Center for Feeling Therapy

going sane

The Center for Feeling Therapy was an abusive, cult-like psychotherapy group founded in 1971 in Los Angeles. The Center was founded by former members of Arthur Janov’s Primal Institute who were dissatisfied with what they felt were shortcomings in primal therapy (a psychotherapy based on the theory that neurosis is caused by the repressed pain of childhood trauma).

The Center started as an offshoot of primal therapy, but quickly abandoned primal therapy and subsequently went through many theoretical shifts, including an emphasis on dream analysis. At its peak it had 350 resident patients and 2,000 members including various branches.

Over time, the Center became cult-like and extremely abusive to its members. The abuse consisted of physical assault, sexual humiliation, verbal assault, financial abuse, excessive demands for ritual, inadequate rest, and enforced physical labor. After nine years, the members rebelled against the center, leading to its closure in 1980. Some of the former members later sued the founding therapists in what was the largest psychology malpractice suit in California. They were represented by Paul Morantz, who specialized in suing cults.

The Center for Feeling Therapy initially followed Janov’s method described in ‘The Primal Scream’ by having the patient isolate him or herself for 24 hours prior to the initial three week intensive therapy. Shortly thereafter, the therapists at the Center for Feeling Therapy had a major ideological shift, and Janov’s theory of childhood trauma was abandoned. This shift was caused by the realization that patients who had defected with them from Janov’s institute ‘had been faking their primals.’  Riggs instituted groups in which there would be ‘no primaling or trips to the past.’

Life at the center was rigorous and abusive. Patients were often belittled, demeaned, insulted, or humiliated. Patients were frequently called names, such as ‘weak,’ ‘crazy,’ ‘fat,’ ‘loser,’ and so on. Patients were often subjected to insults from the entire group, since the therapists often required the other patients to gather together and collectively insult anyone whom the therapist deemed to be out of favor.

Patients were given frequent therapy assignments by their therapists which they had to complete, or they would risk being abused and demoted to lower groups. The assignments often involved activities which were demeaning or absurd. For example, one woman who was judged to be overweight was assigned to act like a cow and to make ‘grazing’ motions on the carpet.

Patients were often physically assaulted by their therapists. The assault was part of a practice called ‘sluggo’ in which the therapists would break the patients’ defenses by hitting them. Patients were often struck repeatedly during therapy sessions, which sometimes led to bruising and bleeding.

Patients had their lives controlled by their therapists in the minutest detail. The patients were told what to wear, what to do, which job to hold, whom to have sex with and how often, whom to date, whom to marry, whether to have children or not, how much they could weigh (for women), and, most importantly, whether or not they could leave. Almost all patients who expressed a desire to leave were informed by their therapists that they were still far too disordered mentally to succeed in the outside world.

In a nine-year span, none of the 350 resident members had a single child even though most of the women were young. Women who did get preganant were told to get abortions. One woman who got pregnant in her 40s was told she ‘was not ready’ to be a parent, and was pressured to get an abortion with the promise that she had time to get pregnant again.

After nine years, the patients rebelled and the center in Los Angeles (along with its satellites in Boston, Honolulu, Munich and San Francisco) was shut down in November 1980  and the therapists were subsequently banned from practicing in California as a result of lawsuits initiated about five years earlier by the patients against the therapists, accusing them of rape and other forms of mistreatment.

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