When therapists become gurus and cult leaders

Earlier this week I posed the question of why such a high proportion of psychotherapists either sanctioned for misconduct or awaiting fitness-to-practice hearings seem to be from the Jungian tradition. I’ve had a couple of interesting responses.

One person pointed out that when I ran through the list of cases I’d actually missed one out. Another Jungian, Stuart Macfarlane, was suspended for two years by the Guild of Analytical Psychologists. The GAP is a member organisation of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, but for some reason the complaint hearing isn’t listed in the UKCP complaints archive. The GAP’s page doesn’t state specifically what he did, but it seems to involve some sort of breach of boundaries. Also, surprisingly, the decision page is undated, though the document properties say the page was created in October 2012.

So, why Jungians? I had the following suggestion by e-mail.

Note that the bad boys are all men (and probably all of a certain age – nearing old age and children of the 60’s).

I think the “mystical and mysterious” Jungian approach appeals to the ego of a certain kind of man who wouldn’t otherwise have ever found himself working as a psychotherapist – having to listen to others talk about many and varied problems when all he wants is a stage for his ‘revere me because I’m a wise man’ act.

Children of the 1960s? That certainly would apply to the age ranges of John Smalley and Geoffrey Pick, two of the more high-profile misconduct cases of the last couple of years. Interestingly Stuart Macfarlane is married to Penelope Tree, a former fashion model who was a high-profile figure in the Swinging Sixties until her modelling career was cut short by acne.

I wonder if we’re seeing something of a hangover from the 60s era of gurus offering enlightenment, in a time when there was a seeker born every minute. This reminds me of the debates around 2009-10, when (now-shelved) plans for psychotherapy to become state-regulated were being virulently opposed by a small but noisy campaign. Many of those leading the opposition struck me as being the worst bunch of malevolent hippies since the Dharma Initiative in Lost.

The same names seem to crop up again and again. When I posed my question about Jungians, I received this feedback from Amanda Williamson, a counsellor based in Exeter.

It may interest you to know that a therapist with whom I suffered an unethical experience involving pressure to be naked (a theme common amongst many of the other complainants in this particular case) hero worships Brian Thorne, in particular for his infamous sessions with Sally, where, lo and behold, he and Sally got naked.

Ah yes, Brian Thorne, Emeritus Professor of Counselling at the University of East Anglia. He was one of those predicting that the sky would fall in if psychotherapy were to be regulated. He’d also published a book chapter  describing how he and a patient called Sally got naked together. Given how dodgy that sounds, did he obtain informed consent from Sally?

Before deciding to take off his own clothes, the professor says “there was no question of checking with Sally for it was only I who could give permission to myself”.

The professor experienced “intuitive promptings” which, he says, “enabled me to encourage Sally to undress, or on occasions to initiate a particular form of physical contact, whether it was simply holding hands or, as in the final stage, joining in a naked embrace”.

That would be a no, then.

Thorne insists that this was a unique situation and not necessarily a model for how other therapists should act. Though from these comments it sounds as though there may be at least one dodgy therapist who views it as a model.

Somebody else was also impressed by Thorne’s naked sessions: Derek Gale, struck off by the Health Professions Council as an arts therapist and by the UKCP as a psychotherapist in 2009. He has the dubious distinction of being the only psychotherapist in recent years that the UKCP has actually struck off.

Gale wasn’t a Jungian, but he fits neatly with the suggestion of throwbacks from the 1960s who view themselves as some of guru. He was also a deeply abusive individual, and the findings against him at the HPC were spectacularly damning. He was found to have called one client a “stupid cunt” and humiliated another in front of a therapy group for having self-harmed. He discussed his sexual fantasies with clients, took clients on holiday with him and got them to do unpaid work for him. At the end of the hearings, this was the impression the HPC formed of him.

Having had an opportunity to observe Mr Gale over a long period of time both as a witness and as a person conducting his case in this hearing, the Panel has come to the firm view that he has a cavalier attitude towards the needs of clients and the requirement to follow clear guidelines.  This is demonstrated by numerous instances, including his evidence in cross-examination that he had never read the HPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, the fact that he failed to heed the warning and advice given to him to exercise caution over socialising with clients, and the fact that in stating that he had now modified his practice to accord with prescriptive rules he was doing so only because of the rule and without embracing the rationale for the rule.

