Archive for the 'Counseling & Psychotherapy' Category

Nov 02 2017

Victories of the Heart Breakthrough Weekend Research Fails to Show Positive Impact in Quantitative Measures

Psychologist Josiah James Miller evaluated the Victories of the Heart Breakthrough weekend as his dissertation for his doctorate. It was recently published online and is a treasure trove of ideas helpful to the Victories organization. You can read the dissertation here.

by Miller, Josiah James, Psy.D., The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, 2017, 119; 10159295
A interesting aspect of this research is Dr. Miller’s message of the importance of this research. He states:
“Victories of the Heart, the program that evaluated in this study, has been in operation for almost thirty years and has served over 5,000 men in the Chicagoland area and ought to be studied in order to better understand its impact on those involved in their retreats.” (Miller, p.2)
Miller is correct in noting the importance of studying this program to get a better understanding of its impact on participants. Someone like myself who has studied Victories and its principals for 27 years would say, “..yes, after 30 years, it’s about time someone took an academic approach to evaluating Victories.” We have to note the research was only on the Breakthrough weekend, no other Victories program.
Victories and its principals have had a clear bias against any public evaluation or criticism. I myself was threatened with lawsuits 4 or 5 times for publishing information considered negative about Victories and some principals.
The late Kurt Schultz and I may have been the first leaders to have participants evaluate their experience at the end of the weekend. We provided the results to Rick Simon who I believe was the executive director at the time. I think Rick may have distributed the results but I’m not sure. There certainly is no public record of evaluation results anywhere on the Victories website or internet. I have posted some of my leader teams’ evaluation results.
So, it’s curious Miller suggests Victories was interested in doing research on the Breakthrough weekend. He states:
“This program is looking for research to evaluate and enhance their program and the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement. This research has the potential to not only benefit participants and leaders at Victories of the Heart, but to better understand and improve the overall health and functioning of males in society.”
Was Victories and its principals really interested in researching the impact of the Breakthrough weekend? They must have had some interest as the research was completed. However, the research results failed to show any significant change in perceptions of gender role conflict and social support and the other variables studied.
I’m quoting Dr. Miller’s description of his quantitative findings here:
“There were no differences between levels of perceived social support in participants before and after having attending the Victories Breakthrough Weekend with a pre-retreat µ of 54.16 and a post-retreat µ of 54.10. There was a slight trend toward decreased levels of gender role conflict following participation in the retreat with a pre-retreat mean of 58.88 and post-retreat µ of 51.71 (see Table 2). However, these differences were not statistically significant with a p value of .175 (see Table 3). There was a slight trend toward increased levels of flourishing and psychological wellbeing following the retreat with a pre-retreat µ of 38.64 and post-retreat µ of 41.10 (see Table 1). However, these changes were not statistically significant, p = .419 (see Table 2). As such, any significant findings or correlations presented in this study cannot be attributed to participation in the Breakthrough Weekend.” (Miller, pps. 31-32)
What did the research’s negative quantitative findings mean for Victories and it’s principals? I can imagine, knowing the principals involved, that it was not a positive experience.
However, if Victories was more of a system open to critique and feedback, there are several valuable qualitative results. One worth noting here was the finding that the Breakthrough experience may have had a positive impact on the male participant, many of the men did not experience a positive impact on their relationships and families.
Dr. Miller states:
” Transparent within several narratives was the theme of men “slipping” back into their old ways, particularly within struggling marriages where the participants were not concurrently involved in couples counseling and parenting classes. Two man reported not having significant relationship problems with their partners prior to or after the retreat and another reported being in couples counseling and parenting classes with his wife prior to the retreat but not experiencing significant change in his marriage until after he returned home from his Breakthrough Weekend. That being said, the remainder of men in the qualitative sample reported having significant difficulties forming and maintaining romantic relationships following their Breakthrough Weekend. In particular, two married men that were interviewed expressed a degree of frustration and discontent with having difficulty maintaining their therapeutic gains as well as seeing these benefits extend to their relationships.”  (Miller, p. 55)
Victories and its principals would benefit from taking these findings to heart. I will continue to write about them and am very grateful to Dr. Miller for his excellent contribution to scholarship in this area.

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May 18 2017

John Gottman Relationship Scales: Evaluate Your Relationship Here

If you are interested in thinking about the strengths and vulnerabilities of your relationship, here is a survey for you to explore.

1.    Staying emotionally connected ___, or becoming emotionally distant___

Check all items below:

  • Just simply talking to one another.     Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Staying emotionally in touch with each other.   Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Feeling taken for granted?    Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Don’t feel like my partner knows me very well right now.  Not a problem___A problem___
  • Partner is (or I am) emotionally disengaged.         Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Spending time together.   Not a problem___     A problem___

2.    Handling  job and other stresses effectively____, or experiencing the “spill over” of non-relationship issues

Check all items below:

  • Helping each other reduce daily stresses     Not a problem___     A problem___
  •     Talking about these stresses together    Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Talking together about stress in a helpful manner   Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Partner listening with understanding about my stresses and worries  Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Partner takes job or other stresses out on me   Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Partner takes job stresses out on the children or others in our life   Not a problem___     A problem___

 

3.    Handling issues or disagreements well ___, or gridlocking on one or more issues____

Check all items below:

  • Differences  have arisen between us that seem very basic   Not a problem___     A problem___
  • These differences seem unresolvable    Not a problem___     A problem___
  • We are living day to day with hurts      Not a problem___     A problem___
  • Our positions are getting entrenched     Not a problem___     A problem___
  • It looks like I will never get what I hoped for    Not a problem___     A problem___
  • I am very worried that these issues may damage our relationship   Not a problem___     A problem___

_

4. The marriage is romantic and passionate___, or the it is becoming passionless; the fire has gone out____

Check all the items below:

  • My partner has stopped being verbally affectionate.     Not a problem___    A problem___
  • My partner expresses love and admiration less frequently.  Not a problem___ A problem___
  • We rarely touch each other.  Not a problem___     A problem___
  • My partner (or I) have stoped feeling very romantic. Not a problem___ A problem___
  • We rarely cuddle.   Not a problem___ A problem___
  • We have few tender or passionate moments.       Not a problem___ A problem___

5.    Our sex life is fine_____, or there are problems in this area____

Check all the items below:

  • The frequency of sex.        Not a problem___ A problem___
  • The satisfaction I or my partner get from sex.     Not a problem___ A problem___
  • Being able to talk about sexual problems.    Not a problem___ A problem___
  • The two of us wanting different things sexually.   Not a problem___ A problem___
  • Problems of desire.     Not a problem___ A problem___
  • The amount of love in our lovemaking.    Not a problem___ A problem___

6. An important event (like the birth of a child, job loss, changes in job, or residence, an illness, the death of a loved one) has occurred in our lives_____. The relationship is dealing with this well____, or it is not___.

Check all items below:

  • We have very different points of view on how to handle things.
  • This event has led my partner to be very distant.
  • This event has made us both irritable.
  • This event has led to a lot of fighting.
  • I’m worried about how this will turn out.
  • We are now taking up very different positions.

 

7. Major issues about children have arisen (this could be about whether or not to have a child).____ The relationship is handling these well_____, or it is not_____.

Check all items below:

  • We have very different points of view on goals for the children.
  • We have different positions on what to discipline the children for.
  • We have different positions on how to discipline the children.
  • We have issues about how to be close to our children.
  • We are not talking about these issues very well.
  • There is a lot of tension or anger about these issues.

 

 

8. Major issues or events have arisen about in-laws, a relative, or relatives._____The relationship is handling these well_____, or it is not_____.

Check all items below:

  • I feel unaccepted by my partner’s family.
  • I sometimes wonder which family my partner is in.
  • I feel unaccepted by my own family.
  • There is tension between us and what might happen.
  • This issue has generated a lot of irritability.
  • I am worried about how this is going to turn out.

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May 16 2017

Victories of the Heart Breakthrough Weekend Research by Josiah James Miller: Highly Recommended Reading!

Psychologist Josiah James Miller evaluated the Victories of the Heart Breakthrough weekend as his dissertation for his doctorate. It was recently published online and is a treasure trove of ideas helpful to the Victories organization. You can read the dissertation here.

by Miller, Josiah James, Psy.D., The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, 2017, 119; 10159295

I have read the study a few times and think it’s an excellent contribution to the evolution of men’s social movements and the origins of personal growth weekends for men.

Dr. Miller dissertation evaluates several quantitative factors related to the Breakthrough experience, such as the effect on the levels of gender role conflict, perceived social support and psychological well-being in men who attended the retreat.

His study also explores and elaborates on the qualitative experience of participants. Having been a leader of this weekend and volunteer for many years, I understand how meaningful the experience can be, so the excellent qualitative reports by participants was no surprise at all.

