Thwarted Development of Autonomous Professional Identity?
I would like to propose a possible scenario.
In the 1960s and 1970s, some psychotherapists, influenced by
the tenor of the times, became disciples with Eastern gurus, or
in some cases, after time spent with such gurus, became self proclaimed
Even if the guru title was not invoked, these persons, nevertheless
functioned as gurus, for they exercised authority and demanded
submissing to their whims, not through empirical evidence and rational
persuasion but by claiming exalted status and by utilizing social charisma
and arguments, not from evidence, but via revelation.
These leaders claimed authority from ability to trigger
unusual experiences, in indiduals and in groups.
In some cases, these leaders had academic training and advanced
degree. some were psychotherapists who became guru-figures themselves.
In times of massive social breakdown, as occurred in the 1960s/70s many
young persons tested all kinds of options. Some were badly shaken and
sought guidance. Many who sought guidance from gurus would have
appreciated psychotherapists already disciples of these same gurus.
Some of these young persons might have re-appraised time spent as hippies
or druggies in the dropout scene. Rather than admitting that parents
had been right, some might have preferred gurus and older disciples who
served as mentors.
And groups of these young persons might have clustered together to
worship gurus who preached enlightenment without drugs. Such an
association would have preserved the closeness of the commune
** One danger here is that issues of addiction and co-addiction
which had made the drug life appealing, would not have been
healed by transferring attention from drugs and drug experiences to
Hippies and drug users who repudiated drugs via guru devotion and by
remaining in guru led communities would have swapped out chemical addiction
and substituted process addiction to the guru.
Dependance on a drug dealer would have been replaced by dependance on
a guru or some human claiming to be God. No drug dealer claims
The exotic trappings of guru and ritual would have made justified
what would otherwise have been an embarassing capitulation to
bourgeois values. Repudiation of the drugs scene could be justified
as a new and still radical stance, seen as service to a higher cause--the mission led by the guru.
In this context, and in a submission to the guru denied
to Mom and Dad, the kids (disciples) could have re-learned to wear
shirts, ties, skirts and pantyhose, while still consideing
themselves a spiritual elite, an avante-garde.
Considered themselves still a part of a noble cause in
by having submitted to Guru X, and Guru X's successors.
And reinforcing each other's uniqueness through maintaining
close contact with and social support of each other's business
concerns and in shared donation of money and service
to the ashram community.
far more demanding and arbitrary than Mom and Dad had been.
(Continuing this imagined scenario)
Meanwhile, inspired by therapist mentors within guru-led groups,
some members might have entered or been guided into social services
work -- a way to earn a living and yet one that could give
and outlet for compassion, healing and service.
The practice of social service and therapy might have been seen
as expressions of spirituality--something more advanced than
seemingly mere secular social work.
Compared to the cozy environment of the guru led group and its older
guides, boundary conscious secular therapists would have seemed too
cold and too cautious.
In those times, many were eager to fuse the role of guru, or shaman
and psychotherapist, ignoring that the first rule of the
professional healer is to select modalities where benefit outweighs
risk. To do (no further) harm.
By contrast, the shaman and guru lead one on a spiritual journey,
an adventure, one all the more worthy for it entails genuine risk --
a level of risk that is far beyond what the licensed, truly
professional therapist could offer and still remain within
the ethics of the profession.
And a true professional therapist is the guardian and mentor
in service not to a guru but to the client's own dignity as an
ordinary human being, and in service to that client's own autonomy.
The guru relationship requires submission. Gurus often belittle
and denigrate autonomy, teaching it is a risk to spiritual
practice; the professional therapist's mandate is to protect
and when possible, enhance the client's autonomy, leaving it
strictly to clients to seek out thier own spiritual
And no professinal therapist can ethically offer the level of
social connection offered by guru led groups. Professional
therapists are supposed to assist clients' to find and build
their own relationships apart from the therapist, not depend on the
therapist for such connections.
But these important distinctions were not often discussed or
given value at ashrams in which the therapist role and guru role
Many young persons who felt themselves healed by therapists
who claimed to be gurus or shamans were inspired to become healers
and on that same model.
But this career trajectory could be influenced in other ways.
Here is another hypothetical scenario.
Suppose a young person person A becomes a member of a cult in which
some older members, perhaps even its leader, are already psychotherapists with good academic connections, as decribed above.
And the young person A were to become married within the cult, or,
already married, is expected by the cult to remain married
within the cult.
After a probationary period, member A is "talent spotted" by the
e group leader. Talent spotted as someone to invest in for long term,
someone worth training in a professional capacity to serve the group
as a future elite member.
Meanwhile, other members, just as enthusiastic, are also scrutinized.
Some may also be talent spotted as worth training for future slots
in the elite rank.
But some were not. Members C and D, may be considered not quite
trustworthy. They have pasts that are less shame ridden, they have
not burned all their bridges, and stay in contact with their parents.
These persons are capable of being loose cannons. They have social
assets outside the group, meaning they could more easily leave
the group, vs those who had no other source of nurture
but the group.
Persons like these can be trusted with grunt work, sweat equity
jobs, such as remodeling the leader's house, improving its value,
remodeling a newly purchased building into an ashram complex, but
who are not trusted as long term investments. Persons in this
catagory who show too much independance can be kicked out on the leader's whim.