Brian Thorne appears to have formed a different view of Gale. He appeared at the HPC hearing to sing his praises. I have a copy of the transcript (in which for some reason Thorne is referred to as “Professor Robert Thorne”) . He tells Gale,

I have come to respect your honesty and integrity as a person and as a professional, and that for me has considerable meaning; secondly, I’ve come to appreciate you as somebody who is deeply reflective about the work that he does; that he is prepared, as it were, to look at his work with new eyes, fresh perspectives and so on, if that is what is actually clearly being called for.  But to respond quite directly to your last question, I sometimes feel that it may be that it is the very fact that, for goodness knows how many years ago, I think it’s about 30 years, you have been involved in therapeutic work, which is actually rare, which is I think also extremely demanding, but also has within it quite a number of important issues I think which mainstream therapeutic approaches can probably learn from and benefit from. [page 38]

Within the transcript there’s some interesting snippets about Gale’s therapy groups. Skim to pages 56-57 and we learn that one client was allowed to cut Gale’s hair in order to give her extra status in the group from having the privilege to cut the leader’s hair. We also find out that t-shirts were printed with a blown-up picture of Gale and the words “I’m his favourite.” There’s mention in the HPC decision of Gale asking clients to call him “Daddy”.

This isn’t a therapy group. It’s a cult.

Thorne wasn’t the only eminent professor to become involved in the Gale hearings. Gale applied to have his interim suspension lifted, in exchange for having weekly supervision sessions of his practice. But who would act as supervisor?

Andrew Samuels, Professor of Analytical Psychology at the University of Essex – another Jungian, another figure formed in the 1960s, and subsequently to become chair of the UKCP – made an offer to provide supervision. The offer was promptly rejected by the HPC. The allegations against Gale were so serious that simply toddling along once a week for supervision was just not enough to protect the public.

Professor Samuels has strongly denied offering to be Gale’s supervisor, but as it happens one of the complainants obtained his letter to the HPC. Here it is. It’s pretty unambiguous.

Two eminent professors, one of them later going on to become UKCP chair, dancing to the beck and call of a cult leader.

So, what have we learned here? Quite possible the mysticism and idealism of the Flower Power generation may have given impetus to various individuals who liked to inflate their egos by playing the wise man or guru. In some instances such as Gale, the guru became the head of a therapy cult.

Needless to say, such individuals are not suited to the role of therapist.

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13 thoughts on “When therapists become gurus and cult leaders

  1. And where is the eminent former Chair of UKCP now? Having raised hell and insisted on a ‘multi track’ policy at UKCP in which people could either accredit/regulate or not – depending on how they felt about it – he has now resigned his post (early) and left the organisation to deal with the outcome. The organisation is now in a state where half the members feel they have a choice about signing up to Professional Standards Authority Accreditation (through joining the Central Complaints Procedure) and the other half could not care a less. Consequently it has recently had to be clearly stated ‘THERE IS NO LONGER A MULTI TRACK POLICY ALLOWED’. UKCP are left with the ultimatum that they all get PSA accredited together or they will not get accredited at all because the PSA will not tolerate a mixed and muddled response (surprise surprise many people you warned you that this would not be ethical months and years ago). Outcome? confusion and chaos for the membership. My view is that any organisation can only be as competent and functioning as its leaders – so what are they doing in leading the profession right now? Answers please from the leaders of UKCP especially those who are part of creating this problem.

