We Overcame Their Traditions, We Overcame Their Faith
"WE OVERCAME THEIR TRADITIONS, WE OVERCAME THEIR FAITH"
A contrite Catholic psychologist's disturbing testimony about his central role in the destruction of religious orders.
Dr. William Coulson was a disciple of the influential American psychologist Carl Rogers, and for many years a co-practitioner of the latter's "nondirective" therapy. In 1964 he became chief of staff at Rogers' Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in La Jolla, Ca., where, he says, as the resident Catholic it became his task to "gather a cadre of facilitators to invade the IHM community" of nuns-and later some two dozen other orders, among them the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Providence, and the Jesuits. It was only in 1971 that he began to "back away" from his belief in psychotherapy, when its destructive effects on the religious orders-and on the Church and society in general- became apparent to him.
Having abandoned his once-lucrative practice, Dr. Coulson now devotes his life to lecturing to Catholic and Protestant groups on the dangers of psychotherapy. He is also founder and director of the Research Council on Ethnopsychology, where he can be reached (P.O. Box 134, Comptche, CA 95427). He and his wife Jeannie have seven children.
In the following interview with Dr. William Marra, Dr. Coulson discusses his role in the destruction of Catholic religious orders, and his subsequent change of mind Additional copies of this magazine are available for $4 each, first-class postage included, from: , 1331 Red Cedar Circle, Ft. Collins, CO 80524.
TLM: The story begins with your graduate education, doesn't it?
COULSON: Oh, yes. I went to Notre Dame in the late '50s, for a doctorate in philosophy, and wrote my dissertation on Carl Rogers' theory of human nature. There was an interesting controversy at the time, about whether Rogers, who was probably the most prominent American psychologist of his day, believed that every man is totally good. So I wanted to compare Rogers with B. F. Skinner, the famous behaviorist, and with Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis.
TLM: Stop right there. Were you a Catholic at the time?
COULSON: Oh, yes.
TLM: And Notre Dame was Catholic?
COULSON: Notre Dame was Catholic! I got a good education in Thomistic philosophy.
TLM: Didn't it occur to you that as a faithful Catholic you couldn't buy the idea that men are basically good? Didn't original sin mean anything to you?
COULSON: It wasn't my task then to be a critic of Rogers' theory. I wanted to find out what he taught; and having read everything that I could get my hands on, I contacted him at the University of Wisconsin.
TLM: I see; okay.
COULSON: At the time Rogers was at the University of Wisconsin Psychiatric Institute. He had gotten a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health, to test his theory of nondirective counseling.
TLM: Now put that in plain English.
COULSON: Okay. At the University of Chicago, where Rogers had done his most significant work, he had found that young people he was counseling didn't really need him to give them answers- that they had answers within them. In retrospect, I understand that these were bright, well-brought-up young people, or they couldn't have gotten into the University of Chicago. They were able to figure things out, but they hadn't been able to hear themselves think, so responsive had they always been to people telling them what they should do.
So Rogers had the idea that to help these neurotics, we should refer them to the source of authority within them-in other words, refer them to their consciences. Notice the assumption that in fact people have consciences! Well, he was dealing with University of Chicago students in the '40s and '50s, who had grown up in the Midwest; and, sure enough, they had consciences.
TLM: -and therefore it would make sense for a therapist to say, "Well, what do you think? Use your own basic convictions."
COULSON: But Rogers wouldn't be so directive as to say, "Use your own convictions about ethical law." Rather, he would say, "I guess I get the feeling that what you are saying is...." This has become a caricature since, of course; it makes you laugh; but it really was Rogers' locution. It worked. He could disappear for people, and leave them in the presence of their consciences.
You see, as a practicing Catholic layman, I thought that was pretty holy: that God was available to every person who had a decent upbringing, that he could self-consult, as it were, and hear God speaking to him. I was thinking of William James's idea that the conscience can provide access to the Holy Spirit.
TLM: Notre Dame's not all that far from Wisconsin; did you drive over to meet Rogers?
COULSON: I wrote to him; and it proves that he was generous, or perhaps reckless, that he said to me, "Why don't you come up and spend some time here with us? I'll get you a government fellowship." He didn't know me from Adam. But maybe he saw that I could put a sentence together, so he did get a federal research fellowship for me, so that I could join his staff at the Psychiatric Institute, and sit at his feet and write my dissertation. So it turned out that there was very little of Skinner and Freud in my dissertation, compared to the Rogers that got into it.
