Is RC Co Counseling Healthy? Submitted by Jerry Maxwell to LiberateRC web site; May, 2001
In the LiberateRC article, "Power and Autonomy of RC Members," I discussed how the organization - the hierarchy, authoritarianism and elitism - of RC can lead to loss of personal autonomy and power of members.
Subsequent to writing "Power and Autonomy," I came to question whether the RC co counseling method itself - as specified and practiced in RC - leads to adverse consequences, particularly mind control and manipulation. I will address the following in this article:
- The RC environment and practices lead the client to be open to suggestion by counselors and leaders.
- RC Counselors and leaders frequently do not seek the healing and well being of the client as the primary objective of co counseling.
- RC Clients are not always fully in charge of their own sessions.
- There are few, if any, standards or limits in RC co counseling which ensure confidentiality and protect clients and members from abuse.
- RC leaders and counselors have a history of abusing members.
I discuss each of these topics in detail in the following section:
POTENTIAL FOR MIND CONTROL AND MANIPULATION IN RC CO COUNSELING
THE RC ENVIRONMENT AND PRACTICES MAKE A CLIENT OPEN TO SUGGESTION
In RC, an environment is created which makes openness the norm. Being put into a suggestible, vulnerable position is not a hazard by itself, as long as it is done awarely, the counselor knows how to handle what comes up and there is strong reason to believe he has the client's best interests at heart. Such an environment is commonly created in professional psychotherapy, spiritual and pop-psychology movements.
But RC adds much to the simple talker / listener environment. It often denigrates those who don't open up. A client is encouraged (sometimes pressured) into entrusting a relative stranger with his deepest secrets; a person who is not part of his life outside of RC but by policy is deemed to be what amounts his "trusted partner" in rummaging around in his psyche.
The client is induced to discharge, which has been reported to make people even more open to suggestion.
RC also tends to isolate its members from their previous support structure of groups and society: it often puts pressure on them to spend their time and organize their lives and thinking around RC, subordinating everything else. It bans socializing in its blue pages, thereby preventing members from relating to each other each other outside RC. The isolation from their usual contacts and fellow members tends to result in a primary identification with the RC organization and doctrine - and often its leaders - rather than other people or groups or ideologies. Long term RCers sometimes tend to lack balance in their lives and their thinking.
The RC structure itself and its claim to have the only true answers (implied to be scientific) establishes a pseudo legitimacy and omniscience. In this environment, those who are higher in the hierarchy (as well as counselors) are purported (and generally accepted) to be more knowledgeable about the client and his healing than he is himself. This, in turn, may make him less sure of his own convictions and more open to suggestion.
The isolation, combined with an authoritarian doctrine imposed from outside and a primary relationship with RC, tends to make a member vulnerable to suggestion and consequent manipulation.
RC CO COUNSELORS AND LEADERS OFTEN DO NOT PUT THE CLIENT'S WELFARE FIRST
Counselors do not always have the well being of their clients foremost in their minds when counseling. I would guess the RC population has at least as many narcissists, sadists, sexual predators and other dysfunctional and psychopathic personalities as are found in the general population.
In addition, RC inserts its own agenda into sessions, as I will discuss later.
THE RC CLIENT IS NOT FULLY IN CHARGE OF HIS OWN SESSION; AN RC AGENDA IS OFTEN PRIMARY
RC "theories" and policies are actually doctrine (they are not derived from free discussion or scientific endeavor; rather they are primarily the conclusions, speculations and edicts of Harvey Jackins) presented to be taken on faith and not to be questioned. The doctrine forms the basic assumptions under which co counseling is conducted. (Examples of assumptions which affect RC co counseling are its versions of the basic nature of man, the effect of discharge, the various "oppressed groups" and how they have affected the client, etc). The assumptions largely determine the path a session follows. Counselors base their behavior on them and clients are expected to fit within the framework. In workshops especially, the intent of demonstration sessions often seems to be teaching or demonstrating theory or technique, rather than healing the client of his "distresses." Clients are encouraged to reveal their distresses, even badgered to do so, in the workshops and in their sessions. In some (not all) cases this focus on theory and techniques is continued in counseling within support groups.
The RC agenda forbids counseling on RC's own activities and open counseling on material which is disruptive to the RC organization or its leaders. At times, sessions and demonstrations seem to be aimed at modifying the client's thinking and behavior into conformity with RC doctrine and objectives. In cases where clients disagree with an RC leader, policy or practice; they are advised to "counsel on it" with a basic assumption that the client is wrong and the leader, theory, policy or practice is right; such counseling will focus on where the client is in error.