  2. I see from the Gale HPC transcript that the prominent therapist Dr John Rowan also made an appearance at the hearing to provide support to his mate. Just one excerpt from his evidence:

    Gale: Can you say anything about the impressions you formed of whether the project (the Gale Centre, my insertion) was a good idea or not?
    Rowan: It seemed like quite a triumph, quite an achievement. Everybody who I saw at that event seemed very happy and very enthusiastic about it, as if this was something of an achievement, something marvellous that had been successfully completed.
    Gale: You talk in your book about humanistic psychology and peak experiences.
    Rowan: Yes.
    Gale: Would you think that might have taken the form for some people as a peak experience?
    Rowan: I couldn’t say.
    Gale: You couldn’t say?
    Rowan: I really couldn’t say.
    Gale: Because you said it was a “triumph”, that was why I asked you?
    Rowan: Yes. Peak experience is a kind of ecstatic experience like you have on a mountain top. I don’t think it’s quite a mountain

    John Rowan’s biography can be found here at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rowan_(psychologist)

    Unless something has changed since the last edit he is a member of the UKCP as well as a fellow of both the British Psychological Society and the BACP.

    These “throwbacks to the 1960’s” get everywhere.

  3. I really think that you have hit the nail on the head here. It is not so much a question of whether or not these people claim to be Jungians, but the fact that they all do seem to have one thing in common: to wit they are pueri aeturni who have never grown out of the idiotic cults of the 1960’s.

    With regard to the person who was a member of GAP, they are not as yet recognised by UKCP. Things may change in this regard after the IAAP Congress due to take place in Copenhagen at the end of August this year.

    The best Jungians I ever knew were all pretty unorthodox, as indeed am I when necessary – but were VERY SCRUPULOUSLY ETHICAL. It’s a bit like Picasso (who I in fact can’t stand but am regarded as a heretic over this!) – he learned all the discipline of traditional art before he went about breaking all the rules.

    In Australia, especially when working with Indigenous people, analysts are called upon for more self-disclosure than would normally be deemed “proper”. However the sharing occurs very much with the needs of the patient in mind It is usual for bot parties to draw a diagram showing where they sit within their family tree. This is done as a respect for Aboriginal culture. They will not open up without some feeling of a yarn, and traditionally greet strangers with “G’day. Who are your mob then?” So they need some sense of who I am, where I come from and what I’m doing in their land.

    HOWEVER. This does not give me carte blanche to cry all over them (or even to mention the fact) if subsequently a close family member dies or (G-d forbid!) my husband leaves me. That is my stuff to be dealt with away from patients, who have the right to expect me to be present for them and not vice versa.


  4. Well, Zarathustra, you seem quite abusive yourself…

    Ageist, sneering at someone who supposedly left modelling because of acne, etc

    I began reading the site with some sympathy and interest, but I now consider you to be on the same par of psychological competance as some of those whom you (delightedly) criticise.

  5. Z – thanks for keeping going on this – it destroyed me and my marriage a while ago – there really is no defeating the closed minds these guys create – think you know who I am 🙂

  6. For a really good discussion of this issue see: “The unfolding and healing of analytic
    boundary violations: personal, clinical and
    cultural considerations” in Journal of Analytical Psychology 2005, 50, 661–691.

    Abstract: Jungian analysts are not exempt from an unconscious engagement in a
    group complex. The author hypothesizes that there is a silent, dark legacy of belief in
    the superiority of men’s judgment and the inferiority of women’s, left by Jung, that
    has had a wounding impact on some Jungian analysands. Conscious and public
    mourning may be needed to heal our cultural complex. The author, a woman, traces
    the origins of her own patriarchal complexes and reveals how in her first analysis
    these mingled with the patriarchal complex shared by a Jungian institute, her two
    male analysts, and their former analyst, a pillar of the institute’s community. Her first
    analyst aborted her analysis to begin a personal partnership with her. Her second
    analyst unconsciously colluded with the first analyst in not exploring this outcome as
    a violation. This resulted in a second compromised treatment. The senior analyst who
    had been these two analysts’ own analyst was consulted, and he too failed to address
    the transgression. After experiencing severe symptomatology, the patient entered
    a third analysis with a woman where transference and regression were the focus.
    Eventually, meaning was found in the confrontations with the particular Jungian
    organization and its ethics committee, who acknowledged the first analyst’s behaviour
    to be unethical. The author sees this process as a paradigm for the enactment
    and healing of a group complex.

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