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History of The Psychotherapy Institute

By Edith Kasin

While making preparations to join several of our earliest members in an oral history of TPI’s beginnings, one of the founders, in true romantic tradition, discovered a long forgotten cache of papers at the bottom of a trunk, dusted them off and presented them to TPI members. These include the first Minutes, Charter, Statement of Purpose, Newsletters and correspondence.

At TPI, we are in the midst of re-examining our identity, purposes and structure. These documents are a precious contribution to that project. They express the vision and hopes of our founders. They enable us to pay homage to who and what formed us, to place ourselves in developmental and social context, and to see ourselves as truly part of a heritage.

Although many of us remember those early times as being casual and loose, one obtains a different view when reading these papers. They repeatedly testify to the democratic idealism, sense of responsibility, accountability, lawfulness, and the very, very hard work of these founders. From their writings I will attempt to cull a chronology of our earliest organizational history.

1970. The time is in the midst of the Vietnam War. Education and training have been punctuated by protest and disruption. The mental health professions are in a period of rapid change: the beginnings of community mental health programs, demands for broad-based services for the previously dispossessed, attacks upon traditional forms of psychotherapy. Experienced practitioners are either bewildered or excited at the surge of populist, non-traditional and anti-traditional folk methods. Traditional hierarchies (Psychoanalysis on top, then Psychiatry, Psychology, Social Work) are challenged. The thrust is for egalitarianism. Peer counseling and store front clinics emerge. At the Free Clinic, psychologists sweep the floor while house painters lead rap groups.

Seven women, six current graduates of the UC School of Social Welfare (Claire Brady Capor, Toby Dyner, Devora Goldberg, Madalyn Honig Sandler, Virginia Harper Harrison, and Mryna Rudman) and their supervisor at Berkeley Mental Health (Sheila Fergusson), begin meeting to explore feasibility of an interdisciplinary center for advanced training. Their interests reflect the social upheaval of the times. There are few jobs in traditional agencies yet an expanding market for pioneers. They are concerned with maintaining intellectual and professional standards yet are excluded from medically-oriented advanced institutes. They want more education and opportunity. They yearn to be part of an intellectual community of peers. They are infused with the fervor for participatory democracy with no class distinctions. They want to create a home for a diverse group of clinicians who would break the caste system yet protect and nourish intellectual rigor.

1970-71. These seven continue regular informal meetings and finally go off on a retreat where they decide to form an institute. They compose a Statement of Purpose and distribute this statement with invitations to the local mental health community asking friends and colleagues to join them.

May 1971. A group gathers in a Kensington living room, supports the proposal, and agrees to meet regularly and to invite others to join them.

August 1971. After several grave and heated discussions about inclusion of the word “psychoanalytic,” the name The Psychotherapy Institute is agreed upon. At a general meeting with 30 people present, 25 join at a $5 annual membership fee. Almost all present commit themselves to do organizational work. Everyone is invited to contribute ideas.

November 11, 1971. Bylaws accepted by 35 members. Charter members are defined in a solemn and notarized statement. Five committees form: Clinical Services, Education, Research, Business and Public Information. Two modestly-paid part-time co-directors were chosen: Sheila Fergusson and Bill Riess.

December 1971. The Newsletter announces that “after seven months of hard thinking and hard work The Psychotherapy Institute is under way with 74 active members! We are now at the point of planning an educational program and creating a clinic. This will be exciting work with many opportunities for creative participation by members.” Officers are nominated. The Vice President is to function as an ombudsman.

February 2, 1972. Coordinating Council meets. It is composed of co-directors, 5 committee heads and 4 officers. The letterhead lists a clinical staff of 10, a teaching staff of 18 composed of 10 psychologists, 3 psychiatrists and 5 social workers. The purpose of TPI is stated as “to rigorously explore the theories and practices of psychotherapy, contributions and limitations, with an attitude of mutual support, but also of careful questioning of the body of knowledge and of ourselves, in order to increase our skills and effectiveness as therapists.” Criteria for membership defined as 1) possession of a recognized clinical degree or credential plus supervised clinical experience, 2) agreement with the stated purposes of the Institute, 3) attendance during at least one general meeting, and 4) payment of the $5 initial fee.

October 1972. Clinic opens in space rented from Children’s Home Society on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. On November 30, a letter to the mental health community announces the opening of a clinic “for the practice of group, individual, family, conjoint and child therapy... The clinic staff are involved in a planned advanced training program in psychotherapy. Half of their time will be spent seeing patients and half ... in seminars and consultation...” Fees are on a sliding scale from $7.50 per session with a first appointment fee of $10 regardless of treatment modality or income.”

1973. In the process of incorporating as a non-profit organization, TPI has 98 paid members, 10 trainees and “24 teaching and consultant staff from all disciplines, with wide theoretical and practical backgrounds.”

It is astonishing to recall that all this was accomplished by volunteers. The discrepancies between their intention and the realization of their goals, the inevitable interpersonal strains which developed, form yet another story. Reading these materials, one becomes caught up in the drama of the creation of a new institution by a group of people who wished to generate energy and generosity of spirit.