TLM: How was Rogers as a person?
COULSON: A terrific human being. We used to make jokes about him, though, because one makes jokes to keep one's sanity when one is in graduate school.
For example, when I arrived on Rogers' doorstep in 1963, at the University of Wisconsin, Rogers was off in California. When he finally got back to Wisconsin, and I got a chance to shake his hand, to tell him how pleased I was finally to make his acquaintance personally, I said, "I'm very glad to meet you"; and he looked at me and he said, "I can see that." I mean, in ordinary discourse you exchange greetings: "Well, I'm pleased to meet you, too." But Rogers thought maybe I could use a little bit of therapy.
It works, you know; one tumbles pretty easily into this. We corrupted a whole raft of religious orders on the west coast in the '60s by getting the nuns and priests to talk about their distress.
TLM: Tell us about that. This can be the open confession of Catholic psychologist William Coulson.
COULSON: You don't have the power to absolve me at the end, do you?
Once I got to Wisconsin, I joined Rogers in his study of nondirective psychotherapy with normal people. We had the idea that if it was good for neurotics, it would be good for normals. Well, the normal people of Wisconsin proved how normal they were by opting out as soon as they knew what it was we wanted. Nobody wanted any part of it. So we went to California.
TLM: That would do it.
COULSON: I knew you were going to say that. That was my first mistake, looking for normal people in California. But we found the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the IHMs. They agreed to let us come into their schools and work with their normal faculty, and with their normal students, and influence the development of normal Catholic family life. It was a disaster.
TLM: Now what year are we talking about, roughly?
COULSON: '66 and '67. There's a tragic book called , which documents part of our effect on the IHMs and other orders that engaged in similar experiments in what we called "sensitivity" or "encounter." In a chapter of , one former Immaculate Heart nun describes the summer of 1966, when we did the pilot study in her order-
TLM: "We" being you and Rogers?
COULSON: Rogers and I and eventually 58 others: we had 60 facilitators. We inundated that system with humanistic psychology. We called it Therapy for Normals, TFN. The IHMs had some 60 schools when we started; at the end, they had one. There were some 615 nuns when we began. Within a year after our first interventions, 300 of them were petitioning Rome to get out of their vows. They did not want to be under anyone's authority, except the authority of their imperial inner selves.
TLM: Who's that on the cover of that book ?
COULSON: This is Sister Mary Benjamin, IHM. Sister Mary Benjamin got involved with us in the summer of '66, and became the victim of a lesbian seduction. An older nun in the group, "freeing herself to be more expressive of who she really was internally," decided that she wanted to make love with Sister Mary Benjamin. Well, Sister Mary Benjamin engaged in this; and then she was stricken with guilt, and wondered, to quote from her book, "Was I doing something wrong, was I doing something terrible? I talked to a priest--"
Unfortunately, we had talked to him first. "I talked to a priest," she says, "who refused to pass judgment on my actions. He said it was up to me to decide if they were right or wrong. He opened a door, and I walked through the door, realizing I was on my own."
TLM: This is her liberation?
COULSON: This is her liberation. Now, her parents had not delivered her to the IHMs in order for her to be on her own. She was precious to them. She describes the day in 1962 when they drove her in the station wagon to Montecito, to the IHMs' novitiate. How excited they were, to be delivering someone into God's hands! Well, instead they delivered her into the hands of nondirective psychology.
TLM: But to mitigate your own guilt, Dr. Coulson, psychologists don't know what they are doing when it comes to the inner depth of the human person; and one would think the Catholic Church, with 2,000 years' experience, does know what it is doing. This priest was a co-culprit. Had he nipped this in the bud-but he sounds like Rogers: "Well, it seems to me that perhaps you might perhaps do this or that."
COULSON: "What does it mean to you?" not "What does it mean to me?" Or to God. The priest got confused about his role as a confessor. He thought it was personal, and he consulted himself and said, "I can't pass judgment on you." But that's not what confession is. It is not about the priest as a person, making a decision for the client; rather it's what God says. In fact, God has already judged on this matter. You are quite right to feel guilty about it. "Go thou and sin no more." Instead he said she should decide.
TLM: Okay. Now, why did you choose the IHM order in the first place? Or did they choose you?
