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Sex, Lies and Co-Counseling

by Matthew N. Lyons

This article was first published in The Activist Men’s Journal in August 1993. I added a few updates and comments in brackets in March 1996. Aside from a few formatting changes, I have left the text unchanged from the 1996 version.

“I am the best male ally I have ever heard of for women and women’s liberation.” —Harvey Jackins

Re-evaluation Counseling is a quiet movement. You probably won’t find its publications at your local bookstore or public library. RC doesn’t advertise much except by word-of-mouth. Although its members participate in a wide range of progressive organizations and events, they don’t usually broadcast their RC connections. For example, Charlie Kreiner, who frequently leads workshops at Men & Masculinity conferences and the like, does not ordinarily mention at these events that he is RC’s “International Liberation Reference Person for Men”—although the techniques he uses are pure RC without the label. This is not modesty, it is policy. RC does not want to attract attention. [Since this was written, Charlie Kreiner has left RC.]

Why the low profile? RCers often say that they want to be able to share with people the principles of RC, a.k.a. “co-counseling,” without running into any prejudices outsiders may have about the organization or its specialized terminology. (Teaching RC to people without telling them that’s what you’re doing is called “naturalizing” RC or “Wygelian” work.) Perhaps a more straightforward reason is fear of political repression: Harvey Jackins, head of the Seattle-based movement, faced blacklisting and government harassment during the McCarthy era for leftist activities, and he knows that such persecution could easily happen again in this country.

Unfortunately, the RC leadership is ducking not only the government, but also principled feminists and other progressives. It is hiding authoritarianism and abuses of power within its ranks. Most of all, it is hiding Harvey Jackins’ long history of sexually exploiting female clients.

Some of you may think of RC as a “cult.” Please note: this article will not use that label. The concept of cult may be useful if applied carefully, but too often it becomes sensationalistic. “Cult” suggests weird, crazy, different from us. Wacko. (Like those nutty Branch Davidians in Texas, who believed in a charismatic leader, stockpiled weapons, and abused children—things that normal Americans never do.) Calling RC a cult, I fear, may encourage people to treat its problems as marginal. But sexual abuse and authoritarianism—and the psychological denial that helps maintain them—are not marginal problems. They are central and intrinsic to our whole society.

Some of you, on the other hand, may be RCers or supporters of Re-evaluation Counseling. I know that the RC leadership would define this article as an “attack on RC,” and that Harvey Jackins has instructed RCers to repel all such attacks without considering their merits. Please remember: You have a right to know if Re-evaluation Counseling is putting women in danger. You have a right to an organization which is safe and which does not keep secrets from its members. You do not have to settle for less than that. Please trust your own thinking enough to consider the information I present.

What is Re-evaluation Counseling?

And some of you may simply be wondering, what is this Re-evaluation Counseling? It’s an international peer therapy organization with perhaps 10,000 members in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. RC has appealed to many progressive-minded people because it provides low-cost training in simple therapy techniques, because co-counseling sessions have a seeming egalitarian quality (counselor and client trade off roles), and because the movement emphasizes human liberation from all forms of oppression and injustice.

RC postulates that “everyone is born with tremendous intellectual potential, natural zest, and lovingness,” but that these qualities become blocked by accumulated emotional “distress.” Most of this distress is said to reflect not only individual hurts, but also internalized oppression, such as sexism or homophobia, which warps the psyches of people in both dominant and target groups. Co-counseling practice centers on helping persons in the client role to “discharge” their accumulated distress, or “patterns”—to release the pent-up feelings through cathartic processes such as shaking, crying, laughing, and yawning. Discharge is said to enable people’s essential goodness to “re-emerge”, to help them to “re-evaluate” their experiences, to think more “rationally” or “clearly” than before. The counselor’s role is primarily to encourage discharge through warm, attentive listening and encouragement.

RC theory draws a sharp distinction between one’s distress patterns and one’s “real” self. All hurtful or oppressive behavior, it asserts, results from distress patterns—thus hurt is never anyone’s fault. It is often important to interrupt the behavior, to “prevent the pattern from operating,” but the person should not be punished. RC places great emphasis on “appreciating” people. It discourages criticism (unless couched in appreciative terms) and—in theory—shuns ridicule, shame, and blame.