Clients may be expected to face shortcomings ascribed to them by their counselors, and to counsel on them. Often their "defects" are simply attitudes and behaviors which are contrary to RC "theory," policy or practice. Sessions are thereby used at times to bring the client into line with RC doctrine and induce him to behave as specified, or at least to shut him up about any abuses of RC or questions about its conduct. The counseling abuses I list in this section erode a client's belief in his own thinking and deter him from taking charge of his own life and healing - imo a necessary component of psychological well being.
RC PROVIDES NO SAFEGUARDS AGAINST ABUSE
Clients of professional psychotherapy are protected by laws, standards and ethics policies which strive to insure (1) the counselor is competent in handling what comes up in sessions, (2) the counselor has the best interests of the client in mind and (3) any client material is to be kept in strict confidence. Courts, boards of review, professional standards, written professional ethics and procedures for handling complaints have been established pursuant to these goals. Although there are violations, in a vast majority of cases the standards work. In RC, there are no standards for competence, no ombudsman or due process for handling grievances. Rather, if a person complains about abuse, he is often blamed and/or told to consult the one who aggrieved him for redress. He is charged with attacking leaders, advised to "counsel his problem patterns away" and prevented from discussing problems with his peers.
In RC, clients' "distress patterns" are discussed in public in workshops and meetings among leaders, which violates confidentiality. The lack of standards creates an environment which could be expected to lead to abuses in practice.
RC HAS A HISTORY OF ABUSING MEMBERS
In addition to the abuses within the co counseling session itself, RC has a spotty history of dealing with its members. I won't go into a lot of detail here, since the abuses have been widely documented elsewhere on the LiberateRC site. Others and myself have discussed the effect of RC's autocratic organization on individual autonomy and power. Some contributors have given their individual experiences as evidence of the effects of the autocracy and hierarchy. Still others have documented the effects of secretiveness and lack of standards which permitted such things as the sexual irregularities alleged to Jackins and an apparent cover up by RC officials.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
It seems to me that; given RC's dysfunctional organization and the abuses already observed; one has reasonable reason to believe that its leadership will continue to use counseling sessions to further their own objectives, rather than to foster the psychological well being of its members.
Previous discussers on LibRC have pointed out the cult-like aspects of RC. Elsewhere I have discussed brainwashing and how RC practices compare. (See reference 1 below). I hesitate to brand any organization a cult or accuse it of brainwashing or mind control, not necessarily because I think it innocent, but because the definitions of these terms are somewhat ambiguous and clear lines and degrees are not specified to separate such activities from more benign practices. RC certainly shares some of the negative characteristics, and would be so classified if the defining limits were set according to many recommendations.
Regardless of the terms used, in consideration of previous abuses and opportunities for abuse inherent in the method, I recommend that people not use RC type co counseling or become involved with the RC organization. I consider RC and its co counseling method dangerous from a psychological perspective; I think involvement in these may well lead to a form of mind control as well as manipulation and loss of individual power and autonomy. Rather, if someone thinks he needs psychological growth or healing, I suggest he solicits friends or professional counselors to support and listen to him. If he does not have access to such resources, and/or still wants to co listen in formal sessions, I think he should devise or seek out and use a listening method without the autocracy, doctrine, control and other features which make RC co counseling so dangerous.
(I previously wrote a couple of pieces on the subject for other purposes. See References 2 and 3 below).
What I present here is mostly based on 17 years as an RC member, 22+ years of co counseling, teaching about half a dozen RC classes, attending 40 or so workshops, leading a couple of one day workshops and my own and others' experiences and training in RC. Especially helpful were communications with many wise and knowledgeable ex RCers during the 4 years since I resigned from RC. I have also done some web surfing (not exhaustive, I am not trying to present a scientific tract here, simply to offer what I have seen and concluded); a few sample web articles are included in the references below.
Others may have had differing experiences in RC. They may have been in a location which was not as dysfunctional as mine (or more so), or may have met leaders and others who did not fit what I have described here.
All my life in RC was not a disaster. Despite its defects and dangers, I grew in RC until I butted against the hierarchy and needed to counsel in forbidden areas. My personal experience has been that most folks in the lower levels of RC - and some in the higher levels - are just fine. I have my own beloved counselors and was treated with love and respect by many folks in RC.
Nevertheless, I think that the experiences I described are widespread throughout a great deal of RC and that all members of RC are vulnerable to similar treatment. Even if one is currently in a rational situation the leadership, policies and communities seem to be in a flux much of the time. Abuses come mainly from the top down; from an autocratic, megalomaniacal and elitist hierarchy which seems to have designed and institutionalized the organization and co counseling practices for its own purposes. I suspect that running into abuses by the hierarchy and recognizing that one must compromise his standards to remain in RC's good graces are common occurrences as folks climb the RC ladder.