Dr. Miller also raises important questions for the Victories organization to consider as they evaluate this program and make plans for their organization’s future.

Kudos to Dr. Miller and the Victories stakeholders to allow a program to be evaluated and the results published online so all those interested can read and learn.

For those interested in the history and methods of men’s programs, this evaluation is very much worth reading.

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Mar 18 2017

Obamacare 2017: 10 Talking Points for Advocacy

I. Introduction

I’m writing for my family, friends and the public to advocate for Obamacare.

Right now, it seems the Senate will vote against the repeal and replacement legislation proposed by House Republicans, but there is still a fight and it will help if we all understand the honest benefits of Obamacare and the Republican lies.

Here are the 10 Obamacare Talking Points:

  1. Children should be allowed to stay on their parent’s policies until age 26.
  2. No denial of coverage for pre-existing condition and NO high-risk insurance pools.
  3. Individuals and employers should have a mandate to get insurance.
  4. Americans should get financial help to cover costs of insurance.
  5. The increased taxes on individuals earning more than $200,000 and families earning more than $250,000 should remain in place.
  6. The 80/20 Plan where Insurance companies have to pay at least 80% of their income on health care costs for customers should remain in place.
  7. Insurance companies should continue to be forced to present any request to raise insurance premiums over 10% to be reviewed.
  8. Federal funds should be used to fund the “risk corridor” program so that insurance companies can be protected from financial losses.
  9. All states should expand medicaid.
  10. Insurance benefits should have no limits in coverage and offer free preventative care.

 

II. Research Supporting the 10 Talking Points

 

  1. Children should be allowed to stay on their parent’s policies until age 26.

The law that children between the age of 19 and 26 be allowed to stay on their parent’s insurance policies has had universal support in our country among Republicans and Democrats.

You may find it surprising to know that in 2010,  13 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 29 were uninsured. This figure represented about 27% of the total 47 million Americans were uninsured.

So, this population was important for healthcare planners to get insured. About 3 million became insured on their parents policies and many others bought insurance in the insurance markets.

 

 

Click here for a youtube video describing this aspect of Obamcare in more detail.

Youtube video on Obamacare 19-26 year old access to insurance.

 

      2. No denial of coverage for pre-existing condition and NO high-risk insurance pools.

Obamacare guaranteeing insurance coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions was a radical breakthrough.

For the first time in history, Americans could not be denied coverage or have their coverage terminated because they were sick. It seems shocking to write this sentence…how could an advanced, rich country like America neglect its most vulnerable citizens and allow insurance companies to reap profits by excluding and dumping sick customers.

So, this provision has also received widespread support, but the current Republican proposal begins to limit this provision ever so quietly. They say everyone will be covered, but they create a loophole where Americans must have “continual coverage”, meaning their insurance must not lapse. If it does, the insurance company can demand a 30% premium increase, so the sick person must pay more, as was true in the past.

The other part of the Republican plan is to use “high-risk insurance pools” for Americans with pre-existing conditions and serious health problems. High-risk pools have been used before and several problems were identified, especially related to cost and access. OBamacare is considered by many experts to be better because it focuses on increasing coverage among more healthy, young people so the premiums paid by younger people will help pay for the more costly care of older people.

Here is a short video describing the problems with high-risk insurance pools:

High-risk insurance pools vs. Obamacare

 

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Oct 15 2016

An Example of Implicit Bias: Heterosexism (everyone’s straight) at a Victories for Men Breakthrough Weekend

In his doctoral dissertation, “Victories of the Heart: An Evaluation of a Transformational Men’s Retreat”, Josiah Miller, PsyD provides a useful and interesting look at at the issue of implicit bias.

Implicit bias is a widely researched process which shows that human beings have deeply held, unconscious bias which accounts for prejudice and racism in American society.

According to Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute the key characteristics of implicit biases are:

  • Implicit biases are pervasive.  Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.
  • Implicit and explicit biases are related but distinct mental constructs.  They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other.
  • The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse.
  • We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.
  • Implicit biases are malleable.  Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.

Implicit biases have a powerful effect on multiple levels. Many Americans on the right who support policies which overtly discriminate against people of color would deny being racist or biased in any way. They say the sort of things like we are supporting America and making America great again.

Josiah Miller’s research of the Victories of the Heart’s Breakthrough weekend offers a tiny, but very clear example of the implicit bias in the Victories leadership of the weekend studied and the the program as a whole.

As many people know, I was actively involved in the Victories program for several years and have observed and studied both the leaders and programs with both a supportive and critical view.

Along with Kurt Schultz, Rick Simon, a motivated team of volunteers, and lessons I learned from participating in Mankind Project’s New Warrior Program’s “guts trainings”, I was an instrumental part of creating a psychodrama training program which has been a very successful component of the Victories program since about 2005.

Not as widely known, Kurt Schultz asked me to help evaluate the Victories previous staff training mis-named the “spirit of generosity.” I learned very quickly this was a terrible program which left participants with mixed feelings and even resentments.

The reasons for the mixed feelings and resentments were obvious. Participants were asked by the leadership to bring an object of value to the day long training. They surrendered their objects at some point. What happened to the objects. This is sort of unbelievable and some may think I am making this up.

The objects the participants brought to the day were taken out of the room, onto the grounds of Techni Institute, then buried in a secret place. The participants never recovered their “valuable” objects.

One person I interviewed told me he brought a valuable and emotionally priceless piece of jewelry his deceased father had given him. He was not happy about what happened, but like many, chalked it up as some type of lesson he was supposed to learn on the way to personal growth and fulfillment.

Like replacing someone at work who failed miserably in their job, it was not difficult to create a more relevant, respectful, empowering and educational training event for volunteers. Many of the participants in those early trainings went on to leadership roles, including the two most recent Board presidents.

So, what evidence of implicit bias did Josiah Miller’s research offer about Victories? Research participants were asked to write about their experience after the weekend.

A gay man at the weekend makes several points about his perception the inappropriate use of heterosexist (everyone is straight) language:

“There was a certain tone that they were speaking from a place of authority and an absolute authority. There was a certain rigidness to whatever it was that was being communicated, there wasn’t that sort of openness. There was a sort of absolutism about it in a way that felt false to me.”

“There were also moments when they used some more hetero-normative language. As a gay man, I would have hoped that they would have used more inclusive language. Like during certain activities, they would be talking about the men and their wives rather than the men and their partners or you know companions or spouses. I’m pretty sure that I was the only gay male on my particular weekend.”

“Although at the beginning I was certain that a couple of the other men were. Then one started talking about his wife and another was talking about his girlfriend. Well, seeing that I am a clinician and knew several of the men conducting the retreat, I knew that there wasn’t anything negative meant by that. You know, I see a number of gay clients who…I would question if they would you know, feel comfortable in hearing language that was somewhat exclusionary. And you know, it’s not like I felt they were trying to single me out or intentionally exclude me, but it was just kind of something I noticed. I was also kind of wondering how Victories approaches transgendered or inter-sexed individuals and issues around their care and inclusion in Victories?” (Miller, 2016)

I write about his now because as early as 1993, I was a part of discussions both in Victories and the Mankind Project where the use of respectful cultural diverse terms like “partner” instead of husband/wife were actively discussed. It was part of the Basic Staff Training (the Psychodrama training) I helped design and implement in 2005 for Victories.

Why would a weekend program in 2016, 23 years after I know the issue was discussed, have staff using language that left a gay participant, apparently a mental health practitioner, feeling excluded?

Implicit bias offers the best explanation here. The staff leadership, if asked if they were biased against homosexuality, would say no, of course not.

However, this participant’s experience documents his felt experience of bias during the weekend. His words are a poignant description of how the LGBTQ community feels living in the dominant heterosexist American society.

There is no positive spin on this lapse in respect for cultural diversity within the Victories program. Their lack of sensitivity and self-knowledge at this time in history is inexcusable.

Although Dr. Miller notes the Victories principals were not happy with the results of his research, they have not disputed his findings or the comments of individual men, so we have to assume everything happeneds as described.

I think it’s safe to say, it was the staff leadership making the the lapse in respect for cultural diversity, not their evil twin brothers.

It goes without saying that the ethical code every profession has standards requiring the respect for cultural diversity.

We have to assume Victories, even though they have had the opportunity of over 30 years to evaluate and self-correct problems in policy and procedures, has more work to do.

Why is this important for them? They have to ask the question about how enthusiastic the gay participant will be in making referrals to the Victories programs.

Certainly, I would never refer a gay participant to a Victories program.

I’ve written about the ambiguous way Victories leaders and program have addressed the issue of sexual orientation and it seems to be still too ambiguous.

