SEX AND RE-EVALUATION COUNSELING (RC). 1

(WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO 'COUNSELING ON EARLY SEXUAL MEMORIES' & 'A RATIONAL THEORY OF SEXUALITY'.)

The aim of this article is to outline some of the basic ideas that RC has to offer on sexuality and some of the dangers that blind acceptance of these ideas can lead to. In addition it also highlights some of the cult-like aspects of RC, concerning the sexual behaviour of the founder 'Harvey Jackins'. The RC booklets 'Counselling on Early Sexual Memories' and 'A Rational Theory of Sexuality' were written by 'Harvey Jackins' are the prime source of the information discussed here. Information has also been taken from the 'Belgium Study Group on Psychotherapy Cults' that carried out an extensive study of 'RC' and the behaviour of Harvey Jackins. The conclusions of the Belgium Study group were that the organization was a successful Psychotherapy Cult. 'Successful' because it has survived for many years, under the leadership of Jackins (now deceased), despite well-publicized allegations about his abusive behaviour to other members. Harvey Jackins is no longer in charge of RC, his son 'Timothy Jackins' is currently in charge of the organization. However, the policies and teachings that enabled Harvey Jackins to sidestep well aimed criticisms of both his conduct and RC teachings are still in place. As critics of RC and its leaders are still silenced in the same manner as when H.Jackins was in charge a reminder from the Belgium Study Group is still apt.

Authoritarian systems of many kinds try to silence and discredit their critics and whistleblowers in any way they can. Abusive psychotherapy cults usually make insinuations against the mental health and stability of anyone who challenges them.

[Belgium Study Group on Psychotherapy Cults: iv]

 

THE FUNDAMENTAL THEOREM of SEXUALITY

RC calls itself a form of counselling whereby two or more people take it in turns to act as client and counsellor. However, it is much more than counselling. RC asks its members to re-live traumatic experiences, and express the emotions experienced. This will often involve shaking, crying, shouting, and hitting pillows. This process is called 'discharge' in RC literature. The aim of this practice is to free the client from the effects of those emotional experiences and to be fully rational beings.2 According to RC, if we feel a need for something, or a strong desire for something, then this is an indication that it has come from our emotional side and is not to be acted on. This is because RC views strong emotions as a result of distress. Thus Jackins writes concerning sexual desires:

Unless you calmly and deliberately decide to feel sexual because it is the optimum rational behaviour in a particular situation, and you decide to do it before you feel sexual, any sexual feelings mean you are the victim of restimulation.

[A Rational Theory of Sexuality:12]

The main message given by Jackin's is that all our sexual feelings are under our control and we can decide whether or not to have them. Sexual feelings that arise without our consent are the result of restimulation from the past and are not to be acted on. Hence RC encourages its members to think of most of our sexual desire (all sexual desire that is not chosen) as based on distress. It does not offer any scientific research or evidence to back these claims up, but it is expected that members takes these principles on board as an act of trust in the organization. There is no evidence to support the claim that a strong desire to form sexual relationships is based on early childhood distress i.e. sexual abuse. In fact all the evidence of evolutionary psychology suggests that the opposite is true. Given the importance of reproduction to the species (any species) it is highly unlikely that sexual motivation or sexual arousal would be left to arbitrary choice. This leaves one with the suspicion that the postulates of RC are not based on solid grounds.

One notable consequence of those who blindly accept the theory, is that those who experience unbidden sexual feelings i.e. the majority of members, will see themselves as 'distressed'. This is likely to lead to confusion over whether to act on such feelings and a healthy sexual relationship is likely to be impaired. RC members will thus be encouraged to see themselves as having a 'need' for counselling, rather than feeling at ease with their sexual feelings. Given the strong correlation between sexual satisfaction and happiness within a relationship the advice from Jackins or RC does not look like being conducive to the well-being of its counselling members.

The claims of Jackins get even more bizarre and extreme when he goes on to say that the basic cause of our sexual feelings, that arise without our consent i.e. without rational deliberation, are hidden deep in the memories of our unconscious minds. They stem from sexual abuse and almost every woman and most men have suffered from such abuse. Hence he writes:

…[T]hat almost every woman, that almost every woman in our society, has been sexually abused as a small child, and that a very large proportion of all men have been abused sexually as small children.

[A Rational Theory of Sexuality p.14]

Although there are many people in RC who when joining have no memory of being sexually abused, according to RC this does not count as evidence that they were not abused. This is because according to RC 'These are bad incidents that we have no aware memory of.' [A Rational Theory of Sexuality p.16] As a consequence of the basic RC theory its counsellors are expected to uncover sexual abuse even where the client does not have any recollection of abuse. Where counsellors expect to uncover areas of abuse there is a well-known danger that this expectation can influence the clients own memories in that area. RC counsellors not only expect to uncover abuse, but instruct their clients to construct their own memories where the clients run out of early distressing incidents to recall.