COULSON: Well, they hustled us pretty good. They were very progressive to begin with. A shoestring relative of one of Rogers' Wisconsin colleagues was a member of the community. By then we were at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WBSI) in La Jolla, which is a suburb of San Diego; as a Catholic, I was assigned to exploit the connection. I spoke to the California Conference of Major Superiors of Women's Religious Orders, and showed them a film of Carl Rogers doing psychotherapy.
TLM: And Rogers' reputation had already grown.
COULSON: Oh yes. Rogers had a great reputation. He was former president of the American Psychological Association; he won its first Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. And WBSI was also the home of Abraham Maslow, the other great figure in humanistic psychology.
TLM: What do you mean by humanistic psychology?
COULSON: Well, it's also called third-floor psychology. Maslow referred to it as Psychology Three. By that he meant to oppose it to Freud, which is Psychology One, and Skinner and Watson, the behaviorism which is Psychology Two. We Catholics who got involved in it thought this third force would take account of Catholic things. It would take account of the fact that every person is precious, that we are not just corrupted as Freud would have it, or a , which is available to be conditioned in whatever way the behaviorist chooses; but rather we have human potential, and it's glorious because we are the children of a loving Creator who has something marvelous in mind for every one of us.
TLM: That could be very seductive even for Catholics who could reject the other two with a simple wave of the hand. Okay, continue now with the story of the IHMs.
COULSON: As I said, the IHMs were pretty progressive, but some of the leadership was a little bit nervous about the secular psychologist from La Jolla coming in; and so I met with the whole community, some 600 nuns gathered in the Immaculate Heart High School gymnasium, in Hollywood, on an April day in 1967. We've already done the pilot study, we told them. Now we want to get everybody in the system involved in nondirective self-exploration. We call it encounter groups, but if that name doesn't please you, we'll call it something else. We'll call it the person group.
So they went along with us, and they trusted us, and that is partly my responsibility, because they thought, "These people wouldn't hurt us: the project coordinator is a Catholic." Rogers, however, was the principal investigator. He was the brains behind the project, and he was probably anti-Catholic; at the time I didn't recognize it because I probably was, too. We both had a bias against hierarchy. I was flush with Vatican II, and I thought, "I am the Church; I am as Catholic as the Pope. Didn't Pope John XXIII want us to open the windows and let in the fresh air? Here we come!" And we did, and within a year those nuns wanted out of their vows.
TLM: How did you do this-just with lectures?
COULSON: Yes, there were lectures; and we arranged workshops for their school faculty, those who would volunteer. We didn't want to force anybody to do this, which was a symbol of how good we were.
TLM: But at first you had a plenary session of all 600.
COULSON: That was lecture. I told them what we wanted to do, and I showed them a film of an encounter group; and it looked pretty holy. The people in that film seemed to be better people at the end of the session than they were when they began. They were more open with one another, they were less deceitful, they didn't hide their judgments from one another; if they didn't like one another they were inclined to say so; and if they were attracted to one another they were inclined to say that, too.
Rogers and I did a tape for Bell and Howell summarizing that project; and I talked about some of the short-term effects and said that when people do what they deeply want to do, it isn't immoral. Well, we hadn't waited long enough. The lesbian nuns' book, for example, hadn't come out yet; and we hadn't gotten the reports of seductions in psychotherapy, which became virtually routine in California. We had trained people who didn't have Rogers' innate discipline from his own fundamentalist Protestant background, people who thought that being themselves meant unleashing libido.
Maslow did warn us about this. Maslow believed in evil, and we didn't. He said our problem was our total confusion about evil. (This is quoting from Maslow's journals, which came out too late to stop us. His journals came out in '79, and we had done our damage by then.) Maslow said there was danger in our thinking and acting as if their were no paranoids or psychopaths or SOBs in the world to mess things up.
We created a miniature utopian society, the encounter group. As long as Rogers and those who feared Rogers' judgment were present it was okay, because nobody fooled around in the presence of Carl Rogers. He kept people in line; he was a moral force. People did in fact consult their consciences, and it looked like good things were happening.
TLM: But once you had those 600 nuns broken down into their encounter groups, how long did it take for the damage to set in?
COULSON: Well, in the summer of '67 the IHMs were having their chapter. They had been called, as all religious orders were, to reevaluate their mode of living, and to bring it more in line with the charisms of their founder. So they were ready for us. They were ready for an intensive look at themselves with the help of humanistic psychologists. We overcame their traditions, we overcame their faith. Bud Kaiser, Father Elwood Kaiser, a Paulist priest, producer of "Insight," I think you may know him-
TLM: Enough said.
