Ex-psychotherapy sex commune leader permitted to practice again

Helen Fogarty, now a Westchester grandmother, was key figure in Sullivan Institute

The Journal News Lower Hudson, New York/September 5, 2014

By Lee Higgins

Tarrytown -- A former leader of a 1970s psychotherapy cult who counseled patients to sever ties with their families, controlled access to their children and — according to state officials — ordered them to have sex with her husband and each other has had her psychology license reinstated by the state.

Inside the cult -- Saul Newton and the Sullivan Institute

Helen Fogarty was once married to Saul Newton, the charismatic co-founder of the Sullivan Institute for Research in Psychoanalysis, a commune-like cult where many patients and therapists pooled their resources and lived together in apartments on Manhattan's Upper West Side during the 1970s and 1980s. The group espoused a communal lifestyle and rejected the idea of the nuclear family, claiming that monogamy was the "root of all misery." Artist Jackson Pollock was involved with the institute for a time, as were singer Judy Collins, writer Richard Price and others from the worlds of art and academia.

Membership, which once numbered in the hundreds, declined in the 1980s, thanks in part to bad publicity it received when disaffected former members filed child custody lawsuits against what they described as the "psychotherapy cult." The institute's demise was widely reported by the New York Times and New York and People magazines.

Fogarty, who lives in Tarrytown, paid a price for her involvement in the controversial institute, when the state revoked her license to practice psychology in 1997, roughly six years after she divorced Newton and left the group.
Judy Collins Jackson Pollock

Now, the 73-year-old Fogarty is getting another chance. The Journal News has confirmed that in July the state placed her on two years probation and restored her license with the condition that she only practice under supervision. And while officials who reviewed her petition for reinstatement were divided about whether it should be granted, Fogarty defended their final decision.

"I'm a great clinician," she said during an interview at her condo. "I've been working with underprivileged children for years.... My whole life has progressed in so many positive ways."

After the Institute counseling at Graham Windham

Since leaving the institute, Fogarty remarried and spent years counseling foster children at Graham Windham, a Hastings-on-Hudson facility for abused, neglected and delinquent children. She became active in church, advocated on behalf of people with lupus and even played Santa Claus at a community gathering.

She applied to have her license reinstated in 2009, expressing remorse and hoping to take on more responsibility at Graham Windham. Fogarty said she was young and unsophisticated when she got involved with the institute and Newton – 36 years her senior – shortly after graduating from college. She left Graham Windham in 2012, before the state acted on her application. Although Fogarty now claims to have no interest in practicing again and is focused on being a grandmother, former cult members have mixed feelings about her having her professional standing restored.

Amy Siskind, 60, of Brooklyn, grew up at the institute, which was founded by Newton in 1957, and said she was sexually abused there as a child. While not happy about the reinstatement, Siskind said it's unlikely that Fogarty will repeat her conduct.

"I'm sure she's been a decent counselor in the work she's done," said Siskind, a sociologist, who wrote a book about the institute. "The remorsefulness, I doubt, frankly... I wouldn't want her for a therapist myself, to put it mildly."

Another former member, Jon Mack of Newfane, Vermont, was involved with the group for more than 20 years. He has some issues with the institute, he said, but saw no reason why Fogarty shouldn't be given a second chance.

"Very few of us from that time, therapists and patients alike, have a legitimate claim to naiveté," he said in a statement. "We were — with the exception of the children of patients — consenting adults who knowingly, if not necessarily sensibly, reaped the benefits and paid the price of an unconventional life-style and practice of psychotherapy. Some clearly suffered more enduring harm than others, but the time has come long ago for people to go on with their lives — not forgetting the past, but learning from it and going ahead as best we can."

Some aspects of those unconventional lifestyle and psychotherapy practices are described in more than 100 pages of disciplinary records obtained by The Journal News, which show that Fogarty routinely crossed ethical boundaries. Institute members were encouraged to have multiple sex partners and were required to get permission before having children. If a woman wanted a child, the papers say, more than one man was to participate in the process. Children born within the group were raised by patients/babysitters; parental visits were restricted.

Her license revoked Fogarty found guilty

The institute also operated The Fourth Wall Repertory Company, a political theater group in the East Village, used, in part, for recruiting. It's where former members said they gathered at night after working long hours as computer programmers, professors and childcare workers to support the institute financially. Many members were told what jobs to take to raise money for the institute.
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In revoking her license in 1997, a hearing panel of the state Board of Psychology found Fogarty guilty of "practicing the profession fraudulently, with gross negligence, with gross incompetence, with negligence on more than one occasion and with incompetence on more than one occasion."

