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by Margaret Deirdre O' Hartigan

Stein halo

The Pacific Northwest seems to have more than its share of cults. But if success is measured by longevity and organizational skills rather than notoriety, then a Seattle resident named Harvey Jackins makes the founder of Heaven' s Gate look like rank amateurs.

Welcome to the world of The International Re-evaluation Counseling Communities.

Exploring the world of Re-evaluation Counseling, is like a jaunt through Jonestown before the Kool-Aid was mixed. Chances are you' ve never heard of either Jackins or Re-evaluation Counseling - a fact which has contributed to RC' s success by allowing its adherents to promote their agenda undetected.

Nor does Jackins preach a recognizable religion. Instead he teaches pseudo-psychological theories. Mental health - rather than the soul or enlightenment - is the focus. As a result, RC is more accurately referred to as a "psychotherapeutic cult."

RCers - who refer to themselves with the professional-sounding term of "Co-Counselors"- not only believe that their own psychological well-being is dependent upon correctly applying Jackins' techniques to themselves, but subscribe to the notion that the world's ills, including racism, sexism and war, can be eradicated if humanity as a whole undergoes Re-evaluation Counseling.

Not content with openly promoting their peculiar form of secular salvation, however, RCers have utilized the political side of their training to infiltrate and co-opt civil rights organizations - including Portland institutions such as the Metropolitan Human Rights Center - to do their proselytizing for them. At first RCers began by taking key positions in gay and lesbian advocacy organizations, including the Rural Organizing Project. This is ironic, since Jackins contends that homosexuality can and should be "cured."

More recently, RCers have taken key positions Jobs with Justice and Oregon Action, two groups that frequently work with mainstream liberal organizations on labor and social justice issues. These alliances are odd, since Jackins has been repeatedly accused of sexually assaulting female Co- Counselors.

But the strangest thing is what happens when RCers get involved with political activists. Because RC places primary emphasis upon the psychology of the individual, activists and their organizations are quickly diverted from their original goals into examining their internal processes at the expense of effecting any real change in the conditions of the people they are supposed to be helping.

A curious distillation of Leftist rhetoric and primal scream therapy, Co- Counseling promises to free individuals "from the effects of past distress experiences"in order to make them "more capable of acting successfully against injustice."RC terminology is reminiscent of "est" with a dose of Marxism thrown in for good measure. Terms like "owning class" can be found in the same sentence as "emotional discharge."

But RC is more than a theraputic technique. As described in the last issue of "PDXS" , Jackins and his followers are aggressively infliltrating progressive organizations, diverting volunteer time and funds away from outside political activities to endless rounds of personal self-examinations. In the end, the quasi-psychiatric technique of RC is taking precendence over real social change.

A labor organizer black-listed in the 1940s, Harvey Jackins established "Personal Counselors, Inc."in Seattle in 1952 after breaking from Scientology - and there are more than a few similarities to L. Ron Hubbard' s store-front religion. Hubbard proposed that Scientology would lead to " clearing the planet" of war and other social ills; Jackins portrays Co- Counselors as "inhabitants of a 'rational island' of humans whom they are helping to pull up out of the sea of irrationality in which people and civilization are struggling."And just as Hubbard' s writing comprises the bulk of the Scientology canon, Jackins has penned the majority of RC tracts.

In addition to founding Re-evaluation Counseling and authoring most of its texts, Harvey Jackins serves as its guru. Actually, his official role is that of "International Reference Person". As such, any divergence or variation from RC Guidelines must be approved by him - or his son, Tim, who is the designated Alternate International Reference Person.

In the world according to Jackins, even "the mental decrepitude, the increasing amount of irrational behavior which we associate with old age is simply the pile-up of distress patterns."

So much for recent scientific discoveries concerning the etiology of Alzheimer' s.

Among Re-evaluation Counseling' s long-range goals - (as) stated in the RC pamphlet "What' s Wrong with the ' Mental Health' System" - is: "To ensure that all people, everywhere, use the natural recovery process we call Re-evaluation Counseling, whatever it be called".

What Jackins refers to as his "Fundamental Theorem"is that "Almost everything that any one of us has assumed to be natural or inherent in the area of our sexuality is recorded distress experience patterns." Jackins bases his "theorem"on his belief that "almost every woman" and "a very large proportion of all men have been abused sexually as small children. Jackins has also claimed that "homosexuality (as distinct from the desire to touch or be close) is the result of distress patterns (often very early in origin and chronic) and will disappear by the free choice of the individual with sufficient discharge and re-evaluation."

Jackin' s stance that homosexuality is amenable to reparative therapy - together with his denial that a same-sex orientation is innate - is in stark contrast to the American Psychiatric Association, which in 1973 removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

Like Scientology, Re-evaluation Counseling is vehemently anti-psychiatry. But that is because both Scientology and RC offer themselves as "alternatives " to psychiatry - based on nothing more than the claims of their founders, Hubbard and Jackins.