People usually join RC by taking an introductory class of about 15 weeks. After that, some people just find one other person to “co-counsel” with; others become active in the RC “Community”: more classes, workshops, conferences, support groups. There is an elaborate structure: RC teachers get certified, usually by the leader of the local chapter, or “area,” who is called the “Area Reference Person” (ARP). Next in rank is the “Regional Reference Person” (RRP). Leadership for anti-oppression work throughout the Communities is exercised by “International Liberation Reference Persons” for women, lesbians and gay men, working class, Chicanos, Jews, Blacks, elders, mental health system survivors, middle class, and many other social groups. (Including men: thus Charlie Kreiner’s position.) At the top, in Seattle, is Harvey Jackins, “International Reference Person for the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities.” Jackins also heads the organization’s press, called “Rational Island Publishers,” as well as “Personal Counselors, Inc.” which, unlike all other formal RC practice, provides one-way, fee-for-service counseling. (1) [Notes are at the end of the article.]

Everyone in RC is encouraged to “become leaders” and, in theory, people exercise formal leadership to the extent that they have learned to counsel well and have “freed up” their submerged rationality. In practice, there is nothing to distinguish the system from—at best—a benevolent dictatorship. Jackins has the power to appoint and remove all Reference Persons and other leaders; he can bar people from RC events or expel them altogether; he can create and dissolve whole areas and regions. Through Rational Island, he controls the many RC publications. Jackins delegates much of this authority to officials below him in the organization, and many policy decisions are discussed widely before being decided, but there are no independent checks on Jackins’ power. This institutional authority is largely augmented by Jackins’ personal charisma and the admiration of his followers, but it’s the institutional authority which is key. When I was part of the Ithaca RC Community, it was somewhat fashionable to deride “Harvey Jackass” (note: very un-cultlike behavior) without actually doing anything to challenge his power. Being able to mouth off about Harvey, I think, made it easier for people to avoid facing the organization’s blatant lack of democracy.

Why This Article Now

I was a member of RC for a little over a year, in 1987-88. I have been close to people involved in RC for about 15 years. There were many reasons I left the organization, but learning about Harvey Jackins’ sexual abuse and the leadership’s suppression of the issue was key. I still value some things about RC—such as its recognition that the personal is political, many useful insights into the psychology of oppression, and the ways it has helped some people to heal. Many other aspects of RC make me intensely angry. The abuse question sheds important light on some of the other serious problems I see in RC—such as its claim that men as well as women are an oppressed group. (2) And it’s striking to compare Jackins’ own sexual behavior with his call to quarantine “irresponsible carriers of AIDS” so they cannot “compulsively commit harmful acts.” (3) But it would be too much to cover all these interconnections in one article.

Information about Jackins’ sexual abuse has been publicly available for years, but recently a lot of documents became readily accessible through one source. A Documentary History of the Career of Harvey Jackins and Re-evaluation Counseling: A Study of the Origins, Evolution and Prospects of a “Successful” Psychotherapy Cult is a compendium assembled by The Study Group on Psychotherapy Cults in Brussels, Belgium. (The Study Group partly results from a 1989 split within RC, in which much of the European section seceded, as discussed below.) The book has its drawbacks: Its tone is sharply polemical and at times sensationalistic, it flirts with red-baiting, it stresses the claim that RC is a cult. These features weaken its usefulness for winning over RC members. Nevertheless, the book pulls together important documents from a wide range of sources, and the documents stand on their own. Apart from my own experience, materials in the “Documentary History” have been my main public source for this article. I have tried to cite specific sources as fully as confidentiality allows.

Harvey Jackins’ Sexual Abuse of Women

Personal testimonies by survivors show that Harvey Jackins has long been having sex with female clients from RC workshops and Personal Counselors, often during counseling sessions. Often, it seems, he has combined sexual exploitation with other forms of psychological pressure and control. Many women have reported deep, lasting harm as a result of Jackins’ sexual and psychological abuse. Rather than face up to the situation and try to make amends, Jackins and his subordinates have barred any discussion within RC of his unethical conduct, and have punished or expelled people who speak out about it.

A few survivors of Jackins’ sexual abuse have come forward publicly. Shirley Siegel, an RCer for 19 years, states that Jackins sexually exploited her during counseling sessions, ostensibly to help her “work on sexual problems.” He also pressured her not to get medical treatment for a serious intestinal condition eventually diagnosed as Crohn’s disease, urging her to counsel more instead. Because of her emotional and physical problems stemming from Jackins’ mistreatment, Siegel says, she was unable to care properly for her daughter, who died from a respiratory infection at age four. After leaving RC, Siegel helped found the organization Stop Abuse By Counselors. (4)

In 1990, Deborah Curren filed a lawsuit accusing Jackins of repeatedly abusing her sexually at age 15 when she was his client through Personal Counselors. She dropped the suit when Jackins filed for court costs if he should win. (5) Pat Pearson reported in a 1991 open letter that during a session “when I did not respond to [Jackins’] sexual overtures, he sunk me into regression and with hypnosis raped me.” (6)

Referring to a session shortly after the rape, Pearson described how Jackins abused his position of counselor to increase his power over her:

“He had me counsel my anger at him pounding on a mattress for two hours while holding eye contact which was also hypnotic. I started having pains down my arms and across my chest. I was angry but not that angry. I began to hyperventilate. He had counseled me beyond exhaustion. My reserve energy to think clearly about it was interrupted and I felt short circuited. It had damaged me for years to come and left me vulnerable to more of his abuses. The part of me I loved and respected he termed distresses to be counseled on…. I was to blame for everything.