At a Victories program in the mid-1990’s I heard Buddy Portugal try to reassure someone by saying “we’re all homosexual.” I was confused by this at the time and observed this mis-statement throughout my years of involvement and study of Victories.

No, we’re not all homosexual and to say this diminishes and disqualifies the murder, abuse, and discrimination experienced by members of the LGBTQ community.

Most importantly, we are not all heterosexual. To perpetuate this bias is wrong.

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Aug 06 2016

Relaxation Script

Relaxation Script

Prepare to relax by finding a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed for 20-30 minutes…loosen any tight or restrictive clothing and remember relaxation is something that happens all by itself if you let it…

and learning to allow relax is allowing relaxation to happen…no one really knows exactly how you relax, but as you think relaxing thoughts, your body responds by letting go…

we don’t really know how you walk, talk, ore scratch your head…you just decide to do these things and your body responds…in the same way your body responds to your decision to let go and relax…

as you learn to relax, please don’t concern yourself with how quickly you are relaxing or whether you are relaxing deeply enough…

you will find, as you practice relaxation, that at different times, you will relax at different rates…sometimes relaxation will occur slowly and subtly…

other times you will relax very deeply, very quickly…

and it really doesn’t matter how you relax at this time, just that you notice how relaxation feels to you when it does occur..

as you begin to let go and begin to notice the sensations of relaxation you have …

that learning to relax is learning to allow relaxation to happen. Your body knows how to relax and as you begin to breathe more deeply, relax your muscles, and use peaceful imagery you will be able to relax, feel more comfortable, and manage challenges more easily.

just allow the intelligence of your body and mind guide you…

Start by finding a spot furthest away from where you are and stare at it. You will notice your eyes becoming slightly tired, they may begin to blink, signaling you are ready to close your eyes and move from your external focus to an internal focus.

Begin to relax more deeply by taking 3 deep, slow breaths.

As you inhale, let that “in” breath be associated with fresh air, peacefulness and relaxation.

As you exhale, let that “out” breath be associated with the release of any unnecessary stress and tension.

As you breath more deeply, allow the muscles in your body to also more deeply relax. Begin with the muscles in your feet and legs, take a deep breath and as you “let go”, allow the muscles in your feet and legs to more deeply relax.

Then the muscles in your stomach and chest…lower back and upper back…arms and hands…neck and shoulders…face and even the muscles around your tongue…allow those muscles to more deeply relax.As you find your body becoming more relaxed, you may notice that your mind is also becoming more quiet, calm and still.

Take a few moments and enjoy this comfortable feeling in your mind and body.

Relaxation is something you learn to do and the more you do it, the easier it becomes…

In order to deepen your level of relaxation, allow an image of a staircase with 10 stairs come into your mind. Notice what the staircase looks like, whether it is wooden or steel, spiral or straight, indoors or outdoors…

Imagine that as you step down each stair, you are stepping into a deeper and deeper level of relaxation. Count backwards from 10 to 1, and when you get to 1 imagine stepping off the stair into a peaceful place, maybe your favorite vacation place or an imaginary beach, woods, or by a pond, whatever comes to your mind… just allow yourself to go there…

So begin to count backwards to yourself from 10…9…8…deeper and deeper…7…6…5…4…3…2…and 1.

Now, allow an image to form in your mind of that safe and beautiful place and just be there…notice what you can see, hear, feel, and smell in that peaceful place…enjoy being there and stay as long as you want…as you allow yourself to become more and more deeply relaxed…

Continue to breathe deeply and comfortably. When you are ready to come back, start to open your eyes, notice the increased light against your eyes and any sounds in the room. Stretch your muscles. Come back refreshed, relaxed and feeling better than before.

When you wake up, write or draw about your relaxation experience and the peaceful place you imagined. Allow yourself to explore any of this experience that you want.

From Guided Imagery for Self-Healing, by Marty Rossman (2000)

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Aug 02 2016

Victories 2016: Acknowledging the Positives

I have a lot of experience in what’s called the “men’s work” field in the Chicago area. Most of my experience is with the Victories of the Heart, formerly known as the Men’s Room.

While it’s somewhat known my 2006-2008 involvement and ending with Victories was problematic, it does not reflect on this organization’s efforts to offer quality programs.

The two founding leaders, Bob Mark and Buddy Portugal (deceased)and the second leadership team, Paul Kachoris and Kevin Fitzpatrick are/were creative and effective therapists and workshop leaders. They are/were charismatic men who changed many men’s lives and their loved ones’ lives for the better.

This does not mean  they were perfect and I discuss some of the difficulties I had with these men in other writing. It’s been many years since I was actively involved and the men who are in key leadership positions have made positive changes.

The woman on the Board is a well known and highly respected therapist, teacher and author. Her input and influence is certain to enhance the organization and programs.

Since 2008, there have been many positive changes in the organization which I am very happy to see and acknowledge. These changes include:

    • movement towards a team style of leadership
    • leadership training and development
    • sensitivity and reduction of the dual-relationship problem within the organization
    • improvement in the support group program
    • development of ethics policies and standards.
    • inclusion of women on the Board
    • more diverse programs, especially the Couples weekend and Shame workshops

Continue Reading »

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Jan 25 2016

Unmasked by Paul Kachoris, MD: A Book Review

I first met Paul Kachoris at a men’s retreat about 1990-91 where he was on the leadership team. It was one of those “I have no idea what I am getting into here type of experiences” which served as my first venture into the direction of the “within”, of the 7 directions, often described as the most important.

Paul was a huge part of my nearly 2 decades of involvement in men’s programs and I am grateful for his gifts. I remember vividly him approaching me as I was getting into my car to leave that first retreat and him telling me he was Kevin’s friend and a writer. He has always been a writer.

This book of poetry exemplifies the lyrical way he connects words to the human spirit. Reading this book, I learned he has been writing poetry for many, many years. I recognized some of his poems’ themes, like the chapel and sculpting out of thin air, as potentially related to his work on men’s retreats. I especially took note of the shadow themes, like in the poem, Ambush, (pps. 92-93) where he explores the inevitability of screwing ourselves over because we lack awareness and self-knowledge.

However, the depth and breadth of his themes relating to his own psyche, relationships with his family, and the disconnect/connect with his family’s homeland in Greece suggested more of Paul’s deeply empathic abilities. I’ve wondered to myself and in some of my own writing how his legacy might be expanded should he connect in some way with the Warrior weekend’s international efforts. He has been a big fish in a small pond for too long. We know fish too big are targeted.

The founders of the program to which Paul has been devoted (one is deceased) were too jealous of his stature and deep masculine energy. They knew how to co-opt and unsex men who they saw getting close to their secrets and illusionary beliefs about their own grandeur, their shadow, as Paul would say. They were the masters of pseudo-mutuality creating a world where everyone acted like they loved each other by denying and avoiding any conflict. In the shadows, they were skillful at creating chaos, keeping others off kilter, ensuring they would be at the center of power, their fingerprints everywhere.

When I had influence, I ensured Paul would be on the marketing video for the organization back in 2004 and then in 2007, built the concept of the organization’s new program committee around Paul as the Chairperson. I knew he was the one to bring some clarity, intellect and humanity to this key element of an organization struggling to evolve. Paul had so much more integrity, wholeness and warmth than the others. These were his strengths, not wasted, but still so much more to give.

His personality archetype may be described by others as more Magician because of his poetry. I know him and see him more in the Warrior/King archetype. Paul even explores the theme of his kingship in one of his poems. He is more King than Magician in my eyes. Magicians stand alone and use their magic in isolation. Warrior/Kings use their strength and wisdom to unite others and fight the good fight. There are so many men who need help and the international men’s network offers men like Paul a pathway.

There was so, so much competition and unresolved conflict within the men’s program where Paul worked and works still, his greatness has been constrained. The Warrior weekend would have embraced his gifts and the leadership program would have challenged him and chiseled his spiritual and intellectual muscle. I know the Warriors would have welcomed him doing both programs and what a model that would have been of inclusion in the men’s work world!

Like me and the rest of us, Paul is not perfect, but he is perfectly human and the world is better for him. At a significant time, he wrote to me and I appreciated it.

The poem that really spoke to me from this book was “On a Train With No Windows” (p142). I want to cite the first several lines.

Paul writes:

Boarded up in my windowless train
on a one way ticket to Somewhere.
Just followed the crowd;
Jumped aboard when young, with baggage in tow.
Not asking: “Where am I going?”

Clickety clack
clickety clack
clickety clack.

Down the one-way track
to some imagined, pre-ordained destination.
-an oasis waiting.

