By Cathleen A. Mann, Ph.D., 2003
I attended the APA (American Psychological Association) annual conference recently in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The convention had its share of problems before it even convened the week of August 6, 2003. One item of interest to me was the willingness of the APA Board to allow Dr. Lois Holzman and her various underlings to speak 4 times this year at the convention. Last year in Chicago, the APA only allowed Dr. Holzman and crew to speak once.
Dr. Holzman is affiliated with Fred Newman, and inhabits various incarnations, such as Social Therapy, All Stars Project, Inc., East Side Institute for Social Therapy (in New York City), Castillo Cultural Project, New Alliance Party, and sometimes, just plain International Workers Party (IWP). Many past members, including professional counselors/therapists and former patients, report abuses, deceit, and manipulation at the hands of Social Therapy and its various offshoots. There have been allegations of psychotherapeutic manipulation, lack of ethical integrity, boundary violations from professionals to students to staff to clients, financial improprieties, and various other problematic behaviors.
Many ex-members of Social Therapy say they’ve been subject to a mind control cult operating under the guise of a legitimate psychological movement. Individuals formerly involved with Social Therapy emphatically claim that they were deceived into a pseudo-postmodernistic social influence political movement. One useful model to assist in understanding how a destructive cult operates is Hassan’s BITE model (Hassan, 1988, 1998). Using social psychological principles, a destructive cult deliberately and deceitfully wrestles control of an individual’s behavior (B), information (I), thought (T), and emotions (E) through subtle processes (see http://www.freedomofmind.com/resourcecenter/articles/BITE.htm). Many other psychologists have also discussed the cult phenomena, including Drs. Margaret Singer, Phil Zimbardo, Stephen Kent, Steve Dubrow, and Michael Langone, just to name a few.
When word got around to concerned individuals that the APA had rewarded Social Therapy and Dr. Lois Holzman with four separate presentations this year at the APA conference, a small email campaign was launched with complaints about Social Therapy’s presence at the APA, and their seemingly transparent pretensions to science.
When word reached Dr. L. Michael Honaker, COO/Deputy CEO of the American Psychological Association that all was not bliss with Social Therapy’s presence at the convention, he responded:
“Thank you for your recent email concerning the participation of Drs. Lois Holzman and Fred Newman in our upcoming conference in Toronto. The APA Convention is a large 4-day meeting with over 4,000 presenters. It provides a forum for a wide variety of speakers and presentations. Dr. Holzman will participate in four convention sessions. She was invited to participate in those sessions after a review of her program proposals by peer committees that deemed the presentation appropriate for an APA convention.
Furthermore, Dr. Holzman has participated in APA conventions in the past and we have not received any complaints about the content of those presentations. However, the issues you raise are serious. We will monitor those sessions in which Dr. Holzman participates to hear what is said. We are also confident that if Dr. Holzman or anyone else were to express views that were prejudiced or potentially harmful to psychotherapy patients their APA colleagues would challenge those views. (emphasis added). Dr. Newman will not be participating in the meeting. Thank you again for bringing your concerns to our attention.”
L. Michael Holanker, Ph.D.
Chief Operating Officer/Deputy CEO
American Psychological Association
It should be noted that by the time the email campaign was initiated, Social Therapy was already on the APA convention program. It may have been difficult for the APA to completely remove them the program; thus, the presentations were allowed to go forward.
I personally attended Dr. Holzman’s first presentation on Saturday morning, August 9, 2003 (session #3079), entitled “Symposium: Impact of Participatory Youth Programs on Youth and Communities.” In addition to Dr. Holzman, in attendance were Barbara Silverman, who spoke on the broad subject of crises in education; Diann Eley, who spoke on the use of sports to aid “disaffected young people,” and Gloria Strickland, who spoke on the All Stars Project in New Jersey, wherein she uses theatre and the performing arts to “aid hundreds of inner city young people.” There were no APA staff or board members in attendance at this presentation.
