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To Esalen in San Francisco and Big Sur, the institute's beautiful Pacific retreat south of Carmel, come 25,000 people a yearand if the pilgrim is turned away there, he can find similar sanctuaries in San Diego (Kairos), New York (Aureon, Anthos, GROW),Chicago (Oasis), Houston (Espiritu), Austin, Texas (Laos House), Washington, D.C. (Quest), Decatur, Ga. (Adanta), Calais, Vt. (Sky Farm Institute), and scores of other com munities. The groups can vary in size from half a dozen friends meeting in a big-city apartment to hundreds and even thousands of complete strangers at a psychological convention. The gamut is as wide as the cost, which can run anywhere from $30 or less for a weekend marathon encounter session in a church basement (see box page 56) to $2,100 for a seven-week training program at the National Training Laboratories.
Even though the movement's advocates deny that it is therapy, many people visit the new growth centers or attend informal group sessions in quest of precisely that. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that in California, more troubled individuals already seek help from the human potentials movement than from "traditional sources of psychotherapy." Yet the human potentials group sessions are largely valueless, and even dangerous, for the severely disturbed. Psychologist Carl Rogers, one of the movement's charter members, and many others consider it a learning experience for "normals" rather than a therapeutic experience for the sickwho are too engrossed in their own emotions fully to feel another's.
Targets of Criticism. Psychologist Rogers calls the new group movement "the most significant social invention of this century." It may not be quite that, but even the American Psychiatric Association has bestowed guarded approval in a 27-page task-force report: "The intensive group experience is intrinsically neither good nor bad ... If properly harnessed, however, the experience may be a valuable adjunct" to psychotherapy.
Critics have accused the movement of everything from Communist-style brainwashing to sedition. Dr. Joseph T. English, formerly head of the Health Services and Mental Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, thinks that it has "been oversold to an unaware public." U.S. Representative John R. Rarick of Louisiana, its most voluble enemy, has filled pages of the Congressional Record with unrestrained rhetoric: "Organized thought control and behavior programming ... a perversion of group therapy that makes healthy minds sick . . . obvious degeneracy."
One of the more frequent targets of this criticism is the Esalen Institute, the creation of two Stanford psychology graduates, Michael Murphy and Richard Price. In a San Francisco ashram, or Hindu retreat, where Murphy spent eight meditative years and was later joined by Price, the two dreamed of a university without academic trappings, which would combine the best of Western humanistic psychology and Eastern thought.