This is a beautiful poem evoking feelings of wonderment, journey, and promise. It reminded me of my favorite song, “People Get Ready” written by Curtis Mayfield, a song in the liberation theology common in the African American community. Unable to speak truth to power for fear of being lynched, castrated, tortured, African Americans used religious language to express their desire for freedom, their salvation.

Like Paul, Mayfield writes,

“People get ready
There’ a train a-coming
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board

All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
Don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord.”

The clickety-clack of the train wheels on the rails to freedom, the “oasis waiting.”

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Dec 01 2015

kevin and paul letter

 

 

January 9, 2016

 

Dear Kevin and Paul:

 

I am attaching the correspondence I have had with Rick, Alan and Ron for your review.

 

As you can see, I am trying to learn how you handle the issue of clothing/gym shorts, etc at the Shadow weekend.

 

I want to be direct with both of you and not be secretive about it. I don’t believe it’s unrealistic of me to think your solution to the nudity issue many years ago would be to sidestep the real issues of how trauma memories are stored and the potential of someone with sexual abuse histories being triggered and injured psychologically by events on weekends.

 

I am also attaching the letter from the VOH lawyer which states pretty clearly I was lying and distorting other writing I have done, especially as it relates to the inappropriate events which occurred between us, namely the pot and rat and abusive language triangulating me, you and bob and buddy.

 

I think any objective person would agree the ways in which I was treated, especially during the “scandals” of VOH were abusive to me and characteristic of a very dysfunctional organization.

 

Originally, I believed you that the dysfunction was a result of someone else, etc. However the four years I was a leader allowed me to see the dysfunction ran deeper. I have said this before, but Shadow, as it is commonly understood, is often only discovered in relationship through addressing conflict. This never happened in VOH.

In fact, there was a lot of activity which was very much a concern to me. The disastrous attempt for the Breakthrough leaders to share leadership was evidence of this. On Saturday night, you guys bitched about Kurt taking control and acting unilaterally.

The next official meeting, you both confront me for “taking over” a psychodrama and interfering with your ability to work together, even though you knew I had no idea the guy was Kevin’s client or what you wanted to do together.

Then the joke of the nudity issue process. I was sick, in the process of discovering I lost a lot of money. Wouldn’t you think I had better things to do than go to a worthless meeting where all the decisions had been made before hand? I knew how easily Kurt could be manipulated by all you guys. I feel certain phone calls happened before the meeting, Kurt agreed to the faulty idea of gym shorts and the meeting was just to force the solution through in an undemocratic way.

 

I am feel certain you never told Kurt you guys were pissed at him for being controlling and unilateral.

 

Instead you attack me for something that had more to do with your inability to ask for something for yourselves or be accountable for what you didn’t do , vs what I did innocently.

 

If you guys told me to jump through fire, I probably would have tried. I wanted nothing  more than to be considered a member of the team. I had no special desire to lead anything.  I had a desire to help VOH change, knew how that could happen, and proceeded to do so in the roles I was assigned.

 

I can only wonder why you both turned on me there at the end. You knew what Buddy was capable of doing. His verbal abuse was not the ultimate problem, but his refusal to apologize was remarkable to observe and experience. For you guys to refuse to support me in confronting him was shocking and an example of the dysfunction in the organization.

 

Communication was between the two leaders, other leaders were suspect, conflict and truth was swept under the rug, and people who were injured, like me and Jay Karant, were ignored and written off as borderline, or whatever degrading “diagnosis” could be made.

 

Here is an opportunity for you to speak up to defend me when you are asked about this request of mine for information. I’m not asking for anything else. In an ideal world, you would also acknowledge publically the threatening legal letter from Kurt to me was an effort to force me to be silent, rather than a protection of anyone being defamed.

 

Trauma memory is stored implicitly and is timeless. Yes, you both apologized individually to me, however there is no doubt excluding me from the Psychodrama workshop for the L. Clark workshop illustrates you really had no remorse or insight into the self-focused ways in which you injured me and fought every attempt to reform Victories and help its programs succeed and grow.

Your fanatical attachment to your so-called Shadow weekend has been a drag on organizational growth and, like Portugal and Mark’s efforts in the Wisdome years creation, split the organizations into factions and destroyed any momentum the 2004 Strategic planning process had.

You have been left standing, your leadership coupleship still intact, after several decades. Portugal and Kurt died, Mark seems to have stepped aside.

Yet, with all that power you have amassed and exercised over the years, the Shadow weekend limps along with one weekend a year and who knows if it even happens each year. There is no transparency to allow any critical members of the public to know these things.

I will continue to write.

 

 

 

 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Bill Martin, LCSW

 

 

 

No responses yet

Jun 12 2015

Victories and Their Legal Threats to Silence My Writing: A Response to their 2011 Threatening Lawyer’s Letter

It’s been several years since I was initially threatened with lawsuits if I continued to write and publish about my experience in Victories of the Heart, previously known as the Men’s Room, now known as Victories for Men.

I so regret most of my involvement, especially the leadership and Board involvement.  Read my 2008 resignation letter here.

A graduate school associate at the time, Kevin Fitzpatrick referred me to Bob Mark for psychotherapy about 1989, then for some reason, changed his mind and suggested the late Buddy Portugal. Portugal was charismatic, with lots of hubris. His office seemed to be designed by an art director and interior design specialist to appeal to psychotherapy clients, especially men.

During the time I worked with Portugal, he changed the art work behind the couch where I sat. The new art work was directly in front of him, so he could look at it all day during his work. It was a fabric art piece of an older man holding the hand of a younger male child. Their profiles were facing away, so you could only see their backs.

It seems like the piece was meant to be evocative, much like everything else in his office, neatly placed to convey some meaning to the observer.

At the time, I concluded the art was meant to suggest how caring Portugal was to his clients. He wanted to be known as a loving father figure who held the hands of his children. To him, his clients were like his children, offering them the relationship correcting the harm or neglect of real parents.

Later, when I got to know Portugal better, especially the way I experienced him turning against me, demeaning me in voice-mails and to others in meetings and a Board meeting (May 17), the art piece took on a more sinister meaning. He had the piece commissioned by the wife of an early Men’s Room principal, so Portugal most likely told the artist exactly what he was looking for.

I considered everything done and said as projections of aspects of Portugal and the others they didn’t want revealed. So, the meaning of the art piece became at least suggestive to me of an older man who wanted to keep his real identity hidden. The older man holding the hand of the young boy suggested a desire to control and the walking forward suggested the older man taking the young boy somewhere that might not be safe.

It was definitely not clear the older man was the father of the young boy, so the more sinister meaning became more prominent to me, where the older man needed the young boy too much. One’s imagination could conjure multiple meanings and extend in many different directions.

Why had Fitzpatrick changed his mind and referred me to Portugal? I learned much later Fitzpatrick relied on Portugal for referrals and wondered if it was some quid pro quo on his part. I could easily imagine Fitzpatrick making this decision even knowing Portugal was a less brilliant therapist than Bob Mark. It was like offering up someone who would be a good client, a therapist (me) with a good reputation, to Portugal to add to his stable of therapist clients, emerging sycophants for the Men’s Room.

Portugal was not a good fit for me.

For Portugal, it seemed one solution fit all problems, namely seeing him individually and participating in his men’s weekend, then called the Men’s Room.

Ultimately, this was not helpful for me. I was much later diagnosed with serious brain health issues, likely caused by early childhood trauma. I was very smart, but had serious cognitive impairments when faced with new or challenging situations. This made me vulnerable to people to whom I gave my trust. My mistaken trust in a mortgage broker led to heavy losses in the 2005 recession and my re-engagement with Victories in 2003 are two significant examples.

I’m not sure Portugal thought much about my trauma and the impact it may have had on my brain. It was the early 1990’s and research was still being done to explain the complex way trauma impacted the brain. Also, he had some kind of learning problem and didn’t read much. He was the type of therapist who listened a lot and could give you the impression of great concern.

Yet, there were times too when his eyes struggled to remain open and he seemed tired during our early morning sessions. He told me he never took notes and many years later, he proved this when I formally asked him for my psychotherapy file, and he sent me a christmas card I sent him of my family and an insurance claim copy. Nothing else.  It’s significant to note he decided it was time to end our therapy right after I was selected to form a new leadership team with a friend for the Men’s Room program.

In summary, I was recruited to join his men’s program as a leader in about 1993, did so, then left the same year…then was recruited again by Paul Kachoris whose male energy spell I was still under in 2003, despite my concerns about my experiences helping with one of his early or earliest Shadow weekend. I rejoined becoming a co-leader with Kurt Schultz a brilliant man whose vulnerability was in service to authority.