”Jackins’ [sic] informed me that the goal was to remove all past ‘conditioning.’ This means moral, ethical, political, etc. or everything that makes you who you are….” (7)

Many other women have written or spoken about being sexually abused by Jackins, but have chosen to remain anonymous for reasons of safety. One survivor spoke to KIRO-TV (Seattle CBS affiliate) in 1981 about her vulnerability to Jackins: “Coming from a horrible childhood and finally finding someone who would help and who was kind and who would listen and someone to cry with over all of the terrible things that had happened, I just simply suspended my own judgement from that time on and took his word for everything.” (8) A woman who was appointed an ARP after Jackins became sexually involved with her has written

“I have spent the past 11 years in R.C. working through my dependency on Harvey. I was suicidal at times. At times I was grateful to him. In the beginning Harvey told me not to work on our relationship with co-counselors. The secrecy of the relationship created tremendous tension in itself. There is something very hurtful about not being able to be open about such an intimate and significant relationship. I was confused about what was happening. Part of the confusion was that by its very nature the relationship couldn’t work and it felt it was my fault that it wasn’t working.” (9)

Another woman was Jackins’ client as a teenager. She “trusted and believed he had my best interest at heart,” until they began having sex weekly. After that, “I started resisting going to sessions and things got worse at home. I didn’t feel right and now I had no one to talk to. One day after a session I came home and tore my bedroom up, breaking all I could. I started to take a lot of drugs, mostly LSD, so I could escape from my reality. Finally I caused enough fuss so I didn’t have to go back and see him. The bottom line is I’ve never been able to trust anyone I’ve slept with since. I am still that lonely lost little girl looking for love. Whose fault was this – years and years later I finally know it was not mine. I am not the one who needs to be held accountable. It was my counselor, Harvey Jackins.” (10)

There are many more such testimonies. Shirley Siegel says that Jackins “had sex with literally hundreds of female clients over a period of thirty years.” (11) [As recently as March 1993, Jackins reportedly harassed a female client sexually at a workshop in New York State, according to a source who entered the room at the close of the incident.]

Sex in Counseling Situations

The violation of trust and personal boundaries described by many RC survivors represent a specific form of male violence which is widely recognized. It is standard policy outside of RC that professional therapists always have a responsibility not to have sex with their clients. A therapy situation is one of unequal power, in which the therapist is in a position of authority over the client in emotionally intimate ways; the client is profoundly vulnerable. Under these circumstances, even the client’s “consent” to become sexual cannot be regarded as freely given, because the client may not be in a position to withhold consent, and because it may represent a replaying of past sexual violations. It is always the therapist’s responsibility to maintain the sexual boundary between them—even if the client asks for sex. These power dynamics are usually intensified by other inequalities, such as gender and age. (The vast majority of therapist perpetrators are male; the vast majority of victim-survivors are female.) (12)

All of this applies directly to Jackins’ one-way counseling through Personal Counselors. In a slightly different way it also applies to Jackins’ co-counseling relationships, because his virtually unchecked authority within RC, often combined with his age, force of personality and presumed expertise (not to mention his gender), put him in a clear position of power over his female co-counseling partners. In fact, RC has long recognized the dangers of boundary violations through its “blue pages” rules which, until 1981, barred RCers from using co-counseling situations to initiate social or sexual relationships. But in 1981 the no-sex rule was removed because, Jackins claimed, it was being used as a basis for “attacks.” Somewhat incongruously, the no-socializing rule remains.

