The Philadelphia Association

The Philadelphia Association is a psychotherapy training organisation based in London. They were set up by the maverick sixties psychiatrist R. D. Laing who was subsequently barred from practising by the GMC. [1] The Philadelphia Association runs two of what they call “Therapeutic community households” in London. The editor of this web site spent 9 months in one. Billed as radical places of “asylum” for the deeply troubled they are in fact authoritarian and boring institutions run for the benefit of the self-styled and self-appointed community therapists who feed off the residents” Housing Benefit. The editor has written a summary of his experiences which is available here. He recently came across an article by author Meg Kelly. Meg stayed in one of the households for nearly two and a half years. Her article is published in the Autumn 2013 edition of Asylum Magazine. A preview is available online. To read the whole article it is necessary to purchase the relevant print issue of Asylum Magazine. If you send an email to contact — AT — they will help you do that. Though Meg Kelly stayed in the other house to the one this author stayed in her experiences sound remarkably similar. This criticism gets straight to the heart of the matter (or rather the no-heart):

My suggestion is that life at The Grove [the name of the house] might accurately be understood as subject to disciplinary structures aiming at a form of ”treatment”. The desired outcomes of this treatment would be, in order of importance: attendance at house meetings, not to behave in ways which were disturbing to others, and to replicate the accepted ”therapeutic” discourse of the house.

That last sentence really gets to the point. At the meetings at the house this writer stayed in there was an almost ritualistic format. Residents would be prompted to complain about each other. When they did, the therapists would fall on them urging them to examine their own fault. A highly moral discourse. This practice of group therapy where patients are encouraged to see their faults in the light of their failed relationships with the people around them was brilliantly depicted in the book One Flew Over The Cuckoo”s Nest by Ken Kesey. [2] The problem is: even if people do have faults that lead to them having difficulties in relationships observing them and rubbing their noses in their failures won”t make them any better. This is why this practice always leads to a sterile and moral tone. The therapists think they are doing their job (self-appointed or otherwise) because on occasion they successfully identify a fault in a patient. But this doesn”t have the claimed “therapeutic” effect. On occasion therapists in this kind of practice just make up supposed faults and impose them on the patients. (An example of this is given in this author”s testimony of life in a Philadelphia Association community household). It is one of the rules of this game that therapists are god-like and never have any faults. If they do they are certainly not up for discussion; unlike those of the patients. A second point in the Asylum magazine article which directly echoes this writer”s experiences concerns the hierarchical nature of the houses. Meg Kelly again:

Whereas an important aim of the early PA [Philadelphia Association] communities was to break down the binary structure of ”treater” (psychiatrist, psychotherapist) and ”treated” (patient, resident), by the time I arrived at the Grove in 2010, this distinction was fundamental. No room was left for doubt as to who was managing the institution, and who was subject to it. For example, anyone enquiring about moving in would be put in touch with the house therapists, who would vet them before telling us that this person would be visiting. Similarly, PA trainee-therapists wishing to do a placement at The Grove would arrange this with the house therapists, who would then inform us when the trainee would be coming.

At the house this writer stayed in similar arrangements were in place. Though, possibly, the residents had some direct communication with a visiting applicant. The house meetings at the house this writer stayed in were mostly arranged for week-day daytimes. (One evening meeting and two daytime ones). Obviously this suited the therapists well for whom it was a slot in their daily schedule. However; since attendance at the meetings was de rigour,  this made it hard for any resident to take up a full-time day job and still be in the house. The pressure thus worked to maintain the power imbalance. The therapists were financially rewarded by the same mechanism that worked to keep the patients unemployed. At the house this writer stayed at the finances depended on state Housing Benefit. The residents claimed Housing Benefit to live in the house. This covered the cost of the house (mortgage payments and maintenance) and was also used to pay the therapists an hourly fee. This unusual arrangement may explain in part why the house schedule was structured so as to discourage residents from getting a job. In reality the residents were probably worth much more to the Philadelphia Association as recipients of state Benefit than they would have been in low-paid jobs. Meg Kelly tellingly comments that at The Grove:

Like other similar arrangements (such as our complete ignorance of the houses” finances) these were presented to us as ”protective”, whilst simultaneously denying us any autonomy as a community.