The presence of APA board members at this session would have done a great deal to see the subtle nature of Social Therapy in action. Much of the presentation was geared toward mutual admiration of the panel’s “contributions to society,” with little opportunity for scholarly interaction with psychologists and others in the audience. An APA board member should have been there to document the one-sided nature of the presentation, and the impression that Dr. Holzman and company were merely pushing an agenda.
Arriving just as the presentation was to begin was Columbia University professor, Dr. Edmund Gordon, who quickly and adroitly turned the discussion into a left-right political debate complete with comments on the “social causes” of racism and poverty. Dr. Gordon was ostensibly inducted to be the discussant of the presentation.
However, Dr. Holzman spoke first with some interesting opening comments. She acknowledged that she had “been recently informed that complaints have been made about this presentation.” She asked if any “complainers” were in the audience, which may seem an odd question as there were a range of 12 to 16 people in the audience at various times in the presentation. Dr. Holzman nobly stated, “I encourage challenges and debates. I want to create together our psychology. I am from a passionate group of individuals with new approaches to community development.” She also stated that she had been presenting at APA conferences for “over 20 years” and “had heard no complaints before.”
This is not a true statement, or Dr. Holzman and the APA have an exceedingly short memory. At the APA conference in Chicago last year, I also attended one of Dr. Holzman’s presentations on the legacy of Fred Newman, among other topics. When she asked for questions of the audience, I asked her, “There have been newspaper reports and ex-member accounts that you operate a psychotherapeutic cult. Could you please respond to this allegation including your definition of what a cult is and what it is not?” Dr. Holzman refused to answer the question, and either would not or could not tell me what a cult was, but she was certain her group was not one. She refused to address the issue of ex-member complaints, and sat silently as I asked her the same question three times. I did bring this to the attention of then-APA president, Dr. Philip Zimbardo, but I don’t know if any action was ever initiated.
After 70 minutes of a 90-minute presentation, Dr. Holzman acknowledged my raised hand in pursuit of a question. I asked her a simple question; a question that every member of APA, and certainly every presenter at an APA conference, should be able and willing to answer. I asked Dr. Holzman, “As an APA member, do you ascribe to and uphold the APA Ethical Principles for Psychologists at your East Side Institute for Social Therapy?” Dr. Holzman replied, “That is not relevant to this discussion here.” I responded back. “You are speaking at a professional conference. You represent several organizations. You show yourself as the representative of these organizations in order to obtain permission to speak here today. Again, I ask you, do you ascribe to and uphold the APA Ethical Principles for Psychologists at your East Side Institute for Social Therapy?” Dr. Holzman again replied, “The question is not relevant.” I replied, “Do you refuse to answer?” Dr. Holzman replied, “The question is not relevant.”
Then, quick as a flash, Dr. Gordon jumped to Dr. Holzman’s rescue. He stated that the controversy with Social Therapy came from the “old Freudian thinking at APA” and from the “political right.” I responded by informing him that he knew nothing of the extent of the lie and the extent of the controversy. I asked permission from Dr. Gordon to leave a flyer so members of the audience could consider another side of Social Therapy (see http://www.ex-iwp.org ). While Dr. Holzman sat silent, Dr. Gordon provided permission for me to leave the flyer. Presenting alternative views is the essence of critical thinking (at least that’s what they taught us in graduate school). Dr. Holzman’s refusal is not keeping with the best pursuits of science. I and some of my colleagues have been concerned that some destructive cults may use professional and scientific platforms to gain credibility and respectability. I don’t want to see this happen to the APA.
It is appalling that Dr. Holzman cannot identify herself and her organizations as subscribing to the APA Ethical Standards for Psychologists regardless of her designated “agenda” and “topic.” I think the APA should take note of this refusal, and place it in context of the desire of psychology to have open debate, not refusal at an APA annual conference. If the APA is concerned about these questions, perhaps a deeper investigation should be made before Social Therapy and its various offshoots are again allowed to present at another APA conference. It is vital that the premier organization of psychology, the APA, look more closely at this matters in order to assure its membership that convention presenters have committed themselves to the highest standards of science, scholarship, openness, and respectful dialogue with other professionals.