Punishment, Denial, Complicity

Jackins’ sexual abuse has been a source of controversy within RC since at least the 1970s. In 1980-81 the issue reached crisis proportions, as members of the Twin Cities (Minnesota) RC Community began an organized effort to hold Jackins accountable for his conduct. Punishment was swift: St. Paul ARP Barb Sanderson and teacher Marisha Chamberlain were decertified for telling their classes about the abuse; Tom Copeland, elected regional delegate to the RC World Conference, was barred from attending. At a meeting with Twin Cities RCers on October 5, 1981 Jackins was confronted by a woman who said he had sexually abused her during a counseling session. He did not deny the incident, but said he did not remember it. He told the gathering: “I am the best male ally I have ever heard of for women and women’s liberation.” Apparently that didn’t convince them, because the next day he dissolved the Twin Cities Community. (13)

That same year, RC-survivor Shirley Siegel co-founded the organization Stop Abuse By Counselors and helped get Seattle newspaper and television coverage of the charges against Jackins. Stop ABC also lobbied for bills in the Washington State Legislature to regulate therapy practices, including a ban on sex between therapists and their clients. (14) RCers mobilized to oppose the bills (usually without mentioning their RC affiliation), arguing, among other things, that the bills were too vague and restrictive, and would discourage the growth of peer counseling. Nevertheless, a version of the legislation eventually passed in 1988. (15)

In addition to the 1981 purge, many other people have been expelled from RC or have resigned in protest over the authoritarianism and sexual abuse. Mary McCabe, co-founder of RC who held the number-two position for 25 years, quit in 1977. Nancy Kline, another influential leader, was expelled in 1988 after demanding that Jackins stop having sex with clients and apologize publicly. In 1989, the entire RC leadership of French-speaking Europe resigned, followed by sections of RC Communities in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, England, and Flanders. Members of the French-speaking leadership took part in compiling and publishing the “Documentary History” from which much of the information in this article is drawn.

Yet many RCers have chosen to deny the grave problems in their organization. Some simply dismiss the sexual abuse charges as phony and malicious. Some argue that, if Jackins is having sex with women clients, he is not doing anything wrong. Some admit privately what is happening but keep silent because they don’t want to “hurt” RC. Many critics of Jackins’ abuse have compared such responses to the denial and secrecy within an incest family. As RCers Holly Hurwitz and Steve Dickens wrote in 1988 after completing an extensive investigation of the sexual abuse charges: “Many people will be unable to hear this information. You will be told that you are attacking leadership, that you are restimulated by it because you have not worked through your own sexual memories or that it is outdated information and no longer true. Understand that these responses and others are patterned. People are scared by this information.” (16)

Denial, of course, often begins at the top. Jackins has denounced the charges against him as “rumors and gossip” and, since 1981, has refused to address their substance at all. (17) In response to the 1981 crisis, he and other RC leaders began talking about the problem of “attacks on leadership” and how they threatened RC as a whole. Such an attack, they declared, was often a person’s desperate effort to get attention for his or her distress. RCers must not “join in a ‘discussion’ on the ‘merits’ of the attack,” but must repel it fiercely. “It needs to be made immediately clear by other RCers,” Jackins wrote, “that no ‘vulture’ can attack an RC leader without losing some tail feathers in the process.” (18) Although couched in veiled language and fancy RC jargon, these are standard maneuvers for silencing women who challenge male oppression: women gossip, women are too emotional, women are not to be believed, women had better keep quiet or else. I find it especially frightening that many RCers who consider themselves (pro-)feminists have apparently gone along with this uncritically. (19)

Jackins also claimed that the charges circulated in 1981 had “pretty clearly revealed themselves” as a plot by the “FBI, CIA, and other ‘spook’ agencies” to sabotage RC because of its “profoundly progressive nature and its effectiveness.” (20) This has seemed plausible to some RCers (including me, at first) because the US government really has used sexual slander against leftist opponents in the past—the FBI used it, for example, to help divide and weaken the Black Liberation Movement and the New Left in the 1960s. But Jackins never produced any evidence to back up his claim that the charges against him were “agency-inspired and managed.”At the same time, RCers have sometimes implicitly defended Jackins’ sex with clients. In a 1981 “Open Letter To The RC Communities,” Jackins’ personal secretary, Katie Kauffman, wrote:

“Harvey has made himself available to people in a very open way. He has not held back from closeness with someone if it was requested and appeared to be rational, and if, in his judgment, a close personal relationship was what the situation required. This has certainly involved some risks on Harvey’s part, opportunity for misunderstanding, and possibly mistakes, but I think it has been a great success overall…” (21) (Italics in original.)

RCer Gay Janidlo, in a 1982 letter opposing a Washington State bill to regulate therapists, claimed that “a woman who has consented to and has willingly engaged in sexual activity with a man, any man, has to accept the consequences of her actions just as one would expect any other adult to take responsibility for decisions made and acted upon.” (22)

These statements do not square with the survivors’ own testimonies of disempowerment, violation, and shame. Both Kauffman and Janidlo ignored the radical imbalance of power between Jackins and his female clients. To exhort women to “take responsibility” for this inequality is victim-blaming in feminist garb.

