prospect. Furthermore it follows that the rapid growth of RC, or at least the spread of its influence in important 'wide world' organizations, is necessary to prevent catastrophe. This doom-laden analysis, with implications that the current small group of RC activists bear an inordinate responsibility for saving the planet in the immediate future, is characteristic of all cult organizations, and is a primary lever for extracting maximum commitment (alongside a minimum critique from the group's members.)

This messianic fervor is elucidated in the writings of Harvey Jackins, the organization's beloved intellectual figurehead, who is now deceased. The RC founder once expressed the belief that "Re-evaluation counseling can be confidently viewed as the very leading edge of the tendency toward order and meaning in the universe."

With the future of humanity hanging in the balance, RC's inner circle keeps a watchful eye on dissident members through a rigid leadership matrix which allows little room for disagreement. Decision-making power is delegated to "Area Reference Persons" who head local chapters and operate under the guidance of "Regional Reference Persons" (RRP) who coordinate co-counseling activities for entire geographic areas. There are also "International Liberation Reference Persons" (ILRP), specifically trained to work with various oppressed or like-minded groups such as gay men, Latinos, African-Americans, victims of incest, members of the middle class and other select categories. Residing at the top of the pyramid is Tim Jackins, the heir apparent of his father, the late Harvey Jackins, presently enjoys the exalted title of "International Reference Person for the Co-Counseling Communities."

Recruiting is carried out under the aegis of various PR workshops dedicated to inclusive topics such as "unlearning racism" and "building leadership skills." Those who profess further interest in RC theory are encouraged to attend their 15-week "fundamentals class." Upon completion, initiates are urged to join activist groups with the specific goal of promulgating co-counseling concepts.

"What RC refers to as 'reemergence' from distress thus ultimately requires participation in movements to change society, movements which will incidentally proceed more effectively if they employ the techniques and insights of RC, at all levels," writes Dr. Tourish.

This should be a major cause of concern for organizers who may be unknowingly aligning themselves with the ubiquitous RC community. O'Hartigan has seen this dynamic at work and says that once a protest group is dominated by peer-counselors, activism takes a back seat to counterproductive navel gazing. "They focus on intent rather than outcome and end up getting caught up in an endless circle of introspection," she warns.

Equally suspect is the rather simplistic belief that RC constitutes a revolutionary solution for complex institutional problems like government corruption, environmental abuses, and racial hatred. "Treating RC as the answer makes it hard for many members to see the serious limitations in RC political theory. RC's analysis of oppression, I would argue, tends to reduce all politics to psychotherapy, trivializing structural and material factors," notes Matthew Lyons.

Additionally, Jackins, the late founder of the RC movement, has been a bellwether of controversy since the group's inception. Over the past three decades, allegations of his sexual relations with female clients have been an unending source of internal strife. One of the organization's most vocal detractors has been Shirley Siegel, a leading member of Stop Abuse by Counselors (Stop ABC), a Seattle-based lobbying group formed in the 1980s to lobby for greater regulation of mental health professionals.

After 19 years in RC, Siegel broke ranks with her onetime comrades contending that Jackins repeatedly coerced her into a sexual relationship during counseling sessions. Siegel further maintains that his repeated urgings that she avoid seeking treatment for a digestive disorder left her unable to care for her 4-year-old daughter, who subsequently died due to a respiratory infection.

Since Siegel's controversial defection, a number of women have come forward (many anonymously) to describe similar instances of sexual exploitation by the one-time profligate guru.

This led to a frenzy of purges, walk-outs and expulsions for those willing to speak out about Jackin's transgressions. After Siegel's revelations became public, the Seattle Times and Post Intelligencer reported in a 1984 article that over 40 women affiliated with the Minneapolis RC chapter circulated an open letter alleging that Jackins "repeatedly seduced women in counseling sessions." The response to these charges was swift: Jackins immediately disbanded the entire Twin-Cities RC community.

Despite this heavy-handed dismissal of the allegations, the revelations have plagued the RC community for the last two decades. Lyons reports that Nancy Kline, a highly-respected RC leader, was expelled in 1988 after demanding that Jackins "stop having sex with clients and apologize publicly." One year later, co-counseling advocates in France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and England broke off relations with their American counterparts over the scandal.

