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Meet Dr. Bill Coulson
Thoughts from the man who, together with Carl Rogers, pioneered the practice of "encounter groups."
Edited by Don Matzat

Biographical Sketch
Introduction by Don Matzat:

Dr. William Coulson was a disciple of the influential American psychologist Carl Rogers and for many years a co-practitioner of Roger's humanistic "non-directive" therapy. In 1964, Coulson was chief-of-staff at Rogers' Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in La Jolla, California.

One of the popular methods of psychotherapy in the 60's and 70's was the "encounter group." The participants in such groups, under the direction of a facilitator, were encouraged to unmask their real feelings as they interacted with the other group participants. The practice has widely entered the church in various forms.

As an initial experiment, Rogers and Coulson introduced the "encounter group" dynamic into the Order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in southern California. The results were devastating.

The following thoughts from Dr. Coulson are excerpted from an article titled "Repentant Psychologist: How I Wrecked the I. H. M.. Nuns" which appeared in a 1994 special edition of The Latin Mass, Chronicle of Catholic Reform.

Introducing Dr. William Coulson
edited by Don Matzat

Coulson describes what is meant by Humanistic Psychology:

"It is also called third-force psychology. Maslow referred to it as Psychology Three. By that he meant to oppose it to Freud, which is Psychology One, and Skinner and Watson, the behaviorists, which is Psychology Two. We Catholics who got involved in it thought this third force would take account of Catholic things. It would take account of the fact that every person is precious, that we are not just corrupted as Freud would have it, or a tabula rasa (clean slate), which is available to be conditioned in whatever way the behaviorist chooses; but rather we have human potential, and it's glorious because we are the children of a loving Creator who has something marvelous in mind for every one of us."

What is the fatal flaw of Humanistic Psychology?

"But we didn't have a doctrine of evil. (Abraham) Maslow saw that we failed to understand the reality of evil in the human life. When we implied to people that they could trust their impulses, they also understood us to mean that they could trust their evil impulses, that they weren't really evil. But they were evil."

"Humanistic psychology, the kind that has virtually taken over the Church in America, and dominates so many forms of aberrant education like sex education, and drug education, holds that the most important source of authority is within you, that you must listen to yourself."

"Maslow believed in evil, and we didn't. Maslow said there was danger in our thinking and acting as if there were no paranoids or psychopaths or SOB's to mess things up. We created a miniature utopian society, the encounter group."

Coulson became a cohort of Carl Rogers at the University of Wisconsin and later, with Rogers, moved to California to apply Rogers theories to interested groups. He explains. . .

"Once I got to Wisconsin, I joined Rogers in his study of nondirective psychotherapy with normal people. We had the idea that if it was good for neurotics, it would be good for normals. Well, the normal people of Wisconsin proved how normal they were by opting out as soon as they knew what it was we wanted. Nobody wanted any part of it. So we went to California.....and found the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the IHM's. They agreed to let us come into their schools and work with their normal faculty, and with their normal students, and influence the development of normal Catholic family life. It was a disaster."

"The IHM's were pretty progressive, but some of the leadership was a little bit nervous about the secular psychologist from La Jolla coming in; and so I met with the whole community, some 600 nuns gathered in the Immaculate Heart High School gymnasium in Hollywood on an April day in 1967. We've already done the pilot study, we told them. Now we want to get everybody in the system involved in nondirective self-exploration. We call it encounter groups. I showed them a film of the encounter group; and it looked pretty holy. The people in that film seemed to be better people at the end of the session than they were when they began. They were more open with one another, they were less deceitful, they didn't hide their judgments from one another; if they didn't like one another they were inclined to say so; and if they were attracted to one another they were inclined to say that too. So they went along with us, and they trusted us, and that is partly my responsibility, because they thought, 'These people wouldn't hurt us; the project coordinator is a Catholic.'"

"Rogers and I and eventually 58 others: we had 60 facilitators. We inundated that system with humanistic psychology. We called it therapy for normals."

And the results of the project?

