By Steve Carr
April 1992; pages 3, 6-7; Volume 3, No. 5
"The past informs and reassures.
The Future beckons bright.
I face all human misery
And plan to set it right."
- Harvey Jackins,
"The Re-Emergent Human," The Human Side of Human Beings 1982.
Re-Evaluation Counseling (RC), an international psychotherapy movement, pervades the grassroots peace community in Austin. Combining psychotherapy with a left political agenda, RC has influenced groups like New Bridges - an organization that fights racism, sexism and homophobia through controlled personal encounters - and has introduced new terms like white or male "allies" - to everyday political use. Popular in its own right, one RC leader estimates that around 300 people currently participate in RC activities in Austin. Several times that many Austinites have taken classes in RC's therapy techniques. Yet, few people in Austin have heard the variety of charges made against the organization and its founder over the years - from brainwashing to sexual abuse - because RC representatives refuse to talk about it.
RC has become popular because many leftists find it's unqualified humanism and the use of the term "liberation" appealing. RC theory is very simple. Sit down with a person, listen attentively, encourage him or her to laugh or cry or yell or tremble, and that person will feel better than they did before. Allowing people to switch roles as counselor and client deflates the power dynamic of the doctor-patient relationship. And offering homespun psychotherapy on a sliding scale rate, RC makes its image of mental well-being affordable to the un- and underemployed. "Co-counseling is effective," says a Kansas City, Missouri psychiatrist and former RC member. "But it's not new. People have been doing that for years."
RC is more than its techniques, however. RC's octogenian leader, Harvey Jackins, has been accused of sexually abusing his female clients. And open criticism of Jackins' statements on homosexuality and AIDS - like his call to quarantine all people with HIV - is discouraged and even forbidden within the organization. RC, at one time, prohibited homosexuals from "propagandizing" their lifestyles. Today, RC teaches that if gays and lesbians "discharge" their sexual "distress," they can be cured of their aberrant sexuality. Some former RC members accuse the organization of indoctrinating its membership into a complete reliance upon Jackins. If nothing else, RC remains shrouded in mystery - very little information on the organization is available in the popular press. An outgrowth of L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, which employed Jackins in the early 1950s, RC tends to claim complete loyalty from its students.
Lessons from the "Human Side"
An RC Fundamentals Class, a year long course, teaches students the principles of co-counseling, and is the first step to becoming a teacher and leader in what it calls the "RC Community." For the cost of the class, beginners receive a copy of Harvey Jackins' "The Human Side of Human Beings" and "The Fundamentals of Co-Counseling Manual." From early on students learn of Harvey Jackins' seminal importance. Once a person completes the Fundamentals classs, he or she is then eligible to become a teacher, a leader, and eventually an area or regional reference person.
While RC appears to maintain few traditional concepts of psychotherapy, it does insist upon the confidentiality of the relations between leaders and students, and among students themselves. Students taking classes or providing counseling are instructed that their shared experience must not go beyond RC. Further, RC theory emphasizes the importance of both good leadership and respect for leaders, in particular leaders of RC.
At a workshop entitled "Creating a Rational Society," members were encouraged to appeal to Harvey Jackins as the authority - and especially to purchase his books which were for sale at the back of the room. "People look to other people to show the way," one leader told the group. "One person getting lots of other people to go along gets things done." In the ensuing discussion, students ruminated on the broad possibilites for RC leadership during the coming economic collapse.
Some former RC members - who now call the organization a cult - conclude that the emphasis on following leaders in fact destroys individual initiative and the self confidence of its student/trainees. "People just don't leave cults," says Shirley Siegel, a former RCer in Seattle, Washington and founder of the organization Stop Abuse By Counselors. She told Polemicist in an interview: "People become so convinced, so indoctrinated that this authority figure is right, that he has all the true answers, that his theory and therapy are the best in the world - something that he keeps telling people over and over again in as many ways as he can think of ... that they're kind of powerless to go elsewhere. That's what cults do: they deprive people of their ability to make reasonable choices."
A History of Psychopolitics
A central figure in RC and its leader and founder Harvey Jackins, the "designated" International Reference Person. In many ways Jackins' personal history is paradigmatic of the changes in left politics through the 20th century. Jackins was a member of the Communist party in the 1930s, and later a victim of anti-Communist hysteria of the late 1940s and early 1950s. After three witnesses named him before the House Un-American Activities Committee's (HUAC) investigation into Communist activities in Pacific Northwest, Jackins was hauled before the committee in 1954.