Samples of Internet Sources on Suggestibility
As applied to Memory Recall
Samples of Internet Sources on Mind Control
As done by Scientology.
Samples of Internet Sources on Rigorous Brain Washing or "Coercive Persuasion."
Samples of Internet Sources on Professional Standards
List of courses and text books on standards of a wide range of psychological sciences.
A Supervising Psychologist Checklist: Attending to Ethical, Legal, and Clinical Issues.
(1) Brainwashing: my (updated) letter to the CCounsel email group:
Brainwashing: The systematic alteration of personal convictions, beliefs, habits, and attitudes by means of intensive, coercive indoctrination.
Many years ago (I think after the Korean war), I did a little study on how pows were brainwashed, sometimes to the extent that they would internalize and echo the doctrines of their enemies. I've remained interested since then, but have not concentrated on the subject, partly because it is hard to get straight data on it (some of the info has been classified by the military and much of it imo has been presented with spin, as would be expected in an area with so much potential for misuse). If I am in error on particulars, I request that those who are more informed add their corrections.
To the best of my recollection, the brainwashing was usually done in teams and a very special environment was set up, including the use of prolonged isolation; physical harshness; provision of a bare minimum of food, accommodations and material goods for survival; keeping the pow in cramped body positions for long periods of time; etc.
During the brainwashing itself, the team members systematically interacted with the subject by trying to get him to a point where he was confused, psychologically disoriented and vulnerable. They persisted in (1) inducing extreme emotions in him by terrorizing him, saying things to piss him off, etc. (2) interacting in good guy - bad guy roles with lots of confusion and deception about who was who, what roles people played and who could be trusted (3) dominating the pow and the environment completely and forcing the team's agenda to be the only one (4) trying to present a united front so the brainwashers became the only source of knowledge (5) refusing to allow the pow to discuss any concepts which would contradict the team tactics and doctrines; using taunting and personal attacks on both him and his potential allies to counter opposition or questions (6) enlisting comrades who had already succumbed to the brainwashing to join in the attacks (7) using any tactics, whether ethical or fair or respectful or honest (the end justified the means) and (8) withholding all information about the team's true objectives, rules of behavior and activities. Of course, this was all done without the subject's consent and without him knowing what was going on. This treatment essentially stripped away the pow's psychological boundaries and defenses, thereby leaving him very vulnerable to suggestions. If all want well, his assumptions and beliefs were up in the air and he felt totally dependent on the team members. The subject became very open psychologically and the team imposed their doctrines on him. (In our terms, replaced his mindset with the their own).
I seem to recall some of the effectively brainwashed ones came to love their tormentors, just as current day hostages sometimes have positive feelings toward those who hold them at gun point. Also, people varied widely in their susceptibility to the brainwashing. Some of the more rigid faiths were proud that their members were more resistant and stated that the key to avoiding it was a very strong belief in whatever they were touting. I think this is an extreme form of what happens to us in many areas of our lives where coercion (physical, social or emotional) is used to induce change in us.
While the control over the pows, the systematic onslaught and the deliberate use of psychological principles were extreme (and therefore the mind-control was probably more effective), application of the methods is not unique. Many techniques were probably developed in the distant past and have been used throughout history. Nor does the list of abuses of the pows include all mind-control ones. There are most probably additional techniques which are used to coerce change of folks' mind sets. Man is indeed resourceful in this area.
Of course, there are legal, societal, self restraining, ethical, situational, environmental, moral and other forces which curtail the use of the techniques in most circumstances. Over the years, this idea of brainwashing has served as one of the checklists I use to evaluate how folks are trying to influence me and others.
I'm certain the army used many of the techniques in my basic training. The evangelical fundamental churches in my childhood were heavy users. Parents use some of them on their children. I saw overt use of them in RC, although the use there is hard to compare with the others, since RC is a volunteer organization (I didn't volunteer for the churches, the army or my family, and all put heavy restrictions on time and activities). RC couldn't get away with as many of them - but I think it used what it could given the circumstances. [One of the e-mail list correspondents], said he attended a workshop where Harvey attacked a woman. I saw similar things happen a few times in RC and the assaults I saw seemed like the ones the pows were subjected to, including the claque of brainwashed supporters. Other forms of coercion were used in RC, such as threat of isolation or not 'reemerging.' Imo, Harvey used the techniques as needed for his purposes, to the extent he could get away with; and drove off, expelled or sidelined those who were less susceptible to the brainwashing. His ideal, Mao, used the methods much more extensively on the Chinese people because they were not volunteers.