COULSON: Okay. He wrote a book last year called . He's got a chapter in there about his romantic involvement with one of our nuns, with one of the IHMs. Father Kaiser explains that as "Genevieve," as he calls her, got in the spirit of Rogerian nondirective encounter, she propositioned him sexually. He refused her, because he didn't see how he could have something going with her and still be a good priest; but she got sexually involved with her Rogerian therapist. We were referring the nuns who opened up too much in our encounter groups to therapists who were on the periphery.
TLM: At least this was a male therapist.
COULSON: He got her involved in sex games, in therapy. Rogers didn't get people involved in sex games, but he couldn't prevent his followers from doing it, because all he could say was, "Well, I don't do that." Then his followers would say, "Well, of course you don't do that, because you grew up in an earlier era; but we do, and it's marvelous: you have set us free to be ourselves and not carbon copies of you."
TLM: Marvelous, indeed. How many years did it take to destroy this Immaculate Heart order?
COULSON: It took about a year and a half.
TLM: Of the 615, how many are left?
COULSON: There are the retired nuns, who are living in the mother house in Hollywood; there is a small group of radical feminists, who run a center for feminist theology in a storefront in Hollywood-
TLM: They're hardly survivors.
COULSON: No, they're not a canonical group.
TLM: But the order as a whole, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which ran all those schools?
COULSON: There are a few of them in Wichita whom I visited recently, who are going to make a go of it as traditional teaching nuns; and there are a few doing the same in Beverly Hills. There may be a couple of dozen left all together, apart from whom, , they're gone.
TLM: And the college campus-
COULSON: The college campus was sold. There is no more Immaculate Heart College. It doesn't exist. It's ceased to function, because of our good offices. One mother pulled her daughter out before it closed, saying, "Listen, she can lose her faith for free at the state college."
Our grant had been for three years, but we called off the study after two, because we were alarmed about the results. We thought we could make the IHMs better than they were; and we destroyed them.
TLM: Did you do this kind of program anywhere else?
COULSON: We did similar programs for the Jesuits, for the Franciscans, for the Sisters of Providence, of Charity, and the Mercy Sisters. We did dozens of Catholic religious organizations, because as you recall, in the excitement following Vatican II, everybody wanted to update, everybody wanted to renew; and we offered a way for people to renew, without having to bother to study. We said, we'll help you look within. After all, is not God in your heart? Is it not sufficient to be yourself, and wouldn't that make you a good Catholic? And if it doesn't, then perhaps you shouldn't have been a Catholic in the first place. Well, after a while there weren't many Catholics left.
TLM: Now, you mentioned that the religious orders had received a mandate from Vatican II to renew themselves according to the original spirit of their founders, which would have been wonderful.
TLM: For example, the original spirit of the Jesuits was Saint Ignatius Loyola...
COULSON: That's right. Speaking of Saint Ignatius, I brought with me a letter that Carl Rogers got, after we did a workshop at a Jesuit university in the summer of '65. One of the young Jesuits, just about to be ordained, wrote as follows about being with Rogers at an encounter group for five days: "It seemed like a beautiful birth to a new existence. It was as if so many of the things that I valued in word, were now becoming true for me in fact. It is extremely difficult to describe the experience. I had not known how unaware I was of my deepest feelings, nor how valuable they might be to other people. Only when I began to express what was rising somewhere deep within the center of me, and saw the tears in the eyes of the other group members because I was saying something so true for them, too-only then did I begin to really feel that I was deeply a part of the human race. Never in my life before that group experience, had I experienced so intently; and then to have that < so confirmed and loved by the group, who by this time were sensitive and reacting to my phoniness, was like receiving a gift that I could never-"
TLM: "Reacting to my phoniness"?
COULSON: "My phoniness." But what is his phoniness? Well, his phoniness is among other things his Catholic doctrine. Because if you look within yourself, and you find the Creed, for example, you can imagine someone saying, "Oh, you're just being a mama's boy, aren't you? You're just doing what you were taught to do; I want to hear from the you."
The proof of authenticity on the humanistic psychology model is to go against what you were trained to be, to call all of that phoniness, and to say what is deepest within you. What's deepest within you, however, are certain unrequited longings, including sexual longings. We provoked an epidemic of sexual misconduct among clergy and therapists-
TLM: And it seemed to be justified by psychology, which is supposed to be a science. Now, the documents of Vatican II are never read, but they include beautiful and profound things. One can also find very naive things, including the statement that theology should profit from the insights of contemporary social science. I don't know which document that was, but it gave you people .