RC instructs the counsellor that if the client does not use their imagination the counsellor is instructed to make up the fantasy for them. This adds another danger - namely those who have vivid imaginations or are open to suggestion will be more liable to have constructed memories of sexual abuse. There are many stories that tell of it not being uncommon for members who, prior to joining RC, had no recollection of sexual abuse to finish workshops on incest with early memories of incest!

 

THE UNACCEPTABILITY OF RC METHODS BY PROFESSIONAL ESTABLISHMENTS

Research studies in Psychology give us an understanding of how false memories can arise. First, there are social demands on individuals to remember, for instance counsellors can exert pressure on individuals to come up with memories during sessions. Secondly, when people are having trouble remembering, the suggestions by counsellors can enter into the content of the memory. Finally, individuals can be encouraged not to think about whether their memories real or not. All of these factors are present in RC counselling sessions - in fact the techniques are recommended to counsellors! False memories can be constructed by combining actual memories with the content of suggestions during the process. This leads individuals to confuse the source of information. [E.Loftus 1997]. Such practices are (for good reason) deemed unacceptable by current medical and psychological opinion:

Psychiatrists are advised to avoid engaging in any 'memory recovery techniques' which are based upon the expectation of past sexual abuse of which the patient has no memory.

[Royal College of Psychiatrists, Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse, 1997. (UK)]

The AMA considers recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse to be of uncertain authenticity, which should be subject to external verification.

[American Medical Association, Council on Scientific Affairs, Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse, 1994.]

RC's basic postulate that almost everyone has been abused as a child, even if they cannot remember it is actually in contradiction to all the evidence from the respected psychological organizations. Whilst people who have been abused may be reluctant to talk about it, or not want to remember the events, there is no evidence to say that they are unable to remember whether they were abused or not and hence no reason for recovery techniques involving regression and imagination to take place.

…most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them although they may not fully understand or disclose it.

[American Psychological Association, Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse 2003]

When counselling on early sexual memories clients still in RC should bear in mind that early sexual memories may be vague and surrounded by mixed emotions that may be unrelated to any current event. They should also request the counsellors not to interject with suggestions or constructed fantasies during this time. They should take support from the fact that their own memories which are likely to be partial and incomplete are likely to be more accurate than vivid, complete memories.

 

AN OUTRAGEOUS UNETHICAL PRACTICE

By far the most worrying aspect of RC theory is the claim that sex can be used as a means to induce discharge (an RC term for the process that occurs during counselling sessions) and a way to contradict feelings of isolation. A number of ex- RC members have reported first hand the offer of 'late night' counselling sessions with the previous leader of the organization 'H..Jackins'. It was rumoured that all those at the top level of the organization had slept with Harvey Jackins and many more had been molested or harassed by him during counselling sessions. Counselling in RC could be a dangerous affair. H.Jackins was well known for his advances on young female clients within the organization, clearly violating the trust that members put into the organization. He was reported to have told young women that they can overcome or contradict their "father stuff" by making love with him. Those that complained of his behaviour were advised to counsel on their experiences, or counsel with Harvey on his behaviour, rather than take them to external authorities. Jackins workshops were known to exhibit an odd style of public counselling that may have been used to deflect these accusations.

Many attendees at Jackins workshops have noticed an odd style in his public "demonstrations" of counselling. He generally selects pretty young women to work with in front of the group. After his client has displayed to "the greatest counsellor in the world" the stereotypical RC discharge with the prescribed shaking, yawning, and giggling, he directs her to say to him: "I love you, Harvey. I want to be close to you. I want to blank with you." Ostensibly this direction to the woman is intended "to contradict her pattern of isolation" but other interpretations are possible. One observer maintains that Jackins gives this blatantly seductive direction in public, hoping to make people less likely to believe the "rumours" about how close he really does get to women in private. Routinely, after these sessions there is applause and everyone colludes - most unknowingly - by acting as if something profound and wonderful has happened for the hapless client.

[Belgium Study Group on Psychotherapy Cults; 5]

Voicing criticism within RC is not easy. There are practices that RC employs which aim at isolating dissenting individuals and preventing others from being in close contact with them where their voices can be heard to all. There also exist methods for distracting and re-focusing members concerns with the RC theory and practice.

 

ELIMINATING DISSENT 1

RC aims to eliminate dissenting thoughts from outside the counselling setting. It not only requires its members to refrain from criticizing other members in public, but also takes such criticism as being based on distress. Hence the criticisms are automatically deemed unreliable. The current (2002) guidelines explicitly state that criticisms of leaders are not accurate but are due to distress:

Attacks on any member or leader are not attempts at correcting mistakes but rather dramatizations of distress. These are not acceptable behaviours within the RC community.