Co-Counseling is as loathe to accept the existence of mental illness as it is skeptical of senility and mortality. "What' s Wrong with the 'Mental Health' System" - co-authored by Janet Foner and Jamie Alexander and issued in 1991 by Rational Island Publishers - characterizes the concept of "mental health"as "pseudo-medical and pseudo-scientific theories" and proposes as a long-range goal to assist 'mental health' workers to learn to use the tools of Co-Counseling in place of their current theories and practices.

In addition to being a member of Re-evaluation Counseling, Foner is on the International Board of Directors - and one of two co-coordinators - of an organization based in Eugene, Oregon, called Support Coalition International.

David Oaks is SCI' s other co-coordinator as well as the editor of "Dendron" . In response to a query about connections between SCI and RC posed in a recent telephone interview, Oaks was adamant that "We' re utterly and totally independent from Re-evaluation Counseling. And the people in RC will also tell you that we' re 100 percent independent."

Oaks admits that "Janet is very much involved in RC - she' s the International Reference Person for RC on psychiatric survivors."But he emphasizes that " we psychiatric survivors organize on our own. We' re not controlled by Scientology - which is what most people ask" and adds "I am definitely not a member of RC."

Member or not, under Oaks' editorship "Dendron" shamelessly promotes Foner' s writings and workshops. Foner' s RC booklet, for example, is offered for sale through SCI: "Written as an official position of the peer support network called Re-Evaluation Counseling, this is an important handbook for everyone." "Dendron" also lists Foner as the editor of the RC journal, "Recovery & Re-emergence", which "Dendron" touts " is geared for people who use an international peer support network called ' Re-Evaluation Counseling,' but there's lots to interest anyone."

As an SCI co-coordinator it is hardly remarkable that articles by Foner would be found scattered throughout "Dendron" - but the publication consistently advertises Foner' s workshops which are clearly RC in nature although variously entitled "Crisis Prevention Workshops"or "The Exchange Listening Process" . In one ad - prefaced by Oaks' endorsement as " an engine for revolutionary change"- Foner promotes a thinly-disguised Co-Counseling replete with tell-tale RC terminology including references to "zest,"" rigid behavior patterns"and "distress" . (Note: Mr. Oaks on behalf of Support Coalition has also recently posted a note on the internet encouraging consumers to attend the workshops Ms. Foner will be presenting in November.

Foner was in Portland on August 3 teaching the mentally ill how to do Co-counseling, courtesy of Multnomah County taxpayers. SCI' s Oaks was given $2,600 from a county-contracted mental health agency - Network Behavioral Health - to provide "scholarships"to the mentally ill to attend Foner' s "Take Charge of Your Mind" workshop.

Another important RC connection to SCI is the McKenzie River Gathering, a funding organization that includes several RCers - including Teresa Enrico and Cliff Jones - on its board of directors. According to "The Oregon Foundation Databook" , the SCI received $5,000 from MRG in the form of a "donor advised grant," meaning that the money was given to McKenzie River Gathering by a donor - shielded by anonymity under MRG rules - who specifically directed that the money go to Oaks' organization.

Support Coalition also received $2,000 through McKenzie River Gathering' s regular funding cycle for 1996-97, and an additional $2,500 was awarded Support Coalition for the funding period of 1997-98 - based upon a decision of MRG' s activist committee which included none other than Teresa Enrico.

Kris Yates is another Co-Counselor who is heavily involved with SCI activities, at one point in the early 90s serving as SCI Regional Coordinator. "Dendron " features a full page article by Yates entitled "My Self-help Program." RC' s website lists Yates as the editor of "Recovery and Re- emergence" , which bills itself as being for "mental health system survivors and others interested in mental health issues"- the same journal which "Dendron" lists Foner as editing.

"Dendron " is primarily comprised of articles, ads and letters denouncing psychiatric medicines, psychiatric hospitalization and psychiatry in general. Patients are encouraged to go off their medications. A two-page spread in the latest issue is entitled "An Introduction to Psychiatry" and proclaims: "Psychiatry has one prognosis - agonized hopelessness and death guaranteed by its deadly verbal and physical abuse. Psychiatry continues to torture, maim, and kill millions of people."

In a letter published in "Psychiatric Services" and co-authored by David Oaks and three others, RC's Janet Foner castigated (Dr. E. Fuller) Torrey for his role in promoting psychiatric treatment. Although Foner identified herself as a "psychiatric survivor,"she made no mention of her involvement with Re-evaluation Counseling or the fact that she proposes that Co-Counseling supplant all of psychiatry' s "current theories and practices".

When asked if he was aware of Foner' s involvement with Co-Counseling, Torrey replied, "No. I just vaguely know her name."