By 2007, I could see Portugal and Mark had subverted the 2004 Strategic planning process in their desire to make their Wisdom Years program come close to their hype of it being the only program of its type for men over 50. It could not come close to the hype. I attended the Boston Wisdom years and liked the experience. However, it was not a tour de force. Portugal’s two requests for me to provide an evaluation of this program (I wrote one at the end of the weekend) led to many disrespectful and degrading voice-mails. Click here to read some of these voice-mails from Portugal.

He at first seemed to understand he had crossed a line and was poised to apologize. However, after a meeting with Kurt, he changed his tune. He quoted Kurt as having said the only problem with the voice-mails was Portugal describing me as “chronically disappointed.” This began the cover-up and efforts to damage my credibility and integrity and scapegoat me as having an “emotional breakdown.”

I didn’t believe Kurt would minimize Portugal’s offensive emails. I was driving to a meeting with Kurt and he wanted me to play the voice-mails for him. He played them on his bluetooth system in his car. He was very upset and told me it reminded him of a similar time he was asked to be a part of a meeting where the founders expressed a lot of anger towards a volunteer.  This volunteer has a name and many of us have spoken to him about this. It’s common knowledge or one of those secrets everyone knows. Kurt told me he was shocked and speechless during and after their outburst.

There were three other men who had the wrath of the founders directed at them, in addition to me. I’m sure many others heard about these incidents. All but mine was kept hush-hush and the founders were able to maintain the illusion they were all kind and giving. Kurt asked me to offer support to another Board member and colleague who received the wrath of two other principal leaders, simply because he could only make one pre-weekend staff meeting instead of two. Another colleague contacted me after a similar event with these two same leaders.

In respect to these leaders, I was also accused of extortion because I brought up the fact they pressured me to smoke pot and kill a pet rat the night before a certain weekend in the very beginning of my dispute with Portugal. Killing any animal is a class 3 and 4 felony in Illinois.

My claim about the pot and killing the pet rat (and the spontaneous anti-semitism…”those f….ing Jew boys”) are completely true and would require the two other men to lie to deny it.

I admit, I was intimidated and fearful of these men. These men had more power than me in our relationship and I needed them more than they needed me. In placing so much importance in my relationship with them, the possibility they would reject me was disturbing. Place this in the “fear of abandonment” category. My loyalty to these men became more and more challenged after a failed attempt to collaborate during a Breakthrough weekend and a miserable failure to deal with the issue of nudity and effort to reform and improve the Shadow weekend.

While it’s difficult to completely assess, the Shadow weekend has limped along since the early 1990’s and is only offered once per year. Compare this with the Warrior weekend which began a few years earlier, but now is offered countless times all over the globe. The architects of the Shadow and Wisdom years weekends have to assume some responsibility for the lackluster success.

On the other hand, the Psychodrama training, which I had a role  in creating, has been offered each year since the mid 2000’s and even offers CEU’s to professionals.  Although I am taking some credit now (Victories offers none), it’s success is based on the collaborative approach in its creation and scientific research on neuroscience (priming, state and context dependent memory, and brain structure functioning), psychodrama research, and the several “guts” work trainings (Warrior’s psychodrama) I attended.

Since I remained silent about the rat and pot incident and the accusation of me extorting them, they were successful in the pressure they placed on me to not reveal these inappropriate behaviors. It wasn’t until the Penn State abuse saga where the Administrators at Penn State were found to have protected the pedophile coach that I realized I was being subjected to inappropriate pressure to keep something secret which protected two men I once thought of as friends at a disservice to myself.

While Kurt alleged in the lawyer letter to me that I had lied and distorted what these men said and did, he also claimed I violated the confidentiality agreement to keep what happens on weekends secret. Despite being completely untrue, the lawyer’s letter claiming I broke confidentiality reveals the hint Kurt knew I was being completely truthful. It’s a lot of lawyer talk but ordinary people might read it as “well they didn’t say that and you distort other things and even if they said and did something like this, you were obliged to keep it secret.”

Later, during my meeting with Kurt right before he died, I told him I couldn’t negotiate with him as he was sick and what was unsaid then, dying. He wanted me to sign an agreement to remove all my Victories writing and agree to never write again about Victories. I was not doing it, plus I knew he knew everything he wrote for the lawyers’ letter was untrue.

I didn’t have the heart to engage in that discussion with him.

Our lives and decisions are only clear as we look back and study ourselves. In this case, the angry accusation of me extorting these men immediately made me fear their rejection, as they held great power in my life. I believed I needed them and the loss of their attention and approval seemed impossible at the time.

All of these events happened in relative privacy. There were always others who heard about it or witnessed it, like Kurt or other men in those staffing groups who watched in fear probably as two supposed leaders raised their voices to intimidate others with less power than them.

Kurt knew me, trusted me and understood I had already made several significant contributions to the organization, and knew I was not lying, no matter what content he wrote for the letter the Victories lawyer sent me.

Kurt was vulnerable to respect for authority and Buddy was a little like Darth Vader who could wave his hand and get you to believe and do just about anything. No doubt he co-opted Kurt who was just trying to keep things together, too much by himself.

So, Portugal began an even more damaging cat and mouse (I was the mouse) game where he cancelled a meeting and offered times so far in the future, it became clear he would not apologize and even perhaps felt no remorse. He certainly was in no rush to meet and resolve the damage he had done with his voice-mails.

He initially promised to listen to the voice-mails, as he “didn’t remember” what he said. However, when I sent him the cd of the voice-mails, his tune changed. He said he would not listen to them until we could “meet and listen to them together.”

I knew when his tune changed, his plan was to stonewall me and if we met, try to convince me that I was the one who had wronged him. I had quickly begun to request some type of mediation, as I knew Portugal would not meet with me alone in good faith. He searched for external validation and apologizing to me, even saying the words, “I am sorry” were not in his vocabulary. This is quite evident if you read the voice-mails and if you hear the voice-mails, his snarly, though confused defensiveness and entitlement is loud and clear.

The narrative became easy to understand as I listened to his projections of me avoiding him and not accepting his apologies. He had never made an apology and in the voice-mails and brief note he sent me, there is no hint of any remorse or accountability from him, while he continued to weave a narrative that I had injured him.

Initially, he claimed not to remember the content and tone of the most offensive voicemail and offered to listen again. I sent him a cd of all the voice-mails, but he had become more defiant and refused to listen to them until we met and would listen to them together. This was just one example, though significant, of the runaround Portugal gave me about a meeting.

I’m sure when he claimed to others I refused to meet with him, he did not disclose his cancelled meeting with me, and then his high pressure attempt to get me to “listen to his voicemails with him” as a way of manipulating me to end my complaints against him.

The context for the Wisdom years evaluation was my growing disagreement with the Portugal and the other three principals ignoring the 2004 Strategic plan which called for a transformation from a feudal system of so-called leaders subserviant to the founders who were not direct or powerful leaders. They were influential, but seemed to me to do more to sabotage themselves and the organization than help. I address many of these problems in my 2008  resignation letter which can be read here.

In my complaint against Portugal, I wanted him to acknowledge he had not apologized to me (as I was certain he claimed) and go to psychotherapy to address whatever personality or emotional problems he had that would lead him to degrade me, a person who had only done good things for him and his men’s program.

The organization and the men in power who protected him did not help him by allowing him to hide behind their backs. He died sometime after this dispute. Could his death had been averted if he engaged in psychotherapy seriously and addressed any underlying or undiagnosed health problem? We will never know. However, I believe those principals failed Portugal and the overall organization by enabling his inappropriate behavior, which may have included his neglect of his own health.

In a private meeting between Bob Mark, Paul Kachoris and Kevin Fitzpatrick, and Buddy Portugal agreed among themselves they would not meet with me discrediting my complaints publicly as arising from an “emotional breakdown.” I know this from a 5 page email I received from one of the participants at the meeting. I was not informed about the meeting and only learned of it when I received the email.

In this May 17, 2008 email, this person writes a great deal about the meeting and the pressure to discredit my complaints ( I had written a formal complaint with a long list of specific grievances related to the deviation from the 2004 Strategic plan, not just the voicemails by Portugal) by accusing me of having an “emotional breakdown.”

In his way, this writer expresses his displeasure with the focus and tenor of their meeting, indicates he lodged a soft protest claiming I was “a person of good intellect and  they should listen to my complaints.”

He states, “…then everyone was making about you just having an emotional breakdown and not giving you credence for many of the important things you were saying. (Again, at the Victories Board meeting of the 7th of May 2008, I said that about you in front of 18 men, including Buddy who was sitting across from me and I was staring right at him!)” (anonymous email. 2008, May 17)

It’s pretty sad. They believed my legitimate complaints rose from a place of an emotional breakdown, yet refused to meet with me. One would think esteemed mental health practitioners would want to reach out to a colleague who they felt was having an emotional breakdown. I believe the larger truth is these four men were not accustomed to be confronted so directly and in writing.