COULSON: That's right. I'll tell you what Rogers came to see, and he came to see it pretty quickly, because he really loved those women. They were a wonderful order, unconventional in the best sense, for example going around in their old habits playing Mozart for Catholic school kids; and that doesn't exist any more.
Rogers came to call it, "this damned thing." I'm going to quote him in a tape that he and I made in '76: "I left there feeling, Well, I started this damned thing, and look where it's taking us; I don't even know where it's taking me. I don't have any idea what's going to happen next. And I woke up the next morning feeling so depressed, that I could hardly stand it. And then I realized what was wrong. Yes, I started this thing, and now look where it's carrying us. Where is it going to carry us? And did I start something that is in some fundamental way mistaken, and will lead us off into paths that we will regret?"
TLM: That's a credit to him, that he at least had pangs of conscience; whereas these other orders, like the Jesuits, even when they saw that the IHMs were almost extinct, nevertheless they invited the same team in.
COULSON: Oh, yes. Well, actually we started with the Jesuits before we started with the nuns. We did our first Jesuit workshop in '65. Rogers got two honorary doctorates from Jesuit universities. They thought we were saviors. I don't know whether you remember, but in '67 the Jesuits had a big conference at Santa Clara, and there was a lot of talk about the "Third Way" among the Jesuits.
TLM: You were involved with that, too? It had to do with lifestyle.
COULSON: Yes, lifestyle. We did not consult directly on that conference, but we were cheerleaders.
TLM: What is this Third Way?
COULSON: The first two ways are faithful marriage and faithful celibacy. But now there was this more humane way, a more human way-all too human as I see it today. The idea was that priests could date. One priest, for example, defined his celibacy for me as, "It means I don't have to marry the girl."
TLM: Only a Jesuit could have said that.
COULSON: As a matter of fact that wasn't a Jesuit. I think the Jesuits are capable of bouncing back because they had such strong traditions of their own, and God willing they will. A good book to read on this whole question is Fr. Joseph Becker's . It reviews the collapse of Jesuit training between 1965 and 1975. Jesuit formation virtually fell apart; and Father Becker knows the influence of the Rogerians pretty well. He cites a number of Jesuit novice masters who claimed that the authority for what they did-and didn't do-was Carl Rogers.
Later on when the Jesuits gave Rogers those honorary doctorates, I think that they wanted to credit him with his influence on the Jesuit way of life.
TLM: But do you think there were any short-term beneficial effects? Did it seem as if you were getting somewhere in the good sense?
COULSON: Well, priests and nuns became more available to the people that they worked with; they were less remote.....
But we didn't have a doctrine of evil. As I've said, Maslow saw that we failed to understand the reality of evil in human life. When we implied to people that they could trust their impulses, they also understood us to mean that they could trust their evil impulses, that they weren't really evil.
But-they were really evil. This hit home again for Rogers in the 1970s, when rumors began to circulate about a group that had spun off from ours. By then we had become the Center for Studies of the Person in La Jolla, having spun off from WBSI; and at the same time there spun off another group called the Center for Feeling Therapy in Hollywood. Well, charges were brought against the guys at the Center for Feeling Therapy-one of three founders of that, by the way, being a Jesuit who had left the order-and among the things that the State of California was perceptive enough to charge them with was killing babies. Eleven times, women who became pregnant while they were in the compound, the Center for Feeling Therapy, were forced to abort their babies. The State of California charged them with this crime-
TLM: Was this before , then?
COULSON: No, this happened after , but the State Medical Board held that it was unethical for those men to force the women to have abortions, because those woman wanted their babies.
TLM: And this is a result of psychological feeling therapy?
COULSON: Yes. The idea behind it is that you can't really listen to yourself, if you hear the baby cry. If the baby needs to be fed, or you find yourself being distracted with what the baby is doing, you're not going to be able to deal with yourself.
Humanistic psychotherapy, the kind that has virtually taken over the Church in America, and dominates so many forms of aberrant education like sex education, and drug education, holds that the most important source of authority is within you, that you must listen to yourself. Well, if you have a baby you're carrying under your heart, get rid of it. Women who came into the Center for Feeling Therapy with children were forced to put them up for adoption. The only person who was allowed to have a baby, in an eerie preview of David Koresh, was the principal founder of the institution. All the other babies were killed, or sent away, in the name of getting in touch with the imperial self.