The panel found that Fogarty told her live-in babysitter, who was also her patient, to have sex with her husband. Although she objected because Newton was more than 70 years old, the babysitter complied. In a complaint she later filed with the state, the babysitter said she feared losing her job and housing and being kicked out of therapy.

The state also found that Fogarty told a patient his mother hated him and was as "murderously violent as a concentration camp person;" that she had sex at an upstate farmhouse with someone she supervised; and that she billed insurance companies for therapy visits that never took place.

When asking for reinstatement, Fogarty claimed she was naive after graduating from Brandeis University in 1963 and becoming a patient of Newton's. The two started a sexual relationship. Two years later, she moved into a "women only" apartment at the institute, completed graduate studies in clinical psychology at CUNY and a four-year-program at the institute. She had four children with Newton, who married and divorced six times and fathered 10 children before his death in 1991 at age 85.

Asked about her ability to make ethical decisions during her time at the institute, Fogarty told The Journal News: "I was young. I was in my 20s and 30s. I don't know how mature and rational it was. At the time, it seemed fine."

She denied ordering her babysitter to have sex with Newton, saying that "she made this up, that I told her to have sex with my husband. Do I dispute it? I totally dispute it. That's unthinkable... I was a therapist, she worked for me, that was the whole issue. She was babysitting one of my kids and asked if she could be in therapy with me."

She said she regrets the "double relationship" of having her live-in babysitter as a patient and did admit to some improper billing practices. Fogarty said she made no disparaging comments about the other patient's mother, but acknowledged having sex with someone she supervised.

"Looking back on it, we were all crossing boundaries in that group," Fogarty said, adding that she didn't realize it until leaving the group. "That was a problem."

Patients were drawn to the institute in the 1970s and 80s, she said, because it was a different era and people wanted to try something different.

"There were a lot of communes, urban and rural," Fogarty said. "It was a big counterculture."

License reinstated state split on second chance

In asking that her license be reinstated, Fogarty said she worked to redeem herself professionally and personally after leaving the institute. She held several counseling jobs before taking a position as a senior psychologist at Graham Windham in 1995. Upon losing her license two years later, she continued to work there as a "senior clinician," offering advice on major decisions, including "suicide attempts." She said she was forthright when Graham Windham asked about her past. She learned about boundaries, she said, and refused to move her office to a patient cottage. Her lawyer noted that she took more than 200 hours in continuing education credits. She also also joined the Unitarian Church.

Gerry Leventhal, vice president for Westchester Services at Graham Windham, said Fogarty did a "very good job... She was a good employee," he said.

We have kids who bring a wide range of challenges with them. We rely on our staff to provide a lot of support and counseling to them."

State officials who reviewed Fogarty's reinstatement application were split about whether she should get another chance. In fact, the Peer Committee, comprised of other psychologists, recommended unanimously that she be denied. The committee said she lacked independence, and only sought reinstatement at the suggestion of a therapist she was seeing.

The Committee on the Professions disagreed, finding that she was remorseful and voting unanimously to recommend two years probation. She was placed on probation by the Board of Regents in April, followed in July by the reinstatement order from the state education commissioner. If she complies with probation, her license will be fully restored.

"The story, if you want it, is about the incompetence of the hearing panel to judge this correctly," said Fogarty, adding that the Peer Committee didn't look at the facts.

She said The Journal News coverage of her license reinstatement is "going to hurt me, undoubtedly" in the community, saying that she doesn't discuss her past with friends at church.

Fogarty is one of 400 licensed professionals and 14 psychologists in New York state to have their licenses revoked during the past two decades, according to a review of records by the newspaper. Other psychologists have lost their credentials for possessing weapons, grand larceny, having sex with patients and other violations and crimes.

Michael Bray, 69, of Somers, who left the institute after 12 years when it started to "take control of procreation and child rearing," hasn't talked to Fogarty in three decades, but believes in second chances. Most everyone there, he said, was a victim to some degree.

"I believe in remorse and redemption and reeducation," he said. "I believe all those are possible... My general belief is people can have remorse for whatever they've done and they can change their thinking and their values over time."

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