In a short-sighted attempt to silence the opposition, the organization adopted an internal policy in 1993 deeming the mounting criticism pathological and urging loyal adherents to refrain from critiquing co-counseling leadership. "Attacks on any member or leader are not attempts at correcting mistakes but rather dramatizations of distress. These are not acceptable behaviors within the R.C. CommunityIt is the job of all members of the RC Community to interrupt such attacks: this includes the interruption of gossip," reads the tersely-worded guidelines as "reaffirmed and modified at the World Conference of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities."

Since Jackins's demise, the seeming inability of RC leadership to fully address this lingering issue has compelled a highly vocal chorus of disaffected followers and breakaway groups to openly question co-counseling orthodoxy.

"Discounting a person's thinking and accomplishments, stifling his or her independent thinking and acting, deterring him from using his power to carry out his own agenda and forcing him to always unthinkingly toe the line and unquestioningly support the leaders seems to be a rather common experience in RC," asserts disgruntled co-counselor Jerry Maxwell in an essay posted to the Liberate RC Web site.

To understand how a seemingly benign alternative to psychotherapy has been transformed into a highly structured, autocratic social movement, one must address the intellectual roots of co-counseling itself.

In his rather disingenuous profile of Jackins, Lazo asserts that his homespun counseling method was formulated in a moment of serendipity when the visionary philosopher listened attentively to the unceasing lamentations of a building contractor named Merle and, "without any training in psychotherapy was instrumental in turning Merle's life around." Although this simplistic tale warms the heart, the truth is more complex.

Jackins, a seasoned labor organizer during World War II, first gained public notice after falling victim to the strident anti-communism that swept the nation during the "Red Hysteria" of the 1950s.

After his Marxist affiliations led to repeated government investigations, the idealistic activist found himself blacklisted from the US labor movement and inexplicably expelled from the CPUSA. According to journalist Steve Carr, the failed radical then gravitated to the Dianetics Institute of Seattle, and within a few years "had woven politics and psychology into a 'new' left politics of interpersonal relations." [4]

Although Jackins later parted ways with Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, he retained many concepts gleaned during his tenure with the powerful religious group.

The use of an "auditor" to closely listen to the ruminations of others is eerily similar to co-counseling and Hubbard's belief in "unlocking the power of the human mind" is also consistent with RC's belief that purging negative emotions will unleash long-dormant intellectual powers.

"Many RC assumptions, such as the central importance of the discharge process, are identical to the dianetic ideas developed many years earlier by Hubbard, despite the repeated insistence of Jackins and his followers on the distinctiveness of their ideas," Dr. Tourish notes.

Although not many people call them a cult, this totalistic ideology does seem to exhibit various characteristics endemic to coercive sects.

Their authoritarianism, dogmatism, and sense of mission exhibit a marked "chosen people" mentality and the "discharge" process closely resembles the "cult of confession" practiced by Jim Jones and the People's Temple or the "attack therapy" techniques utilized at Synanon. The belief that only the co-counseling community is in possession of invaluable insights unfathomable to the "wide world" serves as yet another effective method to instill obedience to RC theory and further insulate its members from alternative ideas.

"What you've got is an entire political movement built of 'yes men'," declares O'Hartigan. Despite its unsavory origins, questionable history, and dubious methods, RC is on the march.

Discerning activists should aware of this dynamic mass movement, which seeks to appropriate the lexicon of opposition politics, in order to propagate a collective agenda of group control, statism, and neo-Freudian tomfoolery.


[1] "Sex, Lies, & Co-Counseling." Activist Men's Journal, August 1993.

[2] "Reaching for Influence." Present Time, January 1998.

[3] "Group Influence and the Psychology of Cultism Within Re-evaluation Counseling: A Critique." Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 13, No 2, 1996.

[4] "Attack Theory: Reevaluating RC." The Polemicist, April 1992.

The advance of Re-evaluation Conseling continues Oregon and elsewhere around the country. Stein pretends that she is no longer an active member of the cult, but this is strictly a con, a scam a spin, or whatever gets her through the present crisis...