Jackins' testimony to HUAC reveals the tragic impact anti-Communism had upon him. Between 1939 and 1941, Jackins organized a Young Communist League at the University of Washington in Seattle. Never completing his undergraduate degree, he become a labor organizer in the 1940s. He was soon expelled - first from local 46 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, then from the Building Service Employees' Union, and from Lodge 751 of the Aero Mechanics' Union - all for alleged Communist activities. On top of that, Jackins was eventually expelled from the Communist Party (CP) as well, although he took the fifth when asked to name former associates by HUAC. By the early 1950s, however, he went to work for the Dianetics Institute of Seattle, and by the '60s had woven politics and psychology into a "New" left politics of interpersonal relations. Only when asked by HUAC about his newly-developed "personal counseling" technique did Jackins wax eloquent:
"I am working with a very new approach to the problem of individual human beings. We have discovered, a group of us, that apparently anything wrong with an individual human - any limitation on his ability, his enjoyment of life, his ability to be intelligent in any situation - is purely and solely the result of the experiences of hurt which he has endured ... It is possible in a teamwork relationship for one person's intelligence as a counselor to be linked with that of the person who is enduring the difficulty or the limitation of the emotional problem - to go back in memory, in effect, and by repetitively seeking out these experiences of hurt, discharging the stored up painful emotion; and in assisting the person to think them through over and over and over again, it is possible to free an individual from the inhibiting effects of the distresses which have stored up on him during his life. Now this is a very exciting field; the possibilities implicit in it - and we are pioneering in the group with which I work - are amazing."
The "we" Jackins identified was none other than The Dianetics Institute of Seattle. At the time, L. Ron Hubbard was losing control of Dianetics to a number of unauthorized groups that began mixing Hubbard's theories with the occult and alternative medicine. Dianetics' "personal counseling" was an attempt to position the organization within mainstream psychiatry. In an undated letter (circa 1952), Jackins wrote to doctors attempting to distinguish Dianetcs "from panacea claims on its behalf and certain 'fringe' manifestations of group enthusiams for it. Dianetics has appeared from the beginning to have some sort of essential validity." In the letter, Jackins had already articulate RC theory, although he referred to it as "Dianetic Processing":
"The listener or therapist can be very forthright and direct in seeking out past traumatic experiences which are continuing to mar the rationality and well-being of the person. Once located, the exhaustion of the distress and the re-evalution of the experience apparently leads uniformly to dramatic improvement in ability, emotional tone and well-being."
Dianetics later evolved into the Church of Scientology - the same folks who offer free "personality tests" at 22nd and the Drag. Dianetics uses techniques remarkably similar to Re-Evaluation Counseling. According to J. Gordon Melton's Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in American, the Church of Scientology offers an "auditor" who takes a member through exercises to release their "reactive" mind. Once this happens, the individual is "clear." The Church, however, has itself been embroiled in controversy: the IRS has pursued it for not paying taxes, former members have accused the Church of brainwashing them, and after an FBI raid of its churches, documents revealed that Scientologists had kept files on its critics and had tried to infiltrate various anti-cult organizations.
Leadership and "Attack" Theory
L. Ron Hubbard aside, Re-Evaluation Counseling has faced its own series of controversies. After nearly twenty years of steady growth, a number of women came forward in the early 1980s, claiming to have been sexually abused by Jackins. One 19-year RC veteran in Seattle, where RC's international headquarters are located, claims Jackins had sex with "hundreds" of female patients. One of these women, who was 15 years old at the time that Jackins, her counselor, was sexually involved with her, brought a suit against him in 1990. She later withdrew the suit after Jackins filed for court costs should he win. Another, Shirley Siegel, formed STOP Abuse by Counselors. Several long time RC staff members in Seattle began to raise questions about Jackins' sexual conduct, and in 1981 he fired them, according to Siegel. At this point Siegel and other women came forward. "Women who'd been silent about all this, kept all his dirty little secrets, began to talk, and I began to find out that he'd had sex with literally hundreds of female clients over a period of thirty years," she said.
Siegel's personal story is particularly poignant. In the mid-1960s, Jackins had pressured Siegel not to seek medical attention for a condition she later discovered was Kron's disease, instead encouraging her to increase her counseling sessions. "Because I was ill," says Siegel, "I was not functioning very well, either mentally or physically." Siegel entered the hospital twice needing blood transfusions. "The doctors didn't know why, and Jackins wasn't saying 'Go find out.'" Meanwhile, Siegel was unable to care for her daughter, who had herself contracted a respiratory ailment. "My daughter died in the middle of all this, and finally it became very apparent to me that I needed help and soon." Siegel left RC in 1967.
Fourteen years later, as women came forward with their stories of sexual abuse, Siegel went to Washington State Representative Georgette Valle to develop legislation that would regulate abusive behavior by counselors and therapists. RC opposition to the legislation was strong, and the bills stalled in committee. Jackins himself refused to discuss the allegations against him. Instead, in an eerie twist of theraputic logic, he began to develop a theory of human behavior called "attack" theory that would explain why RC members would express opposition to RC.
Jackins proposed that an "attack," which is basically any criticism of RC, its theory, or its leadership, is the result of an individual's personal distress. According to a Fundamentals Class session attended by the author, an attack makes being upset a public thing, a desperate attempt to get support from others. To counter attacks on RC and its leaders, RC members are instructed to interrupt the person, approach the accusation as the personal problem of the accuser, and vigorously come to the defense of the person or people being attacked.
When Polemicist queried a number of Austin RC leaders on the allegations of Jackins' sexual abuse and the organization's positions on gays and HIV, this writer was told that he had distress in these areas, as did everyone, and needed to have a counseling session on them instead of "attacking" RC and its leadership. All of the Area and Regional Reference People contacted refused to comment on record about RC's controversial history; one person said that use of her name in an article would give the impression of a "dialogue" - an impression she most decidedly did not want to give. When asked if Polemicist could use her name, she simply replied, "I don't want your article."
