Treatment Abuse, Behavior Modification, Thought Reform > Synanon

Kool-Aid Stand


For some additional perspective on the Encounters within this topic see also Ursus’ thread APA Task Force Report: ENCOUNTER GROUPS AND PSYCHIATRY and participant's comments. See also T.AC.’s thread Synanon and current-day rehabs for Amity, Synanon and on n’ anon links

Nope, “The bizarre aspects” haven’t faded, but yes, they have endured. Here’s how to pretend it’s not what it is while still trying to preserve it in its new packaging

From "The History of encounter groups and the TC" as according to the (narrow revisionist history and account of the present TC scene) version presented by The Amity Foundation  here on Google dox.
[Excerpts Below]

--- Quote ---Encounter Groups:Encounter Groups in the TC Where we’ve been, where we are today, and how we can improve groups for our staff members and our participants Rod Mullen Criminal Justice Institute October, 2004
TCs and Encounters:TCs are approaching their 50th Anniversary Over the past decade there has been enormous growth in TCs, with many new workers drawn into the field---a majority of which have no TC background, and many with no recovery background. Few of these have any group experience which is relevant to the TC. Many practitioners around the US as well as in California have observed that the quality of groups seems to be deteriorating.

Encounters have historically been at the center of the TCs—the most important tool of all using “collective formats to catalyze individual change.” If the quality of encounters deteriorates, we can expect the TC itself to be significantly less effective from the perspective of the participants—AND from the perspective of funders, who look at outcomes.
Many of TC practitioners today do not: have a good understanding of the evolution of encounter groups in the TC have an ability to communicate to new workers or to TC participants the importance of encounter groups. have an ability to teach/train/demonstrate the “basics” of encounters to new workers or TC participants.
This, then, is OUR challenge---to get a better understanding of encounter groups AND to figure out how to improve encounters throughout the TC initiative in California—the largest initiative in history aimed at substance abusing criminal offenders.
Evolution of the TC “Encounter” Initiated by Charles Dederich. Dederich was an AA “fanatic” who often verbally dominated AA meetings Living on the Venice beach on an unemployment check, he began having sessions in his apartment in the late 50?s, which he called a “line of no line”. In these groups Dederich varied from the format of AA meetings and began giving participants “feedback” on their behavior.
Synanon begins A couple of heroin addicts wandered into Dederich?s group of recovering alcoholics---and one of them stopped using drugs. Dederich decided to incorporate, first trying the TLC (Tender Loving Care) Club[My insert: Really? No seriously, Really? Oh, LOL!]—but the name was taken. He decided to use the name “Synanon.” Later, disturbed by the growing number of addicts, the alcoholics walked out of Synanon.
Primacy of the Group Note that the organization formed as a result of the group, not the other way around. Would that all of our present day TCs treat the encounter as the most important activity!! [My insert  ::puke:: ]Psychiatrists and psychologists, and all forms of mental health treatment were rejected, as they focused on insight—but seemed unable to change addicts negative behaviors. Dederich initially called his groups the “small Synanon”, and later, the “Synanon Game” to differentiate it from T-groups and therapy.
Uninhibited Conversation- In the Game, emphasis was on extreme and uncompromising candor.
Aggressive confrontation was the norm for groups (some early outside observers called it “attack therapy.” Emphasis was placed on the “here and now” (not on childhood or past trauma)—again a reaction against the psychiatric approach. (Lexington & Ft.Worth)

1) View then feedback observations of the videotape of Synanon “Games” at the Synanon facility in Santa Monica---1964
2) View then feedback observations of the videotape of Daytop Village groups and marathon excerpt—about 1967

