Sexual Liberation and
|‘The first draft of a great work’|
Encounter Groups and Sensitivity Training
E. Michael Jones
The uncovering of the sex-economic processes, which nourish religious mysticism, will lead sooner or later to its practical elimination, no matter how often the mystics run for tar and feathers. Sexual consciousness and mystical sentiments cannot coexist. Natural sexuality and mystical sentiments are the same in terms of their energy, so long as the former is repressed and can be easily transformed into mystical excitation. (p. 262)
During the summer of 1966, right around the time that Merton was grappling with the competing claims which his religious vows and the young student nurse were making on him, the Immaculate Heart nuns of Los Angeles invited a New York psychiatrist to their retreat house in Montecito to conduct an encounter workshop. The nuns liked the workshops so much that a year later they invited a psychologist by the name of Carl Rogers and his associates to begin something they called the Education Innovation Project with the entire order and all of the schools it ran for the archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Rogers had become famous in 1961 with the publication of his book On Becoming a Person. He along with Abraham Maslow, whose book Toward a Psychology of Being came out one year later in 1962, had become the two leading proponents of what came to be known as humanistic or thirdforce psychology. The third force referred to a therapy that was based on both Freud and Watson but was more “client centered.” In Rogerian therapy, the client solved his own problems with minimal interference from his therapist guide, who gave little more than non-committal answers as a way of guiding the patient to truths that the client knew but chose not to see. Another name for this therapy was nondirective counseling, A creation of the early 1940s, it had been proposed, according to Rogers’ assistant W. R. Coulson “as a humane replacement for behaviorism in the laboratory and Freudian psychoanalysis in the clinic.”
In 1965 Carl Rogers began circulating a paper entitled ‘The Process of the Basic Encounter Group’ to some religious orders in the Los Angeles area. One group which found his ideas intriguing was the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This should not be surprising because the California-based IHM nuns had already established the reputation of being “innovative.” In the early ‘60s, Sister Aloyse, the order’s superior, had brought in the Dutch psychologist-priest Adrian van Kaam for retreat exercises during which “all community rules were suspended.” The results of this sort of innovation were predictable. After allowing the psychologists in, the nuns became aware of “how dictatorial superiors were and in turn how dependent, submissive and helpless nuns were when it came to working with the outside world.” By the spring of 1965, James Francis Cardinal McIntyre, archbishop of the archdiocese of Los Angeles, had become upset at the large number of Immaculate Heart nuns who had asked to be dispensed from their vows. Large, as time would show, was a relative term in this respect. Soon the number of nuns asking to be laicized would tum into a flood, and the sensitivity training which Carl Rogers would unleash on the order under the auspices of the Education Innovation Project would play a major role in their leaving. By the time the experiment was over, the order would cease to exist, leaving subsequent generations to puzzle over an incident which had become a classic instance of renewal gone wrong in the aftermath of Vatican II.
With the benefit of hindsight, anyone who read Rogers’ paper should have been aware of this possibility from the beginning. In a version of that paper which appeared in the July 1969 issue of Psychology Today, entitled ‘Community: The Group Comes of Age,’ Rogers explained that in mixed intensive workshops positive and warm, loving feelings frequently develop between members of the encounter group and, naturally enough, these feelings sometimes occur between men and women.
Inevitably, some of these feelings have a sexual component and this can be a matter of great concern to the participants and... a profound threat to their spouses.
Or to their religious vows, Rogers might have added. (pp. 466-467)
In their enthusiasm for Rogers’ encounter groups, the older sisters seem to have missed the fact that students like Jean Cordova found the whole experience more troubling than exhilarating. “A lot of times,” wrote one of Cordova’s fellow students, “I’ve heard that faculty felt they were being forced... to say things they didn’t want to say; I myself feel very uncomfortable about being shut in with people who break down and say things I feel I shouldn’t have heard. I think it creates a kind of embarrassment, which would seem to be a hindrance in relationships rather than a help. Still I do feel that I’ve gained a lot of insight into other peoples’ behavior.” Another student was even more troubled. “I felt at a loss today in that encounter group: very naked, as though everyone knows too much about me.”