[Some readers of this article have criticized as a type of victim-blaming the fact that the only two specific examples I cite of RCers defending Jackins are women. I want to make clear that many men within RC have also defended him. At the same time, I believe that Jackins has, for tactical reasons, relied particularly on women supporters to defend him against sexual abuse charges.]

Another way in which RCers collude with the abuse is by saying, “Some of what Harvey does it wrong, but that’s just a small part of RC. Most of RC is good and important for people. I don’t want to drive people away from it by telling them about Harvey’s patterned behavior.” This is a “cost-benefit” perspective, which acknowledges there’s a problem but says the good is worth the price of putting up with the bad. Specifically, helping people to free their loving, intelligent, and zestful nature is worth the price of abuse for some women and a climate of secrecy and denial for all. Here we need to question not only the ethics of such a trade-off, but whether it is even workable. How can an organization help us move beyond fear and confusion unless it strives toward safety and honesty among its members?

Jackins’ abusive behavior cannot be treated simply as an individual problem—it is tied in with RC’s whole organizational structure. According to several sources, such as the French-speaking leaders who resigned in 1989, most top leaders know that Jackins has been “hitting on” female clients for sex, but go along with it and help to punish those who raise the issue. Reportedly, collaboration can take extreme forms—such as one RRP who, when Jackins came to lead a workshop in her region, “provided him at the outset with a list of women he could seduce without there being any danger of their lodging a complaint against him.” (23) Several current or former RC leaders interviewed by Hurwitz and Dickens in 1987-88 asserted that Jackins had had sex with many women leaders, and that he tended to favor these women for advancement. (24) This claim has been independently corroborated by a leader who remains active within RC. (In 1989, over three-quarters of all Regional Reference Persons were women.) (25) Even if none of these women ever speak out against Jackins, even if none of them describe his relationship with them as abusive, we have to ask: Is it ethical for Jackins to use his power over his subordinates in this way?

RC’s mistreatment of its members will not suddenly end when the chief perpetrator dies or retires. Unless challenged openly and consistently, authoritarianism and violence against women will tend to perpetuate themselves in one form or another. There have been charges that Jackins is not the only male leader engaging in sexual exploitation; whether or not that is true at present, there is a clear potential for it to happen in the future. (26)

The “Rational Island” Versus the “Wide World”

It’s difficult for many people in RC to get critical distance on the organization, to keep its policies and dynamics in broader political perspective. There is a strong pull to treat RC theory as an all-encompassing system, the answer to all social problems, the only truly “workable” approach to human liberation. A “rational island” in a sea of distress. Jackins continually fuels this tendency by saying things like: “Reevaluation counseling can be confidently viewed as the very leading edge of the tendency toward order and meaning in the universe.” (27) If people believe this, they are more likely to believe that any criticism of RC (or its leaders) equals distress. I wonder how many RCers realize how ridiculous and arrogant all this sounds from the outside, and how much it reinforces RC’s image as a cult. (28)

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 psychology, trivializing structural and material factors. And its emphasis on fostering “pride” in everyone leads to some highly questionable results for oppressor groups such as men and White people. There isn’t space to discuss all this here; the point is that many RCers insulate themselves from ever having to consider such critiques.

RC’s ideological hubris also leads to dishonesty, and not just about sexual abuse. First, there’s the whole business of “naturalizing” RC—taking the theory and techniques out into the “wide world” without calling them RC. In “wide world” settings, Jackins encourages his followers to pretend that RC principles are their own personal ideas. This way people’s distress recordings about RC are less likely to be “restimulated.” In plain English, it’s harder for people to make informed, independent judgments if you withhold information from them.

Second, the belief that RC is unique means falsifying its own origins. Jackins claims that he discovered the principle of discharge by accident when consoling a friend. In fact, RC theory is an offshoot of L. Ron Hubbard’s philosophy of Dianetics. In 1952, Jackins was a member of the highest council in Dianetics, known as the Hubbard Dianetic Foundation. That same year Jackins co-founded Personal Counselors, Inc. Its primary purpose, as stated in the articles of incorporation, was “to engage in, conduct and teach the art and science of dianetics.” (29)

Does RC Philosophy Contribute to Abuse?

If RC as it exists is so radically compromised, we need to ask: Do RC’s problems represent a betrayal of its core principles, or are they connected with these principles? I do not think there is a simple answer to this question. I would like to offer two contrasting viewpoints on it.