Another telling comment in Meg Kelly”s article concerns surveillance. She describes how the focus at meetings was on “individual responsibility”. The general idea was that if the therapists decided that someone had not taken responsibility for something they would be upbraided in the public meeting. Meg Kelly makes a link between this practice and a structure of surveillance which extended beyond the meetings:

Though dependent on the house meetings, the most potent form of surveillance at The Grove took place outside of them. We were constantly aware that anything any of us said or did in the presence of another, even in confidence, could potentially be ”brought to a meeting”.

She goes on:

Like prisoners or psychiatric inpatients, we were simultaneously subjected to intense scrutiny in our immediate surroundings and hidden from outside view.

Meg Kelly”s article “Out of Sight” is cautionary reading for anyone considering entering a Philadelphia Association household. They are run by self-appointed amateurs who amply confirm the rule of thumb that therapists typically have less not more understanding of human relations than ordinary people. They are dreary and demeaning institutions. If you are broken when you go in you”ll stay that way. (The only exception to this is the remote possibility that through a process of being disciplined, which may take years, you become more contained, more subdued and more “normal” and thus able to function without doing anything to cause people around you to be concerned/disturbed). If you aren’t broken when you go in they will try to break you.

If Meg Kelly reads this please do get in touch as I would like to re-print your article.



see also:

2. Ken Kesey. One Flew Over The Cuckoo”s Nest. Various Editions. E.g. Penguin 2005.’


Why you can’t leave (1)

One reason why it is so hard to leave therapy – why people so quickly become so hooked and entangled in it – is because the truth about the situation is simply too horrible and upsetting to face.

The ‘client’ has ‘entered therapy’ because she is in a state of turmoil or upset about some difficultly or other. And, typically, because she has no one in her life who seems able to help. At first the therapist seems sympathetic. (You bet they do; it isn’t hard to feign a little sympathy for £30.00 for 50 minutes). The ‘client’ is encouraged to start talking about their difficulty. Then they are further encouraged to start talking about everything that has ever upset them in their life. Soon, then, all their vulnerabilities are on the table. They’ve been exposed. We can’t say shared because the therapist will have given nothing away about their vulnerabilities in return.

But the truth is that the therapist couldn’t give a toss. At best they are playing a game where they believe that there is some process where becoming dependent and vulnerable in this way will do the client some good. That this will ‘heal’ the client. But this is not true. Talking about your self in a monologue to a paid listener helps no one. At worst (and there is probably always an element of this even in the better therapists) they know that this (the monologue ‘heals’) isn’t really true – but hey it’s a good wheeze and, like everyone else, they have bills to pay…

It is hard, very hard, to face this truth. That this person who appeared, because they presented themselves so, as being so different from all the abusers in your life, is in fact, no more caring about you than anyone else. They’re just running a business. The litmus test being that the moment you stop paying the fees they won’t want to know anything else about you. And, remember, the ‘client’ was already somewhat wounded when they ‘entered therapy’. Where are they going to find the strength to admit that this ‘helper’ is just a cynical money-maker as indifferent to them as anyone else in their life who abused them or let them down? That calls for more strength than is normally required in life. And so therapy flourishes. By creating a situation for people from which it is hard to extract themselves.

What makes people strong is when you’ve been abused or let down you grit your teeth and pull yourself up. Almost everyone in life is let down or abused. Everyone who has been has the capacity to pull themselves up and get on with their life. That is what life is about.

For therapists life itself is wrong and needs fixing. It is pure American commercialism carried to its logical conclusion. The allure is offered that by paying a weekly fee you can have an easier life than life itself, that you can bypass the difficulties of life.


Psychotherapy is absolutely cynical. It is a form of treachery against solidarity and humanity.

One reason why someone ‘in therapy’ may find it hard to leave is because, in leaving, they will have to face a rather painful truth. Their therapist

The tricks of psychoanalysis (1)

In psychoanalysis the analyst encourages the ‘patient’ into a state of phantasy and illusion.