Before long, many of the nuns started to feel naked as well, mainly because as a result of the loosening of controls in the order in the name of California-style openness, they were taking off their clothes and having sex with other nuns. (p. 469)
What was true for the culture was a fortiori true of religious orders in the Catholic Church. The whole culture did change, as a matter of fact, after implementation of encounter groups became widespread, but nowhere was the change as dramatic as in the Catholic Church, where it literally destroyed the orders which tried to experiment with it. (p. 473)
The priest may not have noticed it, but both Maslow and Rogers were involved in the sexual engineering of behavior. Catholic religious, who were expected to lead ascetic lives while at the same time being told that love was the reason for their asceticism, were now experiencing the “love” they had always talked about in previously abstract and rarefied terms, and they were for the most part unhinged by the experience. The effectiveness of the encounter group was based on the deliberate violation of the sexual inhibitions which made everyday life possible. (p. 473)
Just why those mechanisms were coming apart becomes apparent when Kieser describes the type of therapy to which Sister Genevieve was being subjected:
Very early in her therapy, her therapist – let’s call him Harry – had suggested a degree of sex play to help her with her repressions. Almost all therapists would today consider this a serious breach of professional ethics. But in the 1960s such procedures were not uncommon. She went along. When she told me, I was furious. She decided to stop. But she was vulnerable. So was he. Once started this kind of thing is difficult to keep in check. It became a problem that plagued her therapy.
By the summer of 1967, the problem became so serious that Harry arranged another therapist for “Genevieve.” But by the fall, they started seeing each other outside therapy, and the sexual relationship only intensified, something which “Genevieve” shared with Father Kieser, who was now consumed with both “pure masculine jealousy” and justifiable indignation at a flagrant abuse of the doctor-patient relationship.
Harry the Therapist was, of course, married to another woman at the time, a woman whom he would eventually abandon to marry Sister Genevieve. (p. 475)
If the client is neurotic, the context is health. If the clients are healthy – which was presumably the case with the IHM nuns – the context is politics, and what goes by the name of therapy is really social engineering, no matter how “nondirective” the therapist/facilitator claims to be. Rogers’ own testimony makes it clear that he saw encounter groups in precisely this political light, which is another way of saying that he saw them as social engineering and not therapy.
By 1968, which is to say two years into the Education Innovation Project, Rogers and Coulson got the sense that something was wrong. By that point in the program over three hundred nuns had asked to be laicized, and the order had been split into two mutually antagonistic groups who were fighting over the order’s financial assets. The progressive faction was also waging a publicity campaign against Cardinal McIntyre. The only way in which the project could be looked upon as a success was by adopting the public-relations jargon that was currently being used to describe the war in Vietnam. Like the U.S. troops over there, Rogers had to destroy the order in order to save it. The only way the Education Innovation Project could be termed a success if its intent was to destroy the order in the first place.
Eventually, Coulson would go on to apologize publicly for his efforts, and become a vocal opponent of the very thing he promoted in the ’60s. Instead of apologizing, however, Rogers got defensive. By the time he wrote his book on encounter groups in 1969-70, Rogers would claim his enemies were all right-wing nuts. (p. 480)
Rogers then gives some indication that his political categories were formed in the immediate aftermath of World War II by claiming that his right-wing adversaries were examples of the “authoritarian personality,” which Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno had described in a book which had been funded by CIA money... As a way of countering the suspicions of his critics that sensitivity training was some conspiracy to brainwash the unsuspecting masses, Rogers claims that the movement just grew like Topsy:
One factor which makes the rapidity of the spread even more remarkable is its complete and unorganized spontaneity. Contrary to the shrill voices of the right wing (whom I will mention below), this has not been a “conspiracy.” Quite the contrary. No group or organization has been pushing the development of encounter groups.... There has been no financing of such a spread, either from foundations or governments.
Rogers is not being honest here. First of all he knew that, although the IHM nuns contributed something toward funding of the Education Innovation Project, it was being paid for in part by the Merrill Foundation and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, which was based on the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune. Rogers in addition must have known that he had veteran psychological warriors on his staff because the EIP team cited his credentials in the proposals they wrote up to obtain funding for an early version of the project. Rogers’ associate in the IHM Education Innovation Project, Jack Gibb, wrote on the grant proposal that while attending the University of Chicago in 1949, he had “developed an intensive program of laboratory and field research into the nature and determiners of defense levels in small groups. This research was supported by the Office of Naval Research between 1953 and 1962.” It was the Office of Naval Research, along with the notorious Carnegie Foundation, which funded the original National Training Laboratories project from 1947 to 1950. Not only had encounter groups, contrary to what Rogers said, been subsidized by both government and foundations, they had been subsidized by them specifically as a form of psychological warfare.
Encounter groups, as Rogers himself indicates by his oblique reference to Kurt Lewin in describing the sources of sensitivity training, were a creation of the CIA’s psychological warfare campaign. Like Wilhelm Reich, Kurt Lewin was a German Jew who left Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power. Like Rogers, Lewin had been influenced by both Freud and Watson. According to Kleiner, Lewin “believed with the Freudians that subconscious echoes of past traumas drive our deepest feelings, and he also believed with the behaviorists, that people could be programmed to respond predictably to stimuli.” (p. 481)
E. Michael Jones, Libido Dominandi: Sexual Liberation and Political Control, St. Augustine’s Press (South Bend, Indiana), 2005. Some minor edits made, references omitted.