On the one hand, many people have taken a principled position that sexual abuse and suppression of dissent violate RC’s basic philosophy, which calls for an end to all human mistreatment. RC theory offers many useful tools for critiquing the oppressive aspects of RC practice. Ex-RCer Lundy Bancroft, of the Integrated Support Network, gives a valuable example of this with his article, “The Roots of Authoritarianism.” (30) He argues that the RC leadership’s silencing tactics are effective largely because they “restimulate” members’ “internalized adultism”—i.e., play into earlier unresolved experiences of being silenced or mistreated as young people. (Obviously sexism plays an important and connected role, but it is not only women who are being silenced.) For example, children’s opinions—like women’s—“are often invalidated by saying that they’re ‘too upset,’ or by saying that they are actually upset about something else…”:

“RC leaders play into this aspect of adultism in a couple of ways. One is to turn people into clients; in other words, when you raise an objection, you are likely to be called up in front of a class or workshop to “work on it.” The leader then gets you to expose your distress, demonstrating that your objection actually comes from confusion. You’ll notice in this process that leaders don’t reveal where their distress may affect their outlook. A second and related tactic is simply to violate the rules against commenting on someone’s material in order to shame them into stopping their dissent. An RC leader in California once told me that the reason I was raising a particular concern, ‘is because of that stuff about your father.’“

As Lundy notes, RC has worked into its theory the notion “that being upset proves that you are irrational and not thinking clearly….which serves its authoritarian interests. (The truth is that people sometimes do their best thinking when they are upset, and are often particularly articulate then.)” (31)

Of course, authoritarianism is not simply a matter of psychological dynamics, but also of organizational structure. Eliminating authoritarianism in RC would require a more decentralized and democratized system for making decisions, with checks and balances to help safeguard against abusive behavior by office holders. In 1981, Tom Copeland circulated proposals along these lines to other RC World Conference delegates, before Copeland himself was barred from attending the conference. (32) All this is consistent with a principled defense of RC philosophy.

And yet I think there are also deeper issues which must be addressed. I remember the constant confusion I experienced within RC about personal boundaries: the unspoken pressure to share intimate thoughts and feelings with virtual strangers; the unspoken expectation that I would help probe for intimate thoughts and feelings from those strangers in turn. I remember my reluctance and hesitation in counseling sessions, and the inner voice telling me: “That’s your distress.” I remember people I had just met coming up to me at RC workshops and saying, with the best of intentions, “Can I give you a hug?” And me standing there, not wanting them to, telling myself: “Go ahead – it’s just your distress,” and letting them hug me. I remember conversations with RCer friends where I tried to share thoughts and feelings in a direct, unselfconscious way, as friends do, until I saw that Counselor look come into the other person’s eyes—that detached, patronizing, I’m-helping-you-discharge look—and I felt myself withdraw into silence in anger, frustration, and shame. And still that voice inside me was saying: “That’s your distress.”

“Co-counseling levels the distinctions between kinds of intimacy,” says “Martha,” an interviewee in R.D. Rosen’s book Psychobabble. (33) That’s certainly what it felt like to me—a set of norms pushing both counseling relationships and friendships toward a mid-point that was confusingly intimate and impersonal at the same time. “Jessie” (another Rosen interviewee) says, “A whole part of co-counseling that blew me away constantly were the professions of love and admiration that were totally devoid of social contact, totally devoid of practical experience with people.” (34) For me the obverse was also true—an RC framework could make even real personal connections ring hollow, because all interactions started to sound the same. I don’t assume that every RCer has experienced these things, but from many conversations with others I know I am not alone.

None of this directly “leads to” sexual abuse, but I believe it describes an environment that could make sexual abuse more likely in some situations. Harvey Jackins’ exploitation of female clients, survivors’ testimony tells us, is about violating boundaries—putting inappropriate physical intimacy into a counseling situation and, in some cases, making women think he is being emotionally intimate when he is really being “therapeutically” impersonal (“helping them work on sexual problems”). In an environment that already helps confuse these issues for some participants, the abuser’s task is easier.

Blurring different kinds of intimacy, as far as I can tell, is not a corruption of RC principles; it’s a direct expression of those principles. RC mechanizes and fragments human experience: It channels emotional expression into the functional, routinized contours of “discharge.” It defines reason and feeling as inherently separate processes, and often encourages people to keep their discourse and their emoting neatly compartmentalized. It treats psychic pain as an impersonal Thing, wholly separate from the Real Person inside, which can be scraped away layer after layer until it’s all gone. Part of what all this leads to is an oddly calculated warmth, a confusingly impersonal intimacy.