Twenty-eight years old, blonde, tall and ethereally thin, Ashley Sinclaire of Portland identifies herself as a psychiatric survivor and makes no bones about the fact that she has an intense disliking for the psychiatric profession. She is also extremely critical about both RC and SCI. The term she uses is "evil."

"I first got into Support Coalition a couple of years ago, like late ' 96,"Sinclaire recounts, "and they mention RC in the Support Coalition materials. I was actually coming out of the mental health system. I went off psychiatric drugs entirely all by myself; told absolutely no one until six months later."

Initially impressed by SCI, Sinclaire arranged for David Oaks to speak in Corvallis where she lived at the time. " Oaks actually offered to do some peer-support counseling and I assumed he meant RC."She turned him down because of her aversion to therapy of any kind.

Not everyone who comes into contact with RC is permanently ensnared. Sven Bonnichsen is one young man who has rejected RC.

The 27-year-old president of the Portland Bisexual Alliance, Bonnichsen is a graduate of Reed College with a degree in psychology. Bonnichsen' s response to being asked about Re-evaluation Counseling is a surprisingly forceful "Don' t get me started!" Bonnichsen became involved in RC while a student at Reed College in Portland back in 1991 and 1992. He describes his senior year in high school in Maine as " hell year"because of a series of painful experiences which included the break-up of his parents' marriage. Bonnichsen was looking for a way to resolve those issues when Co- Counselors presented a workshop at Reed.

Bonnichsen was initially intrigued, then involved - and ultimately, put off.

Part of RC' s attractiveness, according to Bonnichsen, is that it seems to offer so much. "You have whole communities set up - phone lists, appointments for Co-Counseling - you get a whole social circle."He also asserts that RC "preys on people who are emotionally weak or needing others."

Bonnichsen can explain Co-Counseling in less than ten seconds. The basic idea, he explains, is that "as you go through experiences in life you experience \lquote distress,' and your mind gets a little less flexible, you need to 'quote discharge' to be 'quote rational' . Emotional things like raging, crying, trembling hands - sometimes it's very, very blatant, they just sort of shake or yawn. They're discharging."

Then there' s the aspect of "charging" - money. According to Bonnichsen, the initial workshop for training in Co-Counseling "starts off low"- around $50. More advanced training, however, is much more expensive, and "gets up to $200 to $500."

In 1993 Bonnischen came across an expose of Jackins and RC published a year earlier by a Belgian organization called the Study Group on Psychotherapy Cults.

Entitled "A Documentary History of the Career of Harvey Jackins and Re-evaluation Counseling,"this 90-page report chronicles Jackins' involvement in Dianetics in the early 50s as well as nearly two decades of accusations made by former RCers that Jackins had sexually abused hundreds of female Co- Counselors. Other publications have also reported these allegations, for example, the September 2, 1981, "Seattle Sun" . The March 25, 1984, Sunday "Seattle Times & Post Intelligencer" not only repeated the allegations but cited specific followers of Jackins by name as "among the most vocal opponents of recent efforts to license counselors"in Washington State.

Bonnischen' s contempt for Jackins' alleged behavior is obvious from the expression on his face as he talks about it.

The lesbian and gay newsmagazine "Lavender Network" - based in the same town of Eugene, Oregon as SCI - published an August issue edited by the SCI' s Sarah Douglas entitled " Psychiatric Survivors: Embracing the Crazy in Queer." In her article entitled "Milestones in Psychiatric Homophobia," Douglas claimed 50,000 surgical sterilizations in the United States in the 1950s "mostly applied to gay men."

Portland's Tom Cook is an independent gay historian and president of the Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest. He takes issue with Douglas' claim as "a gross overstatement of the number of homosexuals sterilized. In fact, most were the mentally retarded." Cook bases his assessment on the fact that he conducted a thorough search of state and hospital records specifically looking for evidence of sterilization.

Out of the anti-psychiatric issue of "Lavender Network " emerged a key figure in the alliance between the anti-psychiatry and homosexual movements - in the form of a lesbian and former mental patient named Lyn Duff.

Duff protested the National Women' s Studies Association conference in Saratoga Springs, New York, alleging that the association received financial assistance from a psychiatric hospital which the protesters claimed attempts to cure homosexuality. The protest fell upon deaf ears, but that didn' t keep the summer 1996 issue of "Dendron" from accusing the hospital of "numerous human and civil rights abuses including forced drugging, overuse of seclusion rooms and restraints, and homophobic treatment of gay inmates."

The tactic of denouncing the psychiatric profession for supposedly waging war against one or another minority isn't unique to Re-evaluation Counseling and SCI. Scientology' s anti-psychiatric Citizens Commission on Human Rights, for example, distributes a booklet entitled "Creating Racism: Psychiatry's Betrayal, "which features on its cover a full-color drawing of a Black man bent beneath the weight of a giant ball-and-chain shackled to his head. But organizations such as the NAACP haven't responded to such heavy- handed propaganda.

Copyright 1998
By Margaret Dierdre O'Hartigan