The notion I was having an “emotional breakdown” was a sinister, though easy way to explain why I had resigned from the organization, degrade me and my complaints. It was a classic ad hominem attack, discrediting my ideas by discrediting my person.

I was a bug on the floor they could stomp on.

So, the other three principals clearly sided with Buddy Portugal and circled their wagons. This enabled them to protect themselves from my core complaint about them subverting the 2004 Strategic plan to maintain their own unique way of doing things that relied on their personal charisma and the loyalty of their client based support system in their respective programs.

I could see the development process inspired by the 2004 Strategic plan failed and almost all of my time, energy, financial contributions and intellectual capital was wasted. It was four years later and the two principal leader teams were still fighting each other and men like me who were part of the effort to improve and develop the organizations and programs.

My vantage point and the view of the two distinguished psychologists who led the strategic planning process and wrote the report and recommendations, the old way of doing things relied on blind devotion to the founders and led to a variety of dysfunctional organizational problems. These consultants evaluated the crisis related to the previous Victories administrator which had been described to them as a “personality conflict.”

In explaining their view, they stated,

“From an observer’s perspective, what appeared as a personality conflict might represent more of an organizational crisis. The recent history of victories provides the context for this discussion. Recently, Bob and buddy had been trying to pass control of the organization  on to a new generation of leaders. Transitional processes like that crater. Change with opportunity for organizational growth, but also time with attendant dangers. The ambitious personalities, the formation of alliance and schisms, the competition over who is staying”truer”to the vision of the founders – all of these responses to the transition bespeak a cultish edge to the organization. If allowed to continue, these responses would really hamstring important work that gets done on the weekends. Many of us have encountered destructive processes like that in religious or political movements. Sometimes, periods of transition like this bring out what is worse in us as men. Ambition for power at the expense of men who we should be seen as colleagues and collaborators is one of these dangers.”   (Schwartz & Zuckerman 2003)

I have little doubt the organizational warning by Schwartz and Zuckerman was ignored, despite their clear warning.  The consultants warned the organization about the risk of not addressing the systemic issues and as a result they repeated themselves. The previous Victories administrator was trying to address the systemic (organizational) issues, but was caught in the middle between the founders and the second leader team. It was a volatile place for him to be and when the pressure built, both leader teams turned on him, scapegoated him, and, like me, he gave up and resigned.

The details of our situation are not identical, but the process is almost identical. A smart, assertive person lower in the hiearchy of the organization steps up to the plate and encourages change to help the organization grow and develop.  Portugal, Mark, Kachoris, and Fitzpatrick join together to push the other person out. I remember talking with this administrator and another leader at the time by phone. The other leader called to ask if I would consider becoming involved in Victories (it was still the Men’s Room) again. We had a long talk, but I knew better and declined. I declined again when another leader was looking for a new leader partner.

My admiration for Paul Kachoris and initial impressions of Kurt Schultz influenced my decision to return in 2003 as a leader. I loved working with Kurt and the other members of our leadership team, many of whom are now principals in the organization.

The excellent 2004 Strategic plan, offered promise, but the attendant dangers won out. The consultants process led Victories out of the woods, but it drifted back in due to the homeostatic pressures of personalities, ambition for power, as mentioned above.

This blind devotion and organizational dysfunction was evident in the 2003-2004 crisis related to the then Administrator who was mistreated and scapegoated by the same four leaders involved in my dispute. A second example is how Portugal was so wedded to his own view of the Wisdom years being the next best thing to sliced bread, he blocked himself from my excellent evaluation so completely, it led him to degrade me personally, referring to me as chronically disappointed. This was a manipulative way to say I was depressed and suffering an emotional breakdown.

It’s very important to stop and consider this situation. These are mental health practitioners who present themselves to the world as healers and innovators refusing to meet with me, a person who had been very supportive of their program and them as individuals for about 15 years. As for Paul Kachoris and Kevin Fitzpatrick, I had volunteered for several years to help them get almost everyone of their initial weekends off the ground, witnessed and supported their leadership development.

Being well-versed in dealing with different personality types, it was clear to me I was being the target of projections, much like the former administrator earlier in 2003. Was this a situation where others had to make me “bad” in order for them to be “good?”

Watching the Trump drama and his efforts to silence James Comey, I am reminded of the threats, first from Buddy Portugal and his attorney, and then from my former leader partner, the deceased Kurt Schultz who wrote the copy for the lawyer letter sent to me again by Buddy Portugal’s attorney.

So two threatening lawyer letters and one direct threat across the table at a meeting to try to find a way to resolve the impasse between Victories and myself. If it were not for the more measured, reasonable intervention of another Victories principal at the breakfast meeting ( I was unable to eat anything), I would have left. I am not sure who likes to be threatened while eating breakfast.

I was most concerned about whether the entire Board approved the lawyer letter to me. The letter was composed of lies and I wondered how other men I thought were friends, knew were licensed mental health practitioners and lawyers could approve a letter threatening me.

I had the two men read the letter, then read their response. They had not read it before. Who on a Board with liability is ok with sending a “threatening to sue you” letter to someone, especially when the letter is not based in truth?

Then, there was the final email threat. I was first scared, then angry, then calmly realized I didn’t have to be afraid because I was telling the truth and had volumes of memos, notes and emails (see James Comey method) which corroborated my story.

I had one telephone call with the Board president where I decided to restate my story about being asked to smoke pot and kill a rat the night before a weekend, even though the men telling me this was what we were going to do had to have known I abstained from all substances and had done so for many years.

I had revealed this before, but perhaps the other men believed Kurt’s version that I was distorting what happened and what I heard and essentially that I was lying. Did the other principal men involved tell him to allege this in the threatening lawyer letter? I feel sorry for them if they did. I would guess Kurt just said, “let me handle this…” and the letter was written and sent to my mailbox.

I remember I was most distressed that in addressing this conflict, Kurt and the others would resort to lying about key details and facts. Kurt and I were able to talk as friends and colleagues shortly before he died. I felt sorry he had been used so badly by Buddy Portugal and the other Victories principals.

Kurt was the fixer and his heart was in the right place. He wanted others to be happy and love him and this made him vulnerable to Buddy Portugal who was persuasive and quick to threaten the withdrawal of his hubris filled positive regard.

In the end, I told the principals I was publishing everything I had written and would continue to write. If anyone threatened me again, I would take legal action of my own and file complaints with the appropriate professional associations.

I told them to give some thought to seeing and hearing me testify about the truth, while the others would have to do their best to lie and make it believable.

I published the hostile voicemails from Buddy Portugal here and have the recordings from my voicemail system and warned that they would not sound pretty in court, being the hostile, abusive and scathing” (Portugal’s description of the worst message) words of a former therapists of his client become successful, effective leader.

My comparison to Comey is done without any suggestion my conflict with Victories and some principals is anything comparable. It’s similar only in the way self-absorbed men attempt to hide the truth by bullying and defaming the person speaking up.

In my case, Portugal, et al claimed I was having an emotional breakdown. I have this from one of the people at the key meeting where they decided to ignore my complaints about mistreatment and them hijacking the strategic planning process to promote their own programs to the detriment of the letter and spirit of the 2004 Strategic planning process which recommended building a more cohesive and collaborative organizational structure and programming.

 

Here is the 2011 Lawyer letter I received with my responses:

Lawyer copy is in black.

My response is in blue.

December 19,2011

Dear Mr. Martin

We are attorneys representing victories of the heart, and if the victories. The Board of Directors of victories has recited receive court your correspondence dated the 15th and 17th 2011, and we respond as follows. The letter state that you intend to publish information about victories and or its programs. Actual publication has already occurred through the posting of such information on your Internet blog. A preliminary review of your statements raises the following serious legal considerations and consequences.

My response:

I gave the recipients of the emails and letters sufficient time to be in touch with me to arrange some type of mediation, something I had sought for a few years. When I didn’t hear back from them, I published the document, as I had warned. I can only speculate they met together and determined the best course of action was to do nothing believing I would not follow through. When I did publish, their strategy was to accuse me of lying, distorting, as their lawyer letter stated. Behind the scenes, I would also guess they claimed I was having an emotional breakdown. The content and style of the lawyer’s  letter was very similar to language I had heard from Kurt. Also, the mention of David Karr is something few people would know, besides Kurt, so I know he had to be the source of the letter.  I spoke to Kurt shortly after this and met him just prior to his death. I thought it was doubly cruel for Victories principals to use Kurt’s power and relationship with me to prevent me from exercising my First Amendment right and holding them accountable. It was tragic to meet with him, understand he was so sick, yet manipulated to fight me, someone he thought of as a brother. 