How do they do this? The ‘patient’ necessarily arrives with some preconceptions about the analyst. Typically, the ‘patient’ will be in a vulnerable state of some kind and predisposed to exaggerate the importance and prestige of the analyst. From the start there is an imbalance. An imbalance which the analyst seizes on and uses. Typically, the analyst will do a few things to create an impression of himself as an authority figure. One typical ruse involves using titles to confer a sense of authority: for example use of the title ‘Dr’ even when the analyst is not in fact a practicing doctor, use of various other kinds of credentials to lend an aura of professionalism to what is in fact an entirely unregulated industry – such as health care credentials obtained in previous careers e.g. the DipSW, or MA’s of various kinds. Their offices may be lined with technical sounding books of various kinds. They often claim to have written ‘papers’ – in fact, these are usually very academically weak contributions published in their own journals. These have nothing to do with scientific papers contributed to properly managed peer-reviewed journals; but are presented as such. And so on.

Everything is done to to encourage the vulnerable ‘patient’ to develop an exaggerated and false view of the authority and professional status of the analyst. The patient is encouraged into a state of illusion. The illusion is then sustained by the simple trick of the analyst not giving away anything about himself. (In normal relations we often start a relationship with someone with some ‘projections’ about them. But in normal relations the other interacts with us and thus gives us an opportunity to correct our false perceptions. By not giving away anything about themselves psychoanalysts deliberately prevent this process of correction from taking place). Psychoanalysis remarks that it is characteristic that the patient typically ‘projects’ onto the analyst and develops a false view of him. But psychoanalysis does not admit that it deliberately fosters this process – by the tricks described above, and others. This is one of the typical little dishonesties of psychoanalysis. (The well-known critic of psychoanalysis Jeffrey Masson comments on these dishonesties. It is not possible to believe that psychoanalysts are simply making mistakes. The little falsities in their position must be obvious to them. They must be being knowingly dishonest). At any event psychoanalysis claims that this state of illusion is helpful to the patient. From here the patient projects onto the therapist. Entering into a relationship based on phantasies about whom/what the analyst is he ‘transfers’ feelings from his past life (e.g. feelings he had as a small boy towards his father) and in this transference resolves knots from his past life. None of this is particularly true – except for the fact that the patient is in a state of illusion and phantasy. Richard Webster in his book Why Freud was wrong:

The Grand Inquisitor

People who have to tell others how to live are invariably weak. Weak and enervated they seek to establish themselves by this kind of patronizing domination over others.

This kind of childishness was analyzed by Dostoevsky in his tale of the Grand Inquisitor (in the

Everyone should be in therapy

Therapy started with an account of how it was a suitable treatment for those with serious “symptoms”. Freud’s initial patients generally had serious problems.

Nowadays the line is that “everyone needs therapy”. The whole of society is sick. Therapy is the cure for everyone.

One of the most extreme proponents of this view was the maverick sixties psychiatrist R. D. Laing. Laing popularized the idea of the psychotic as the most “in touch” person in a world gone mad. The “normal” were in fact one step behind. Thus, even though you look and feel normal,

That there is no effort in being “in therapy” tells us something about it

Therapy promises, amongst other benefits, that it will aid “self-development”.

Think for one moment.

Being “in therapy” requires no effort on the part of the client/patient. There is no self-discipline. No exercises. Nothing is being learned. No knowledge. No skills. There are no challenging experiences. There is no interaction with the external world.

All the patient has to do is a) pay the fee and b) regurgitate some nonsense about how they felt when they were 5 years old.

This is not going to aid self-development. There is no effort in this.

It is about confession. The all important factor is that it is a confession to the “authority” of the therapist. This (as discussed elsewhere in this blog) is a game of Christian mastery of the soul. By confessing your “sins” and any thoughts you might have which you are “holding back” you become pure in the eyes of the Church. The Church can now accept you (the sinner, the strayer) back into the fold. In psychiatric terms – by confessing your “pathology” you make yourself