The Synanon template Essentially all the tools/approaches/norms developed by Synanon between 1958 and 1966 became the template for the American therapeutic community movement. By 1972 the Ford Foundation reported over 2,000 organizations in the U.S. who traced their roots to Synanon.
Techniques Experienced “game players” “indicted” others in the “game” and used humor, exaggeration, contradiction, ridicule, appeals to authority, identification, ect. –to break through defenses. Emphasis was placed on “gut level” (vs. intellectualizing) communication—striving to break the image of the addict.
View videotape of Synanon Game at the Nevada State Penitentiary: 1964
Role models:Like AA, the TC philosophy explicitly stated that the only person to help an addict overcome his/her addiction was another addict. So encounter norms, methods, and techniques were taught by older members to newer members (as you can see in the videotapes)
[----Excerpts resuming at page 22 ]
Going beyond the 3 hour group Early on Dederich met others who were experimenting with long groups—?marathons?. He enthusiastically incorporated these into Synanon—and marathon groups and trips were developed, lasting up to 48 hours. Since Synanon was the template, many other contemporary TCs also used marathons (see the video excerpt of the marathon at Daytop Village)
Incorporating Insight The use of long groups, "probes", and marathons moved encounters from the “here and now” and into much deeper psychological waters. However, this very important aspect of TCs has virtually disappeared in the past couple of decades as the length of stay has become much shorter, labor laws much stricter, staff less experienced,
Encounters During this period---1958 to roughly 1985 TCs expanded, but encounters remained largely variations of the original model. But gradually TCs expanded to other populations—women, adolescents, dual-diagnosis clients---these changes in population, increased government regulation, and standards imported from mental health and clinical work led to hiring professional counselors, and changes in encounters.[My insert: Look, I’ve done my best to help them out with some spell checking, but clearly they need more emphasis on Fact checking!]
Self Disclosure In order to become “authentic” in one’s own eyes, it is necessary to have "sanctuary" in order to disclose real experiences without fear. Hence the saying, “I thought I had a secret, but in reality the secret had me.”

[My insert: Okay I’m out. This thing goes on for another twenty pages of straddling the author(s)’ conflict between their lament that shorter stays cause a paucity of status members experienced enough to facilitate the facilitator’s of encounter groups and the dwindling ranks of those promoted from within and their unique *qualifications* and that the “many new workers drawn into the field--a majority of which have no TC background-- many with no recovery background” seem to somehow be contributing to the “deterioration” of the *quality* of encounter groups... with their effort to re-present these “newer encounters” (as if in this context this focus on evolution implies that the  repackaged contents are evolved) ]
Additional DVDs with groups and other TC activities are available at the Amity Foundation
--- End quote ---
Quotes like this from a Trainer’s Manual [For how to sell the a kool-aid in a variety of flavors (it even tells who to cite) ] found on Google dox shows that the Amity authors apparently  dutifully followed the advised format and yields some priceless gallows humor LOLs as it imparts the likes as:

--- Quote ---Present Synanon’s founding principles, which continue to apply to today’s TC, As Self- help and mutual self- help.
[and…]A belief that treatment should provoke “dissonance,” meaning discord or conflict, to individuals’ self- image so they are no longer comfortable with who they are.
Belief in the power of a therapeutic milieu or “total environment” geared to recovery
A unique encounter group process (originally called “the game”) based on the premise that when challenged, people examine themselves and learn new ways of behaving
A self- help community environment as an agent of change A holistic view of recovery. Add the phrases “create dissonance,” “encounter group,” “holistic view,” and “community” to the newsprint to emphasize the contributions Synanon made to today’s TC.
SynanonEmphasize that, as Synanon was evolving away from its original model of treatment for substance use disorders (and eventually closed altogether), other programs across the country adopted and adapted many of Sinnamon’s original principles.
Daytop Village and Phoenix HouseIdentify Daytop Village and Phoenix House as two well-known TCs that have been in existence since the 1960s and serve as model programs for today’s TCs.
Explain that Daytop Village, or Daytop, was founded in New York in 1963 by Monsignor William O’Brien, Dan Casriel, M.D., and David Deitch. Daytop currently has facilities in six States.
Describe the key features of the Daytop program as A phased system of treatment with the goal of returning the individual to the community Having a focus on right conduct and right living The first to use the term “therapeutic community” to describe the New York Daytop Village in 1965 Providing community treatment in prisons and jails since 1963.
--- End quote ---