Member E might be kicked out too -- Member E might have been
spotted doing an impromptu skit, impersonating the guru, dancing around
in a bedsheet and wearing a dime store rubber nose, mustache
and wig, making members C and D laugh much too hard. Someone like E
has to be kicked out -- but not until E has donated enough free
carpentry work to remodel the guru's house.
Members like A, selected for long term training can be trusted never
r to ask questions if members B and C and E disappear. Members such as
A can always be counted on to make excuses for the leader, and to
persuade skeptics that their grief for missing the company of members
C D and E is evidence of ego deficiency--and that bad thoughts will
ensure that they lose access to a promising rebirth.
Back to member A.
Older members with academic connections might, after advice from
the leader, step forward to mentor A. These older members, themselves professionals, write letters of recommendation, enabling A to gain
admission to professional school -- law, accountancy, medicine, or
clinical psychotherapy -- schooling of a caliber that A would never
have attained without the cults' mentorship and social connections.
Low interest or zero interest loans might be advanced by wealthier
members of the group to sponsor A through professional training,
on understanding that A is to return after graduation and upon
So ...if this young person A has been earmarked to go to
professional school, not in service to all humanity but in service
to the guru even before graduate education begins
, A will
have the utmost difficulty creating a fully autonomous professional
identity, especially if the guru commitment is kept hidden from the
student therapist's training supervisors -- worse yet, if the supervisor is also a devotee of the guru.
In this hypothetical scenario, our youngster's professional development
could be severely compromised because loyalty to the guru will be inextricably linked with mentorship from older cult members and entry
into a professional school that the young person might not otherwise
have been able to access-- especially if the younger lived a wild hippie lifestyle and had a college career that was mediocre or worse.
Unless A shows exceptional candor and can disclose full details of
his or her background and current mentorship to a training supervisor
while at a professional school, cult loyalty may remain an area of unconsciousness.
The student therapist may get good grades in the ethics and law
courses yet be unable to apply this information in a conscious manner
to the guru and group and mentors in the group who sponsored the young persons education.
If upon graduation, older therapists who are members of the cult
supervise the trainee therapist A and sign off on the recommended
supervised hours needed for licensure within state of residence,
the newly licensed therapist may remain "owned" by the guru.
Short of a moral miracle, a person who is mentored and trained in
this manner may never attain and sustain a professional identity
independant of the guru who underwrote and supported the young
If a persons conscience and entire professional schooling are
encompassed by and supported socially and perhaps materially by
a guru or group, a therapist will be the "creature" of this set
up and not be able to function autonomously or be capable of
recognizing when client welfare is in conflict with the demands
of the group.
If the therapist is referred many clients by the group which
also supported that same therapist's training as a clincian, the
conflict will be yet more complex.
The only remedy for a therapist in this predicament would be
*To consider training and licensure as a pastoral counselor and offer chaplaincy services explicitly tied to the group's belief system.
*If licensed as a psychiatrist, psychologist, MFT or MSW, a
therapist would be well advised to contact professionals entirely
outside the social purview of the group and give an honest and
complete description of his or her situation.
One Man Who Woke Up
Psychoanalyst Daniel Shaw, LCSW, was a longtime devotee of Gurumayi (SYDA Yoga)
and through his training as a social worker, realized that the behavior of his guru conflicted with the ethics of social work.
Shaw choose to opt for the dignity of the ordinary human person and the
values of social work.
His article is well worth reading. Here is an excerpt.
In my first social work field
placement, many of the clients I was assigned described
terrible histories of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in
childhood, and in some cases were involved in ongoing
abuse, either as perpetrators or victims. Many of these
clients were struggling to recover from devastating
addictions. Although my own life has been something of a
bed of roses in comparison with the suffering these clients
have known, I soon discovered I had a deeper connection to
their experiences than I at first realized.
I had always portrayed my participation in Siddha Yoga (also
known as SYDA), to myself and others, as an idealistic
commitment to a noble spiritual path, dedicated to spiritual
Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2003, Page 103
awakening and upliftment in the world.
Just after school
began, my perceptions were shattered when I learned of an
incident concerning a friend of mine, a young woman just
turned 21, who was sexually harassed in the ashram by one
of its most powerful male leaders.
When she sought help
from Gurumayi, the now 48-year-old female Indian guru who
is the head of the ashram, Gurumayi told the young woman,
with contempt and disdain, that she had brought the
harassment upon herself.
Through her chief assistant,
Gurumayi warned the young woman, "don't ever tell anyone
about this, especially not your mother." The woman's
mother, who had made substantial donations to the ashram
over the years, was a long-time devotee of
(Daniel Shaw continues)
"I had deeply suppressed my doubts about SYDA yoga for many
years, but they suddenly and dramatically crystallized when I
heard the story of the young woman I knew.
In the phrase, "Don't ever tell anyone about this, especially not your
mother," I heard a chilling echo of the voice of the
incestuous father, the battering husband, the sexual
harasser, the rapist. As Judith Herman says, in her seminal
work entitled Trauma and Recovery (1992), "secrecy and
silence are the perpetrator's first line of defense" (p. 8). It
was hearing these words, "Don't ever tell," that broke for me
what Ernst Becker (1973) has called "the spell cast by
persons -- the nexus of unfreedom."
"I recognized that, like many of my social work clients who were abused as children by their parents, I too had been subjected to abuse—by the
person I called my guru.
Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 05/28/2014 08:39AM by corboy.