The dichotomies which RC defines as unchanging “reality” have a specific historical and political meaning. It is western patriarchal culture which has drawn the rigid line between Reason (masculine, adult, European, genteel, mental, human) and Feeling (feminine, childish, savage, plebian, physical, bestial). We are taught that Reason is separate from Feeling just as we are taught that Man is separate from Nature—both these dichotomies reflect and reinforce our faith in social hierarchy. RC’s call to “re-emerge” from distress (a.k.a. “crud,” “stuff,” “junk,” “rotten cabbage leaves,” or simply, our “material”) is a new version of a very old and very masculinist effort to “transcend” physical, bestial existence. Thus the “leading edge of the universe,” thus the talk in RC about distress being an evolutionary holdover from instinct among “lower” animals, thus the nonsense about mortality being a form of distress that can be discharged. That’s right, RCers talk seriously about living forever, which indicates not just Harvey Jackins’ personal hubris, but also Civilized Man’s old, old denial of death. (35)

I certainly think there is room for discussion about these issues. There needs to be discussion about them, both within RC and by anyone who wants to build an alternative co-counseling movement. But the central, immediate problem remains: Re-evaluation Counseling claims to oppose all oppression and mistreatment, but it is a repressive, undemocratic organization that has fostered and covered up sexual violence against women for decades. Can it be reformed? I don’t know, though I hope so. Can it be exposed? Yes. There needs to be full and open discussion of RC’s problems both inside and outside the organization, to help heal the wounds of the past, and to reduce the danger of future abuse. And whether we explain their behavior in terms of patterns or unethical choices, Harvey Jackins and his collaborators need to be held accountable for what they have done. Without pretense, and without denial.


1. Re-evaluation Counseling, Rational Island Publishers, and Personal Counselors, Inc. may all be contacted at 719 Second Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98109.

2. In 1990, Activist Men’s Journal contributor Rus Funk was expelled from RC for criticizing official theory about men’s oppression of women. This article should help to answer his question to Harvey Jackins: “What is it about men’s violence that causes you to shut down, and refuse to respond?” See Activist Men’s Journal, June 1990.

3. Jackins’ quarantine call is probably related to his claim in the mid 1970s that homosexuality was a result of distress. To his credit, Jackins withdrew this claim after sharp discussion within RC. However, lesbians and gay men are still required to use pseudonyms in RC publications for their own “protection”—in effect, compulsory closeting. [In 1995 or 1996 the claim that homosexuality results from distress was reinstated as official RC policy.] On Jackins’ quarantine proposal and my critique, see Activist Men’s Journal, December 1990, pp. 27-34.

4. “Bitter Medicine: Reformers seek to outlaw therapists’ sexual exploits,” Seattle Weekly, March 10-17, 1982, reprinted in A Documentary History of the Career of Harvey Jackins and Re-evaluation Counseling: A Study of the Origins, Evolution and Prospects of a “Successful” Psychotherapy Cult (Brussels, Belgium: The Study Group on Psychotherapy Cults, 1992) [hereafter designated as DH], p. 33; Linda Rockey, “Counselor Abuse,” Seattle Times and Post Intelligencer, March 25, 1984, in DH, p. 35; Steve Carr, “Attack Theory: Re-Evaluating RC,” Polemicist, April 1992, in DH, Addendum. [Since this was written, STOP ABC has ceased operations.] The Study Group on Psychotherapy Cults may be contacted at: Avenue Van Becelaere 103, 1170 Brussels, Belgium.

5. Curren v. Jackins, First Amended Complaint for Damages (Superior Court of the State of Washington, King County, Jan. 17, 1990), in DH, p. 39; Carr, “Attack Theory.”

6. Pat Pearson, Open Letter, March 4, 1991, in DH, p. 40.

7. Ibid.

8. Transcript of Harvey Jackins segment of Linda Coldiron’s special investigative report on counseling abuse on KIRO-TV (Seattle CBS affiliate) September 1981, in DH, p. 24.

9. “Dear R.C. Leader” (Letter, no name included), n.d., in DH, p. 26.

10. “Dear Members of the Senate” (Letter to Washington State Senate, no name included), n.d.,in DH, p. 34.

11. Steve Carr, “Attack Theory.”

12. Peter Rutter, Sex in the Forbidden Zone: When Men in Power–Therapists, Doctors, Clergy, Teachers, and Others– Betray Women’s Trust (New York: Fawcett Crest, Random House, Inc., 1989), p. 22. This book provides a useful analysis of sexual issues in therapy relationships. Thanks to Paul Seidman for telling me about it.

13. “Brief Chronology of Events of the Twin Cities RC Community,” December 1981, in DH, p. 21; also Harvey Jackins, Letter to Thomas B. Copeland, June 25, 1981, in DH, p. 20.