For more info on the proliferation and dangers of these:Behavior: Hazardous EncountersTime Magazine Monday, Apr. 30, 1973
An excerpt from "The Politics of Transformation: Recruitment - Indoctrination Processes in a Mass Marathon Psychology Organization" located at Rick  Published by St. Martin's Press 1993 By Philip Cushman, Ph.D.
Also: An article posted and linked by Ursus on Anne Bonney’s "LGATs/Encounter groups/Confrontational 'therapy' "thread Pathology as "Personal Growth": A Participant-Observation Study of Lifespring Training

Alice Miller who wrote of generational trauma in her book “For your own good” using such words of caution about “viral infection of Poisonous pedagogy” being referenced in the spin on synanon slide show causes me a bitter taste of irony.

--- Quote ---“Did I know that I had begun my life in a totalitarian state?  How could I have?  I didn’t even realize that I was being treated in a cruel and confusing way, something I would never have dreamed of suggesting.”
-Alice Miller Breaking Down the Wall of Silence
--- End quote ---

This topic probably doesn't belong here, but I don't know where else to post this - and so many threads are dated, I tried to find one with some recent activity.

I keep hearing about Synanon off-shoots, and here in NY, there seem to be 2 main ones associated with it – Phoenix House and Daytop (both of which still operate, albeit with much tamer regiments).  But I’ve never heard of anyone talk about Renaissance (or the Renaissance Project) which was in Ellenville, NY, not far from Daytop’s Swan Lake facility (I don’t know if Daytop is still there).

I was there as a teenager for 2 yrs from 1981-1983.  It was primarily an adult facility – approx 65 adults and about 15 teenagers.  This place, while small, was a direct descendant of Synanon.

When I got there, they still shaved heads (men only; they stopped shaving women’s and made them wear stocking caps instead; I was told they changed this after a woman killed herself).  They still gave people costumes: bum outfits, baby outfits (complete with diapers, pacifiers, bibs, etc).  I wore signs, stocking caps, and scrubbed toilets with toothbrushes.  Dishpan, spare parts….we shoveled snow out of the pool in the winter, and “moved” the lake with a tablespoon in the summer.  GI’ed rooms for hours. Attitude runs on the lawn, bent over picking up invisible “attitudes” for hours. Chopping ice on the pathways until 3am.  General meetings called at 4am, dragging us out of bed to scream at us and shave heads, etc.

I was 16 when I was sent there; 18 when I left.  I’m 45 yrs old now and my life has never been the same.

I recently started researching Renaissance and found out they’re still open.  I doubt they have teenagers there anymore, but I read that a resident there killed a security guard and stabbed a nurse in Oct 2010.  When I googled it, I saw it was still the same buildings on the same property.

Because Renaissance is small, and I don’t think there are any chapters outside of NY, I’ve never heard anything about it.  A recent facebook search turned up 2 people I know from there (both of whom were adults), but I’m afraid to contact either of them.

I still think of the other teenagers I was there with, and often wonder what happened to them.

When I left there at 18, I began using heroin.  And spent the next 20 yrs in and out of rehabs, periods of sobriety and college, but eventually relapsing again.  I’m now clean for 7 yrs.  I live and work in NYC and have a seemingly normal life, though the nightmares have never stopped and I live the damage from that place each and every day in ways that just seem normal to me now, after so many years.

If anyone’s ever heard of Renaissance – especially from the early 1980s – I’d appreciate any info you have.  I remember the staff members names, and even have pictures still of most of them.  Rudimentary online searches yield very little info (I already know Felix Varela died a few yrs ago)  Gerry Gerace, the ex-director, is still around.  That’s all I’ve been able to find, but I’d like to find out who actually owns the place  - now and back in the 80s.

Any help or info is appreciated.


Afraid I can't offer any information, but I extend my sympathies for what sounds like a horrible experience. No one deserves to be treated this way, no one.

Auntie Em

Thanks anyway, Auntie Em.  Appreciate the response  :)


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