Minister Urged to Ban "Destructive" U.S. Therapist

New Zealand Star Times/February 25, 2001
By Lin Ferguson

Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel has been asked to ban from New Zealand a controversial American therapist accused of manipulating her clients. Anne Wilson Schaef - known for her new age self-help books and her "Living in Process" workshops - has regularly visited New Zealand since 1990 and owns a house in Kaikoura. A spokeswoman for Dalziel confirmed the minister was considering points raised in the letter, written by a former New Zealand client of Schaef and asking that the therapist be banned. The Star-Times tried repeatedly to contact Schaef at her Hawaii home but she would not return calls.

Last year immigration officials denied her a three-year work permit following complaints by former New Zealand clients. She can now come here only on a visitor's permit.

During the past 10 years more than 3000 people have been involved in her New Zealand workshops, according to former client Warren Smith of Christchurch. Smith wrote to Dailziel last week calling for the ban and outlining claims of "destructive behavior by Schaef."

After attending several of her workshops he realized something "very sick" was happening, he told the Star-Times. I saw people becoming clones of her. I saw people being psychologically traumatized by her methods. I'm talking serious emotional trauma and unnecessary stress that was intentionally being laid on them. Basically their minds were being screwed."

Smith said Schaef's workshops, which ran from early morning to late at night over three days, caused many people to break down and become dangerously distressed. Many became suicidal."Especially if you challenged or questioned anything. You were told you were sick and crazy, that you were in your disease." In 1992, Schaef was sued by a former American client for breach of fiduciary duty. Vonna Moody said Schaef had had a sexual relationship with her while she was her therapist. Schaef settled for $US250,000 about a week before the case went to court.

June Dawrant, another former client now living in Brisbane, said she had attended Schaef's workshops after reading one of her books.

"The blurb on the back cover assured me she was a qualified psychologist. I went to a workshop, then joined as a trainee with some other friends." But she very quickly became concerned about some aspects of the training, Dawrant said. "I am still so appalled at the psychological muggings I saw inflicted on people. I am shocked that group dynamics could be put to such abuse. Worst of all, I witnessed first-hand terrible trauma experienced by many victims who had been ridiculed, humiliated and attacked by the leader and members of the group over long, intense periods of time. "Any good that might have been done for some was far outweighed by the huge damage to others," Dawrant said. "The trauma those victims experienced was severe. Some were suicidal; others needed professional help to overcome the damage. Years later most are still affected and still very scared."

Schaef is due in New Zealand next month to run a workshop at the Rehua Marae in Christchurch. But a marae trustee, Christchurch Methodist Mission superintendent David Bromwell, is worried. "I have spoken to several therapists and they told me there was some cause for concern."

Kaikoura deputy mayor Monica Mansbridge has also voiced concerns." She warned publicly two years ago that an American therapist moving into town had already faced a sexual misconduct suit and people should be careful. "There had been increasing concern in this community about counsellors operating without any sort of credentials or supervision," she said. "People seeking a counsellor are at a low point in their lives and put a great deal of trust in this person."

Presbyterian Support Services executive director John Elvidge said he was still embarrassed that he and his organization brought Schaef to New Zealand in 1990. "We soon realized that she was some sort of cult person. She had some very weird theories and ideas. We certainly didn't want her back."

Phyllis Chesler, a prominent New York psychology emeritus professor and author of the book Women and Madness said many United States therapists were worried about the state of many of Schaef's former clients. "they're washing up on our shores half drowned and very frightened. We are very worried about her methods." She said. "She has become an irresistible, charismatic cult leader."

Retired Wisconsin correctioonal psychologist Joy Anne Kenworthy said Schaef had continually exploited he clients and abused the power she had over them. "She wields great power. She is humiliating and degrading and I'm very glad people are to be warned about her."

In her deposition at the sexual misconduct hearing in 1992, Chesler said Schaef was not just sleeping with women. "She was sleeping with women patients," she said. "And not just sleeping with women patients but employing them in a cult-like situation. "What I saw was someone who was using her persona, her reputation as a therapist who understood women, as a way of exploiting them in a variety of ways: sexual, economic and secretarial..."

A Wellington woman, a health professional who won't be named, and was a trainee for more than four years said, "I'd been convinced it was the new way to live in this sick society. I was continually told to deal with my disease, my addiction. I was told I had a thinking and logic addiction. We were encouraged to report on each other all the time especially while Schaef was out of the country. People told her everything. Our group met every week and you couldn't get away, they were always around, they never let you forget. It was like being in a gang, a gang of psychological bullies."

While her critics say she's destructive, Schaef's followers see her as a shining savior and brilliant leader. Schaef, who describes herself as an addiction counsellor and educator, has said her work is about enabling people to live more fully and joyfully. In her registration brochure for Living in Process workshops, she says she believes virtually everyone is co-dependent and addicted to something - "alcohol, drugs, sex, relationships or logic". The workshops give people the opportunity to create their own healing and recovery from special problems such as rape and incest, she says.

In the Denver-based Westword magazine in 1992, Schaef was touted as the "Recovery Queen". She is described as a one-woman therapeutic industry. Her books - including Beyond Therapy, Beyond Science, Living in Process and When Society Becomes An Addict - are worldwide best-sellers. Schaef doesn't "lead" her workshops, she told Westword. "I even divulge my own personal problems so there is never a traditional power imbalance," she said.

In a 1992 Chicago Tribune interview, Schaef said that when she was practicing as a psychotherapist in the 1970s to 1984 she had a misguided approach. She described herself a "recovering psychotherapist" and said the nature of that profession had made her "arrogant and out-of line."

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