[Guidelines for the Re-evaluation Counselling Communities p.68]

and

Any Co-Counsellor who has an issue with a co-counselling leader's behaviour, shall communicate the criticism directly to that person and seek a resolution, and not express such criticisms to anyone else inside or outside of RC.

[Guidelines for the Re-evaluation Counselling Communities p.69]

ELIMINATING DISSENT 2

It is standard practice for RC teachers when faced with dissent from these ideas, which arise in a discussion context to silence them by requesting that the dissenter 'put those ideas to one side for now'. If they arise during a counselling session the more experienced RC counsellor may use the tactic of interruption and/or distraction in order to stop the dissenting chain of thought. Notably, there is a prevalence amongst RC members to find fault with themselves if they persist in finding the RC postulates as counter-intuitive or hard to believe as opposed to finding fault with the postulates. In view of the above the latter option would seem an altogether more 'rational' enterprise.

Here is an example of a counsellor interrupting and distracting dissent taken from a counselling session I attended:

Client:

I think that the RC quote is telling us that everything we know about ourselves is wrong, but I do not believe this - It seems very counter-intuitive and…

Experienced Counsellor:

I know…I know…But what would it be like if it were true…How would that feel like? I would like you to try to experience that feeling now…

Here the tactic is to stop the dissenting thought and distract the original worry. Counter-intuitive thoughts are accepted by focusing on the feeling that such thoughts are true. Hence the client is often brought into a state of confusion whereby intuitively they have beliefs that clash with RC (I know my sexual identity), whilst they are also brought to accept the RC beliefs (I don't know my sexual identity). This tactic occurs frequently in various settings. I knew someone who was asked to take charge of the finances of the group. They did not want to take over this role. A mini-session was called for. They were asked to counsel on their 'distress' over taking the role, rather than reasons for not wanting to do the role i.e., what would it be like if you could do take over the role for us. The aim is to get the person to experience positive feelings with the role in order to overcome the original desire. This method will also be used to dissuade people from leaving RC.

 

CONCLUSION

The organization still has the same structures in place since the death of the leader 'H.Jackins' and hence still has the same potential for causing as much harm and abuse to clients as benefits. RC has retained the mechanisms in place for either covering up, or limiting the amount of exposure of any unethical behaviour of its members. Members who refuse to change their criticisms of others behaviour or reject the groups basic postulates are likely to find themselves being prevented from attending Co-Counselling meetings and being seen as in 'distress' and without a cogent opinion. Similarly those that express a desire to leave will be seen as in 'distress' and they will be encouraged to remain within the organization. More experienced counselling members will make regular telephone calls in an attempt to book more counselling sessions as opposed to respecting the clients wishes. In addition the grand claims of the effectiveness of the therapy are not corroborated by independent evidence. The main source of testimony to the effectiveness of the practice comes from the personal testimony of H.Jackins. The organization does not allow any public investigation into its practices or the effectiveness of its techniques. Hence the claims of this   remain uncorroborated and unreliable.

 

Given the cult-like features associated with this organization I could not advise any individual who is seeking a form of counselling to go to RC when there are more viable alternatives available.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] Please note that RC spells ‘counselling’ as ‘counseling’ and this is not a typing error.  

[2] According to RC, all of our problems in life stem from our early childhood, where we experienced ‘trauma’ or ‘distress’ or ‘hurts’.  These negative events set up behavioural patterns in our current life that prevent us from realising our true potential.  Our true potential is described in terms of our innate ‘intelligence, zest, lovingness and rationality’ which is unlimited.

 

Bibliography

Belgium Study Group on Psychotherapy Cults (1993) "A Documentary History of the Career of Harvey Jackins and Re-Evaluation Counselling". http://www.cocowebs.com/liberaterc/table_of_contents.htm Jackins,H. (1977) A Rational Theory of Sexuality. Rational Island Publications. Jackins,H.(1997) Counselling on Early Sexual Memories.RationalIsland Publications. Guidelines for the Re-evaluation Counselling Communities (2002).Rational Island Publications. Loftus, Elizabeth (1996) "Memory Distortion and False Memory Creation." Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 281-295. Loftus, Elizabeth (1997) "Creating False Memories". Scientific American, 70-75. Osmo Kontula, PhD, Elina Haavio-Mannila, PhD (1992) "Quality of Life as a Function of Sexual Satisfaction". http://www.mapi-research-inst.com/pdf/art/qol18_11.pdf.

 

This article was written by J. Bennett, BA(Hons), MA.