First, please be reminded that in the written leadership agreement between you and victories, you agreed not to lecture publish anything concerning victories or its programs without the prior written authorization of the victories board or its designee. Such permission was never granted to you by victories. There are hereby directed to immediately remove all such items from your blog and take all action necessary to bring yourself into compliance with your contract. Failure to do so will result in further legal action against you.

My response: 

The contract mentioned here was something that Kurt thought of after I began to make my complaints with leaders and threats to write about them more public. Kurt described the contract as something to protect Victories programs and I had no intention, nor have I over the years, attempted to copy any of Victories programs. I suspected after receiving this threatening lawyer letter that it was Kurt’s way of trying to prevent me from making my unresolved complaints public. I had made every attempt to resolve these complaints privately.

I warned the principals I would write about these matters as I considered them abusive to me and an example of the systemic entitlement these men had within the organization. I knew they could do whatever they wanted, expect not to be held accountable, and further, key powerful people within the system, like Kurt, would be manipulated to fight others like myself who were more vulnerable.

My only recourse was to write and publish. I have to assume they underestimated my ability to write and the many contemporaneous documents I wrote about what was happening around me and to me at the time.

Anyone knowing how the dyadic leadership structure worked may also realize how personally damaging it was to Kurt to manipulate him to clean up their messes. When I met with Kurt shortly before his death, he told me how difficult this period was for him. He and I had been a leader team. He knew I asked him to recuse himself from this conflict, but Buddy Portugal pressured him to get me to back off and withdraw my request for mediation. No one would be surprised by this and it’s likely one or all of the surviving leader principals may be able to substantiate this as witnesses. Also, the letters I received were quite obviously written by Kurt. 

Second, your disclosure of the statements that you attribute to (leader name and/or leader name) in the context of the 1995 name weekend violates the confidentiality agreement applicable to all leaders and participants will weekend. Moreover, your statements concerning these individuals misquotes them and assert claims about them which are untrue and distorted.

My response: This point involves my disclosure I was told by two leaders we were going to “smoke pot and kill a pet, white rat from an Evanston pet store” at this Thursday night pre-weekend meeting. Allegedly, I talked them out of it. I only really know I didn’t smoke pot or kill a pet rat that night. So, everything I detailed in my letter was completely true and involved inappropriate behavior by leaders that could have risked the safety of participants and placed these leaders and myself and the Victories organization in serious legal and ethical jeapordy.

As I mentioned in my disclosure, I revealed this inappropriate behavior to my wife, a close friend and later Kurt. So, Kurt being manipulated to deny this actually happened was a tragic manipulation of him by others who he may have felt he had to protect. Kurt knew it happened and perhaps he felt it was so perverse it was essential to deny the truth and discredit and defame me in the process. What was said between these men and Kurt? I don’t know. 

My conversation with Kurt shortly before he died revealed to me his own distress and dissatisfactions with the events and the pressure placed on him by Portugal. I only know Kurt was dying at the time and it was painful for him to meet with me to discuss these things, knowing in fact I was truthful, including the spontaneous anti-semitism and the accusation I was using the “rat and pot” incident to  “extort” two leaders to get them to support me against Portugal.

Third, your discussion of the nudity on the shadow weekend without disclosing that nudity ceased in 2008 a fact known to you for years appears to be an effort to defame victories. The same can be said of your attempt to equate or compare the actions of the victories board of directors to the egregious conduct of certain religious and academic institutions.

My response: It was not a known fact that nudity ceased in 2008. I only knew the idea of men being nude for long periods of time at the weekend was being challenged. During my last formal meeting about this, I was told the plan was to have the men wear black gym shorts. There was no mention about how they would change into the gym shorts and whether there might be t-shirts as well. I still do not know that. The official website makes the pejorative statement that there is no nudity on the weekend in response to the question, “I heard there is nudity on this weekend.”

I believe the use of nudity by the leaders along with other inappropriate program ideas has been very detrimental to the organizational development process and it was part of my comprehensive criticism of programs during my 4+ years in leadership from 2003-2008. It was a dumb idea to copy something from another weekend and it only created doubt and ambivalence about the Victories’ program. I and others heard the complaints from participants of the weekend and it was numbing and frightening to me to hear about the length of time men were nude and silent. I considered these methods to be unethical and counterproductive to the welfare of participants and the mission/values of the organization.

 Further, there is a reason why this program has weak internal and external support within the larger community. If it was such a good experience, why does it still struggle to gain participants. I have no doubt if the principals listened to my complaints and responded, their programs (wisdom years and shadow weekend) would have been improved. Unless there is legal action, I do not plan to publish my evaluation for the Wisdom years experience in Boston where I was a participant. I was asked 2x for my evaluation. The second time it was received, it resulted in 30 minutes of hostile, ad hominem voicemails. It’s troubling when you are asked for an evaluation then personally attacked as being “chronically disappointed.” 

Fourth, your correspondence request appropriate credit for your contributions to the victories, basic staff training handout and defames victories by suggesting that victories has engaged in on ethical or legal misconduct by not acknowledging your contribution and subsequent versions of the handout. In April 2008. You acknowledge that victories have the right to use and publish those materials. The request for attribution was made at the time. It is our understanding the subsequent versions of the document, including those used while you were still waiting basic staff training, do not attribute authorship to any individual, just as your initial version of the document failed to acknowledge the contributions of David Karr’s work form the basis of your draft. Victories has never misrepresented a role in creating the handout. In fact, the message announcing the resignation from victories. Specifically, thank you for this contribution to one of victories programs.

My response:

Readers may find this surprising, but I felt like I put aside a lot of sharp elbows and myopic thinking while involved and even after I resigned. I thought my resignation made it clear I no longer thought I could have an impact and the rigidity of the system almost guaranteed the organization would continue to struggle with development.

On a practical level, it meant Portugal and Mark would have enormous power within the system to stop and divert much of the agreed upon changes in the 2004 Strategic plan. In my opinion expressed verbally and in writing in my ongoing complaints was the fact the 8 person leadership team of which I was a part was destroyed in a unilateral move by Portugal and Mark to leave the team and expand the Wisdom years program.

I remember this meeting vividly when they reported there plan to recruit and develop new leaders for the Wisdom years, but stressed they would bring these new leaders back to our leader team of 8 men (ostensibly) for approval. This never happened and in fact their efforts were so mismanaged and conflict laden, there was some effort on their part to actually secede from the larger Victories organization.

This was a hush-hush situation too and I still don’t know all the facts. I only know the idea of the Wisdom years becoming a separate, free-standing organization was being considered. This essentially bifurcated the organization destroying any momentum for change and development. Others may disagree with my assessment, but to date, I have not read any other perspective. If there is a lawsuit, we will find out.

Nonetheless, the practical results were a lot of dissatisfaction and unresolved conflict. I complained and resigned and other stakeholders were not happy either. 

The more practical issue was the two original leader teams continued in their passive-agressive hostility and competition further hampering any substantial development. The mythic idea two men as leaders and recruiters for weekends continued and I can only assume scheduled weekends are cancelled and others struggling to gain participants.

And all efforts would be made to keep the two founders and the other principal leader team happy. 

Ironically,  it was not until Kurt and another leader team were selected to give a presentation on psychodrama at a mind-body conference where I realized how insensitive these men could be. Kurt and I and several other volunteers were the ones who designed the psychodrama training (the original basic staff training) and enabled volunteers to learn how to do “heartwork” or psychodrama during Breakthrough weekends. The fact I was not included in the workshop I found shocking and unacceptable. I lodged a complaint about this too and it went nowhere.

At this later time I requested acknowledgement for my involvement in the overall creative process of the psychodrama training. I wasn’t looking for credit for the writeup or any document used in the training. I believe I should have been given more permanent credit for the total process of evaluating and ending the Spirit of Generosity, then working with the team of others, principally Kurt, to develop what is now the Psychodrama training.

My request for acknowledgement must have sent a shock wave through the leadership of the organization, as the dysfunctional culture of the organization only allowed “Bob and Buddy” to be credited for anything. There were others recognized at dinners, but they were usually outside persons or groups who were thought to reflect well on the founders, like Wendy Kopald and her women’s program, which Portugal helped her create.

While anyone involved in the development process would agree I had an important role, I was not surprised my request went nowhere, though I was a little surprised it was part of a lawyer’s letter threatening to sue me. So, out of site out of mind.

Your public statements are intentional and malicious acts calculated to inflict substantial harm upon the victories organization. Such conduct can form the basis for an award of compensatory and exemplary damages and would appear to violate the ethical standards of your profession. Moreover, the psychological injury you now allegedly finds a personally distressing is largely attributed to events, which occurred over 15 years ago. In that time you voluntarily chose to join victories as a senior leader, appeared with pocket shortest, Kevin Fitzpatrick, and other leaders of publicly distributed promotional DVD, referred a number of your psychotherapy clients to victories programs, helped recruit and train 60 L, and otherwise promoted an organization you now attack.