"There's a tragic book called Lesbian Nuns, Breaking Silence, which documents part of our effect on the IHM's and other orders that engaged in similar experiments in 'sensitivity" or 'encounter.' In a chapter of Lesbian Nuns, one former Immaculate Heart nun describes the summer of 1966 when we did the pilot study in her order. Sister Mary Benjamin got involved with us and became the victim of a lesbian seduction. An older nun in the group, 'freeing herself to be more expressive of who she really was internally,' decided that she wanted to make love to Sister Mary Benjamin. Well, Sister Mary Benjamin engaged in this; and then she was stricken with guilt, and wondered, to quote from her book, 'Was I doing something wrong, was I doing something terrible? I talked to a priest--' Unfortunately, we had talked to him first. "I talked to a priest,' she says, 'who refused to pass judgment on my actions. He said it was up to me to decide if they were right or wrong. He opened a door, and I walked through the door, realizing I was on my own.' This is her liberation. Now, her parents had not delivered her to the IHM's in order for her to be on her own. She was precious to them. She described the day in 1962 when they drove her in the station wagon to Montecito, to the IHM's novitiate. How excited they were to be delivering someone into God's hands! Well, instead they delivered her into the hands of nondirective psychology."

The IHM's had some 60 schools when we started; at the end, they had one. There were some 615 nuns when we began. Within a year after our first interventions, 300 of them were petitioning Rome to get out of their vows. They did not want to be under anyone's authority, except the authority of their imperial inner selves."

"There are (still) some retired (IHM) nuns living in the mother house in Hollywood, there is a small group of radical feminists who run a center for feminist theology in a storefront in Hollywood. There are a few of them in Wichita whom I visited recently, who are going to make a go of it as traditional teaching nuns, and there are a few doing the same in Beverly Hills. There may be a couple dozen left altogether, apart from whom, kaput, they are gone. The college campus was sold. There is no more Immaculate Heart College. It doesn't exist. It ceased to function because of our good offices. One mother pulled her daughter out before it closed, saying, 'Listen, she can lose her faith for free at the state college.'"

"Our grant had been for three years, but we called off the study after two, because we were alarmed about the results. We thought we could make the IHM's better than they were; and we destroyed them." "The proof of authenticity on the humanistic psychology model is to go against what you were trained to be, to call all of that phoniness, and to say what is deepest within you. What's deepest within you, however, are certain unrequited longings, including sexual longings. We provoked an epidemic of sexual misconduct among clergy and therapists."

How did Carl Rogers respond to the results of his non-directive therapy?

"I'll tell you what Rogers came to see, and he came to see it pretty quickly, because he really loved those women. They were a wonderful order, unconventional in the best sense, for example going around in their old habits playing Mozart for Catholic school kids; and that doesn't exist anymore. I am going to quote him (Rogers) in a tape that he and I made in '76: 'I left there feeling, Well, I started this damned thing, and look where it's taking us; I don't even know where it's taking me. I don't have any idea what's going to happen next. And I woke up the next morning feeling so depressed, that I could hardly stand it. And then I realized what was wrong. Yes, I started this thing, and now look where it's carrying us. Where is it going to carry us? And did I start something that is in some fundamental way mistaken, and will lead us off into paths that we will regret?'"

And what about psychotherapy in general?

Psychology today is predominantly therapeutic psychology; and in that sense antithetical (to morals and values), because in therapy, you don't ever want to tell a person how they should be, particularly in the moral dimension, or they will never reveal to you how bad things are from that perspective. I see therapy as being fundamentally opposed to the civilized life. It's a little bit like asking a competent pianist what he's doing with his fingers. In the course of the answer, the music stops, because he doesn't know what he's doing with his fingers. And in order to analyze it, the music has to stop. If civilization is a kind of music, it stops when everybody gets therapy. Unfortunately, we assume now that everybody needs to get therapy."

"You remember Maslow coined the term "the third force" for humanistic psychology. But Maslow quickly came to see that there was something on the horizon which he called the fourth force. It has since come to be known as transpersonal psychology. It's the fastest growing field of psychology, but it is primarily New Ageism, because it doesn't want to endorse traditional religious faith. It is psychology trying to be religion, because it understands that humanistic orientation is inadequate."


Having abandoned his once lucrative career, Dr. William Coulson now lectures to Catholic and Protestant groups on the dangers of psychotherapy, with a particular emphasis upon the "encounter group" dynamic.

To hear Dr. Coulson tell his story, be sure to order Issues, Etc. tape number 2-001: "A Dangerous Trip: The Encounter Dynamic."

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