(2) Member protections
(The following was written by me for the charter of a non oppressive listening organization. It was amended to remove reference to the organization).
The only requirements for membership are the capacities to listen attentively and to participate as a peer in meetings without disturbing others when it is their turn and, if a candidate member has not been taught how to listen effectively, satisfactory completion of introductory training.
There are no dues or fees for membership.
Members shall not be required to subscribe to any doctrine for membership or participation.
In everyday interactions and in the roles of listener and talker, members have the following rights: No member shall have arbitrary power over any other member; no member shall be blackballed or expelled. Members have the right of access to an Ombudsman and to due process. Provided there is mutual consent: Members may choose their own teachers, meeting leaders and session partners; members have the right to associate with, have sessions with, assemble with, communicate with or join any person or any group or organization, in or out of any organization. No member shall be compelled to participate in any activity or with anyone he or she does not choose. Members may follow or not follow a personal "no socializing" policy without penalty.
No member should be discriminated against or harassed within an organization or allied group because of inclusion in any specific oppressed group of people. No member shall be sexually harassed or abused during any activities of the group.
In sessions of listening: members may choose the type of listening (self directed, regular or intensive) used by those who listen to them. When playing the roles of either listener or talker: members may terminate their participation in any session or other activity at any time without stating a reason. Members have the right to choose whether they do or don't listen or talk on any subject and shall not be badgered into or forced to do peer listening on any subject, especially sexual topics.
Members have the right to personal privacy in their affairs. Members may remain pseudonymous on the membership list if they so desire and member's names will not be distributed or published without permission.
The following privileges are accorded members, but may be rescinded by due process if individual members are found to deliberately and continually violate the Integrity of the organization:
Listing on the web site roster of members.
Access to facilities of the web site, including, but not limited to, accessing non-private information about other members, joining web public discussions on development of working hypotheses and other topics, submitting articles or letters to the Public Records and accessing official documents.
Participation in activities.
Any private information disclosed in listening shall remain confidential and shall never be disclosed by a listener without the consent of the listening partner, unless the listener specifically warns the talker prior to the revelation by the talker.
Engaging in sexual relations in any peer listening session is prohibited.
Members shall not violate the rights of other members and should uphold the integrity of the organization.
(3) (Updated) reply to a letter asking about counseling outside of RC.
I haven't participated in RC for 4 years and continue to grow. (After I left RC, I co counseled independently for a few years, and quit entirely in 2001).
If you decide to counsel outside RC, the rules and ideas I found to be effective for myself were:
(1) In sessions, don't counsel with anyone who insists on defending RC when facts do not support his position, taking charge of my session or giving me directions which aren't correct or I don't want. Avoid counseling with 'true believer' RCers on RC subjects and 'doctrine' - or preferably on anything. The counselor doesn't always know more about my material and how to deal with it than I do. The counselor is not always acting in my best interests. Keep the session under my control (although I am may allocate some control to the counselor, I can take it back or stop a session at any time); make the decisions on everything which concerns ME. Etc.
(2) Throw out ALL RC teachings on organization and leadership (Most of it is to justify RC leaders' own oppressive hierarchy and abuse of members). Examples: RC 'leaders' aren't superior or further reemerged, they don't always know best (they were selected because they are 'charismatic,' aggressive, verbal and can be counted on to follow orders). It is frequently not wise to act first without taking consequences into account. The blue pages may be best for some counselors but relationships between peers should be up to those who relate. Etc.
(3) Unless I can verify it independently, reject ALL RC 'theory' about human beings and society, such as are presented in "the human side of being human" and given by RC pronouncements (They are speculations, often self serving or simplistic or distortions of some basic facts). Examples: The RC gay policy is almost surely inaccurate and reinforces very severe oppression. Reality is not benign. Discharge does not necessarily lead to healing. Our basic natures were developed by evolution and being loving and cooperative are not necessarily optimal to insure living long enough to reproduce. Etc.
I offer these suggestions for those who choose to continue in RC: Keep in mind that RC is not doing things in your best interests. The leaders will throw you out if you disrupt their power structure or question their practices or theory too much. They censor what they give you to read. They want to influence far more than they have any reason to in your life. They will abuse you as necessary to achieve their own aims. (This does not deny that some RCers, especially those who are not leaders, can be genuinely supportive and may love you).
I wish you the best in your search.