My response:

I worked hard to make the organization successful. The public statements I make are to defend my own integrity, hold others accountable, and provide a history of the organizational dynamics to help explain why weekends do not often get the needed participants and the dyadic leader teams who fail, drift off into the sunset. My alternative efforts were to have leadership teams, not two men trying unrealistically to love each other as much as the two original teams.

Ones true understanding of themselves is a retrospective process…a looking back. It was not until 2011 that I was diagnosed with brain damage from trauma and I began to piece together enough information to better understand the dysfunctional system and people I had been associated with from 1990 and especially from 2003 to 2008. As the more outspoken member of the disenfranchised group, I receive information from others who have helped me create a more cohesive narrative of my experience.

Also, 15 years is not a long time for someone to realize they were blocking and diminishing the impact of some type of abuse. I think Victories would find it impossible to find any expert witness, should they sue me, who would think there was nothing wrong in pressuring me, a volunteer with a history of PTSD and depression who abstained from all drugs and alcohol to smoke pot and participate in the killing of a pet white rat from a pet store the night before an intensive mens’ retreat.

They can claim I was and am lying, but my guess is they know better. Kurt knew I was telling the truth, as I had disclosed this to him several years earlier and I also told my wife and a close friend contemporaneously (see the James Comey method).

So, I do understand they wished I wouldn’t reveal the truth about these events, but then I would betray myself further and all the volunteers who work so hard to make Victories successful, but wonder why it struggles to fill weekends.  Victories has been plagued by organizational silos (the dyadic leader teams) and an inability to create a cohesive and collaborative organization. 

Victories seems a prompt resolution to this matter of the parties aren’t able to achieve such a resolution, we will commence with a civil suit against you without further notice and if appropriate, file a complaint with the Illinois Department of financial and professional regulation. Please direct all future communications to me.

My response:

OK. I hope they don’t sue, but I will stand up for myself. Like I told them, if anyone even threatens to sue me again, I will immediately take legal action myself to protect my First Amendment rights and personal integrity.

And, as I have told a few of these men, I am still available to mediate these concerns. However, I am no longer willing to share the costs of mediation. 

A sincere apology can go a long way.

Sincerely,

Lawyer name

In publishing this lawyer’s letter and my response, I am fulfilling my promise to the current Victories board to stop being afraid of their threats to sue me. It’s freeing for me to do so. I am standing up for my constitutional right to free speech and my own personal integrity.

I would add I have been in contact with Paul Kachoris and Kevin Fitzpatrick by phone voice messages inviting them to meet, clear up the distortion and lies about me in a public way. They have not responded to my requests and I will not contact them again. My contact with them preceded my publication of this more overt, naming of principals post, along with the lawyers letter from Victories.

Me contacting them was part me showing them I was no longer afraid of them, part hope they would have the decency to address their part in all of this, especially allowing Kurt to send me the deceitful lawyer letter I rebut above. This letter is such an obvious example of projection. They lie about me in order to defame me as a liar.

True to form, this was another systemic example of principals hiding behind others to fight for them. Rather than respond appropriately to me as a colleague filing legitimate complaints and asking for a formal mediation of these complaints, I can only assume they allowed Kurt to “handle” it by composing a letter of lies then sent by another lawyer.

I was shocked by the lack of truthfulness of this letter and wondered how Kurt would have gotten the Board to allow him to send it to me. During a phone call shortly after receiving it, I asked him if he had the Board approve the letter or if he just had it sent it to me. He just said he was the President of the Board, implying he didn’t need approval. Of course, by this time, he was dying of cancer, so these other principals will have to live with the fact they placed Kurt in the position to fight me, his former leader partner and close friend. Sad.

I also sent these two principals and the current President of the Board copies of my neuropsychological assessment to show evidence of my cognitive impairment as proof I didn’t have whatever diagnosis or personality disorder was used by them inappropriately to label me having an “emotional breakdown.”

I also realize how protective I had remained towards these principals and willing to keep their secrets, about the voice-mails and the pot and rat incident. One might say I have made too big a deal over these issues and that’s fine. For me, there are these issues and the longer systemic pattern within Victories to pay homage to the leaders, despite their behaviors, and forfeit the opportunities of creating a healthier organization.

It’s impossible for anyone on the outside to determine what weekends have enough participants and what weekends are cancelled. I would assume there would be more information about this, if all or most of the weekends had enough enrollment.

I can only assume since the dyadic (two person) leadership team is still the primary structure, there have been and will be failed weekends.

Had the stakeholders had enough insight and power, the systemic problem of homage to the founders/leaders would have been addressed directly and effectively. It would have been a win-win for everyone.

As an example of my efforts, I could see that every annual fundraiser became a “love-in” for the two founders. I thought to myself, how many more years can these men be given all the attention and credit for something that others have also contributed.

I spoke to Portugal in person, had a phone call to Mark. I told them it was counter-productive for the annual dinner to focus on them so much. I told them while it feel positive to some, it caused resentment among others. I spoke to Kurt about this and there was a discussion to do something differently at the next dinner in 2007. Kurt reported to me and others at a Board meeting there would be a “roast of all the leaders.”

A roast of all the leaders should not have left any confusion about what would happen. For the first time, I dragged my teenage daughter to the dinner so she might hear one or two sentences poking fun at me.

So, what happened?

True to the underlying, powerful dynamic in the organization, the “roast” became a video portraying Bob and Buddy as the characters from Brokeback Mountain. The imagery and language in the video was at once, homophobic, degrading, and mortifying to me and others. My daughter looked at me and said, “what does this mean?” I told her I wasn’t sure and then waited for a “roast” to begin. It did not.

No “roast”, but a terrible public relations event with confusing sexual innuendo about the two founders. Although I tried, I received no explanation about how this video had been approved. From the men who appeared in the video, I understood it to be those closest to the two founders.

The psychological message I received was the founders were the “only leaders” of importance and the creators of the video were either unconscious or indirectly revealing there were men in the closet who were married to women.

This was terrible messaging, yet demonstrates the so called homage to the founders that has permeated the organization from its inception in the 1980’s.

This ambiguous messaging about sexuality and sexual orientation within Victories has made it a less safe experience for men with sexual orientation questions or fears. A recent study of a Breakthrough weekend revealed one persons’ observation substantiating this problem at that weekend. The participant states:

“There were also moments when they used some more hetero-normative language. As a gay man, I would have hoped that they would have used more inclusive language. Like during certain activities, they would be talking about the men and their wives rather than the men and their partners or you know companions or spouses. I’m pretty sure that I was the only gay male on my particular weekend. 99 Although at the beginning I was certain that a couple of the other men were. Then one started talking about his wife and another was talking about his girlfriend. Well, seeing that I am a clinician and knew several of the men conducting the retreat, I knew that there wasn’t anything negative meant by that. You know, I see a number of gay clients who…I would question if they would you know, feel comfortable in hearing language that was somewhat exclusionary. And you know, it’s not like I felt they were trying to single me out or intentionally exclude me, but it was just kind of something I noticed. I was also kind of wondering how Victories approaches transgendered or inter-sexed individuals and issues around their care and inclusion in Victories?”  (Miller, 2016, pps.98-99)

This participant expresses the hetero-sexism inherent to Victories. It’s not that everyone is straight, but rather there are gay men who are fearful of speaking up or are married to women and deeply in the closet. I don’t know who the staff leadership was for the weekend in question, but after three decades, it’s fair to openly criticize the organization for it’s lack of respect for cultural diversity. I can not tell you how often I would hear the founders talk about the need to “recruit” gay men or men of color to weekends. However, when this was done, the men would experience the undertones of bias, racism and hetero-sexism. The comments by this participant are evidence that even now in 2016-2017, there are weekend programs that are unconscious about the need to respect diversity.

Read my comments about this study here and links to the full study here.

True to form, the Victories stakeholdes involved in the study were apparently unhappy with the results. The reasons for their negativity were not explained, yet the informed observer would guess it was because the study did not find exceptional measurable results.

If so, it would be another example of how Victories principals depend so highly on praise to support their positive view of themselves, it makes them less aware of parts of themselves revealed in more honest inter-personal relations.

I enjoy the freedom I experience in writing.

 

Three of the Victories principals have written books. To read my reviews, click on the links below:

 

Victories of the Heart: Inside Story of a Pioneer Men’s Group (Bob Mark & Buddy Portugal)

 

Clearing the Path: Opening the Spiritual Frontier (Bob Mark)

 

Unmasked: Poetry of Self-Expression (Paul Kachoris)

 

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