14. “Bitter Medicine.”

15. “Bitter Medicine”; Rockey, “Counselor Abuse”; Shirley J. Siegel, “About Re-Evaluation Counseling,” American Mental Health Counselors Association News, Vol. 2, No. 2 (October, 1987) and No. 3 (December, 1987), in DH, pp. 36-37; Lundy Bancroft, “Sexual Exploitation of Women in Reevaluation Counseling,” Unpublished Article, 1992, p. 2.

16. Holly Hurwitz and Steve Dickens, “Dear Fellow RCer” (Letter and excerpts from telephone notes), April, 1988, in DH, p. 38.

17. Harvey Jackins, Letter excerpt, November 16, 1981, in DH, p. 27.

18. Harvey Jackins, “Why Leaders of RC Can Expect To Be Attacked And What To Do About Such Attacks,” in The Reclaiming of Power (Seattle: Rational Island Publishers, 1983), p. 255, excerpts reprinted in DH, p. 30.

19. A variation on the “rumors and gossip” line has been to tell people they “should only discuss first-hand knowledge.” Ex-RCer Lundy Bancroft has a good response: “This is a silencing tactic and is patent nonsense… It’s impossible in a global community such as the one we live in today (and RC is also a global community), to have all the necessary knowledge first-hand; our responsibility lies rather in making intelligent decisions about what sources of information to trust, and then taking principled stands. If we had to have first-hand information in order to take stands, we would sit idly by and do nothing about the bulk of the world’s outrages.” (Italics in original) (Bancroft, “The Roots of Authoritarianism,” 1991, in DH, p. 59.)

20. Jackins, “Why Leaders of RC Can Expect To Be Attacked.”

21. Katie Kauffman, “An Open Letter To The RC Communities,” Present Time, No. 45 (October 1981), p. 20, reprinted in DH, p. 28.

22. Siegel, “About Re-Evaluation Counseling.”

23. Jessica Colman et al, “Reasons For Our Resignation,” Reemergence: Bulletin de la Région européenne francophone, No. 38 a (December 1989), Special American Issue, in DH, p. 49.

24. Hurwitz and Dickens, Telephone notes.

25. List of RC Regional Reference Persons, 1988-89, in DH, p. 70.

26. Bancroft, “Reevaluation Counseling: Co-Counseling Gone Awry,” 1991, in DH, p. 57; see also Tom Copeland, “Dear friends” (Letter to RC World Conference delegates), June 1, 1981, in DH, p. 19.

27. Harvey Jackins, The State of the Cosmos, quoted in DH, inside front cover.

28. Here again, the cult label can make RC look more exotic or marginal than it actually is. People don’t usually refer to capitalism as a cult, even when its apologists proclaim it “the end of history” or declare that a “free” market is the most perfect system for meeting human needs.

29. “Articles of Incorporation of Personal Counselors, Inc.” (Office of the Secretary of State, Washington, Jan. 14, 1952), Roll No. 32, Page No. 497, reprinted in DH, p. 13; see also Harvey Jackins, “Dear Doctor” (Form letter on stationary headed “Dianetics Institute of Seattle [Personal Counselors, Inc.]”), c. 1952, in DH, p. 14; and Photo of members of the Hubbard Dianetic Foundation, Inc. (including Harvey Jackins), July, 1952, from The Dianetic Auditor’s Bulletin, Vol. 3, No. 1 (July, 1952), Special International Conference Edition, in DH, p. 15.

30. The Integrated Support Network describes itself as “an organization of former ‘RC’ers’ who are dedicated to supporting victims of abuse by RC leaders and disseminating information about the abuse of power and sexual exploitation of women in RC.” ISN may be contacted at P.O. Box 1008, Arlington, MA 02174.

31. Lundy Bancroft, “The Roots of Authoritarianism,” 1991, in DH, p. 60.

32. Copeland, “Dear friends.”

33. R. D. Rosen, “Co-Counseling: The Sharpest People We Know,” in Psychobabble: Fast Talk and Quick Cure in the Era of Feeling  (New York: Atheneum, 1977), p. 82. This book was published before Jackins’ sexual abuse became publicly known.

34. Ibid., p. 87.

35. Ibid., p. 89.

Thanks to Scott Reeves, Jamie Buss, John Goetz, Cathy Gelbin, Susan Steigerwald, Lundy Bancroft, and others for discussions, information, and support that helped make this article possible. Thanks to Susan Steigerwald and Jamie Buss for critical comments on the writing.

I can be contacted at: matthewnlyons [at] gmail.com.

Copyright 1993, 1996 by Matthew Lyons

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