"It needs to be made immediately clear by other RCers," wrote Jackins in 1983, "that no 'vulture' can attack an RC leader without losing some tail feathers in the process." An RC member in Maryland, who likened Jackins to Christ and Joan of Arc, opposed holding Jackins accountable, "even if Harvey had committed murder." When Thomas Copeland, an elected delegate of the Minneapolis-St. Paul RC community and a vocal opponent of Jackins, tried to attend the 1981 World Conference of the Re-Evaluation Communities, Jackins summarily refused his application and shut down the Twin Cities RC organization altogether. At this same 1981 World Conference, Jackins-approved delegates officially dropped the long-standing RC policy that prohibited counselors from initiating or participating in sexual relations with clients. Jackins later explained that the policy served as a basis for "attacks" from within the organization, and was removed to "prevent further attacks."
The Responsibility of the "Adult Woman Client"
While RC theories deflect criticism from leaders, they also tend to throw a heavy burden of responsibility onto the ordinary RC student/client. RC Gay Janidlo, in a 1982 letter to Washington State Representative Dick Nelson, urged him to oppose Bills 953 and 954, because the women chose sex with Jackins and should be held responsible for their actions.
He compares "the adult woman client and the alcoholic, fat person, smoker and others who have difficulty taking charge of certain areas of their lives." If Janidlo, the therapist, offers the alcoholic a drink "and he accepts it, one may question the wisdom of my offering him a drink, but the ultimate responsibility for acceptance or refusal is on the alcoholic himself." The same is true for the adult woman client. "We females have been encouraged to be immature in certain areas of our lives," wrote Janidlo, "and this has led to a great deal of irresponsible behavior on our parts. This is not our fault, any more that [sic] it is the alcoholic's fault that he is addicted to alcohol. But this immaturity on our parts leads us to addictive type behavior, much like that of any other addict."
Janidlo further declares that a woman "who has consented to and has willingly engaged in sexual activity ... has to accept the consequences of her actions ... If she feels bad about it later, she needs to explore the reasons for her decision, but accept full responsibility for the sexual activity. To blame the man for 'seducing' her is no different from the alcoholic blaming me for 'seducing' him with alcohol." In keeping with RC theory on sexual distress patterns, this analysis ignores the power dynamic of a counseling relationship - especially in light of RC's position on deference due to "leaders." Jackins, for his part, only counsels but does not receive clienting.
RC's gay and lesbian policies offers even greater insight into the organization's troubling policies on sexuality. In a 1974 article entitled "Is Homosexuality a Distress Patter?" Jackins concludes that homosexuality, "as distinct from the desire to touch or be close, is irrational, 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-evalution."
Jackins then proposes that "gay persons" be welcomed into RC on the basis that they are expected to not propagandize for nor advocate ... the position that homosexuality is rational." Having made the decision to let them in the organization, he then had to adjust his theories to account for homosexuality without embracing it. RC publishes many journals, and it soon began one for gay and lesbian "liberation." Unlike the other journals, RC requires all gay and lesbian contributors to use pseudonyms. The Assistant International Liberation Reference Person for Gay Man, "David Nijinsky," calls being Gay a "correct policy" of being intimate with other men. But, according to Nijinsky's 1985 article, being Gay also means "a little pile of sexual compulsions" resulting from "early sexual hurt" whose restimulation directs men toward men "and away from women."
As recently as 1990, Jackins called for a "quarantine" of people with HIV. A number of people responded, one of whom complimented Jackins for his willingness "to debate with civil libertarians." In attempting to clarify his position, Jackins appeals to "the civil rights of the individuals threatened with infection." Recalling a time when quarantines were used "to deal with smallpox," Jackins suggests that "large numbers of human lives" could be saved if "carriers of the virus [were] quarantined until they are educated out of their ignorance or until their patterned irresponsibility is discharged." Diehard Jackins supporters say the International Reference Person is just generating discussion. But as Matthew Lyons, a former RC member in Ithaca, New York, points out, William F. Buckley and Dr. Paul Cameron have already generated discussion with their proposals for tattoos (Cameron suggests a large letter 'A' on the face), quarantines and imprisonment for people infected with HIV.
The question of the relation between leaders and followers, the "intellectual" and the "people," has vexed the left since Gramsci first outlined a posssible role for "organic" intellectuals in his notebooks. What do we expect of our leaders? What motivates ordinary people to work with other towards a common goal? Who should define the common goal, and through what process? Once committed to an organization, where does an individual member's responsibility begin and end?
Rejecting the nightmare of Stalinism, New Left intellectuals in America scurried away from hierarchical models of political organizing, yet many discovered that hierarchies exist in the face of the most anarchistic intentions. During the same period, groups like Dianetics and RC developed extremely top-down principles of leadership. One RC representative refers mildly to its organization as a "different leadership structure from democracy" and others have simply called it "effective." In Seattle they call it dangerous, and Austinites would be well advised to carefully examine the structures of leadership in RC or any organization they join.