Philosophically, we are currently asking ourselves some of the same questions our founders addressed. How do we retain respect for our traditions while we creatively develop new ones? The founders wanted a place and forum for diverse people, interests, theories, and modalities of treatment. Have we realized these goals, or have we changed them over the years? How do we keep clarifying our priorities within a process which encourages debate, discussion, and honest differences? Part of this article’s intention has been to give us a baseline of information about our past so that it will not be forgotten. I also hope that by making it available, we can tap our history as a resource and inspiration. Our future and past are indeed intertwined. It is in that spirit that we reproduce in full the original Statement of Purpose which was mailed to all prospective members in 1971.

PROPOSAL FOR A BAY AREA PSYCHOTHERAPY INSTITUTE

A STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

We, the undersigned mental health professionals, are interested in establishing a forum for continuing post-clinical psychotherapy training within a framework of a psychoanalytic orientation and perspective.

We acknowledge that the Bay Area has numerous creative and inspiring teachers and experienced therapists, and has many clinical training centers. But it seems that there is a real lack of a community of psychoanalytically oriented therapists and that individuals tend to become isolated and fragmented within their agencies or private practice. We would envision an institute as providing a common meeting place for lively discussion, support and creative interchange between members of the organization; moreover, membership in the organization itself would provide the opportunity for active participation and group identity. We also believe that there is a need for such a post-clinical institute among all mental health practitioners of common orientation regardless of their specific designation or profession—psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric social workers, and psychiatric nurses who often receive at least some of their clinical training together—for continued quality education and growth as psychotherapists, as psychotherapy teachers, and as consultants. We see such an institute more specifically fulfilling four basic needs—

1) to provide continuing responsible, in-depth training, consultation and supervision in psychotherapy technique and practice for the young professional who either wants a wider and more intensive program of training than his agency provides, or who is interested in embarking on a private practice experience,

2) to provide a teaching, consultative, and supervision opportunity for more experienced professionals who either wish to develop in a teaching capacity, or who desire a more intensive and extensive teaching forum than is available to them in their agency or in private practice;

3) to provide a continued forum for general education in the field, literature review and discussion, aimed toward helping both new professionals and the more experienced professionals keep up with the literature, broaden and deepen their background, and integrate and synthesize helpful new approaches and techniques within the framework of a responsible and sound psychoanalytic orientation. (For instance, we do not believe that the approaches and techniques of behavior therapy, family therapy and communications theory, systems theory, gestalt therapy, Jungian therapy, or object relations theory are mutually exclusive within a psychoanalytic orientation—in fact, rather that they may provide some fresh and helpful ways of conceptualizing the process of therapy and add to psychoanalytic understanding.) Additionally, we see such a continued forum encouraging creative writing and presentation of members’ papers, providing constructive feedback, and supporting publishing articles in journals and perhaps eventually development of our own journal.

4) to provide direct and indirect services to the community through a) a low-fee clinic (in the process of providing continued clinical training cases) with the availability of more intensive and longer term treatment than most clinics can now provide, and family and marital therapy, group therapies and other treatment modalities, and b) consultation and education to the wider community of professionals, businesses, and community organizations engaged in teaching, counseling, legal services, and community action, etc.

We believe that the above goals meet at least some of the basic needs of most mental health professionals in the community. We believe, however, that in order to create an organization in which members will be able to talk to each other without unduly becoming involved in irreconcilable disagreements and factions that members should have at least some basic similar orientation and philosophy of treatment—without being so exclusive as to become rigid and dogmatic and stifle broad interests and stimulating interchange. Therefore, we propose the following broad general psychoanalytic concepts as a tentative designation of the institute’s basic common orientation without implying that members would have to adhere to or accept all of psychoanalytic theory. Briefly, such precepts are seen as being

  1. a belief in the general concept of the unconscious
  2. a belief in the concepts of resistance and defenses
  3. acceptance of the concepts of transference and countertransference within the therapeutic situation
  4. acknowledgement of the idea of intra-psychic processes of different levels, occurring with the individual and within groups, within a session and between sessions, and more generally a broad acceptance of
  5. the ideas of the importance of developmental experiences, including the ideas of psycho-sexual stages of development,
  6. the usefulness of models or ideas of psychic structures such as ego, id, superego, internalized objects, etc.,
  7. the usefulness and importance of some concept of psychic drives or energies of sex and aggression.

If you believe that you are interested in our goals of establishing a Bay Area Psychotherapy Institute, and a community of psychotherapists of similar orientation, and think that you can fit within our broad psychoanalytic orientation, we would welcome your interest and participation in helping us plan the institute.

Edith Kasin was a TPI founder, long-time supervisor, faculty member and dedicated supporter of TPI. She passed away in December of 2011. Edith was an innovator in community mental health, parenting programs, and the Child Therapy Program at TPI.