TLM: Did Rogers write the book, ?
COULSON: . Later there was a book of Catholic sex education called , which translates Rogers' insights on the importance of being yourself into the Catholic sexual setting.
TLM: So you're not a person unless you're yourself?
COULSON: That's right. And if we were angels, maybe it would be okay; if there were not original sin, maybe it would be okay. Maslow did see this: Abe Maslow, a self- proclaimed happy atheist, but a Jew who understood evil because Hitler had tried to destroy his people. Maslow warned us not to do our study on the west coast, because he had tried Rogerian encounterish things with his students at Brandeis, and they had promptly become unteachable. Maslow wrote in his journal, "My students have lost the traditional Jewish respect for learning, for knowledge and for teachers."
He also saw it as the destruction of professions. He said you cannot become a chemist, or a doctor, or even a plumber, in an encounter group. You have to be . Well, it destroyed profession in another sense: it destroyed Catholic religious profession, just as it would destroy the practice of medicine if medicine took seriously the idea that all the answers are within the students; so, too, did it destroy the vows of the nuns. There were many priests who didn't even bother to get laicized. They just left, saying, "My vows don't count for anything, because they came from somewhere else; they didn't come from within."
TLM: You know, sex education launched me on my own speaking career. I was living in the woods, near a Catholic school, a Catholic church; and my wife and I thought we'd live happily ever after till sex ed came into the Catholic school. What's your experience with it?
COULSON: We pulled our kids out of the Catholic schools when they began to be corrupted.
TLM: Even while you were still a Rogerian psychologist?
COULSON: Yes, Jeannie had common sense all the while-
TLM: Your wife?
COULSON: My wife. Now, I'm not saying we did the best thing for our kids; but at least we were properly alarmed early on. It wasn't so much that it was there yet, as that we saw it coming. The kids would get an experiential education if they stayed in that setting; they would not get a Catholic education.
TLM: --in religion or in morals.
COULSON: Yes. Who carries the day, in experiential education? If you park a group of kids in a circle to talk about their sexual experiences, who's going to have the most interesting stories to tell? The most experienced child.
COULSON: Where is the direction of influence going to run? It's going to run-and the research confirms this again and again-it's going to run from the experienced to the inexperienced. The net outcome of sex education, styled as Rogerian encountering, is more sexual experience.
TLM: You know, one of the time bombs in Vatican II was a single line: "As they advance in years, children should be given a positive and prudent education in sexuality." It in no way said we needed school-based sex ed. But on the basis of that one wretched line, the entire Catholic school system has been inundated with the stuff.
COULSON: One problem is that kids don't have an adult intelligence They used to, because we would lend them ours. We'd lend them our eyes; we'd say, "See the world as we see it, cautiously, cautiously. Hear what we hear, cautiously." But now they are teaching children that they can make wrong right by choosing it, as long as they are sincere in their choice.
TLM: I think many reading this are beginning to understand the ravages done to children by the so-called professionals.
COULSON: Yes. You know, one sign of what happened when humanistic psychology moved into the Catholic religious orders was that priests and nuns became bachelors and bachelorettes. They started thinking about conquest, I'm afraid. One would be well-advised to stay away from a conference of the National Catholic Education Association, where you get the impression that people are on the make. They see themselves now as "whole persons," and they justify their sexualized behavior on the basis of that theory. It was better when we were more repressed-so says the psychologist.
TLM: You don't get invited to these things any more, I'll wager.
COULSON: No, but I used to get invited a lot of places. I spoke to the National Federation of Priests' Councils. In 1970 I spoke to the National Catholic Guidance Conference.
TLM: And you told them they had to be "authentic."
COULSON: Yes, and I'm ashamed of that.
TLM: How would you say Carl Rogers and his followers influenced education in general, and Catholic education in particular?
COULSON: The basic message is that education, classroom education, is a variant on group psychotherapy.
In '69, he did a book called , which has been called the Bible of humanistic education. In it, he says, "I make no apologies for the fact that this chapter is cast in the framework of therapy. To my mind the best of education would produce a person very similar to one produced by the best of psychotherapy." He says he means "...an exploration of increasingly strange and unknown and dangerous feelings in oneself, this exploration proving possible only because the individual gradually realizes that he is accepted unconditionally."
Now, this helps account for a lot of what goes on in Catholic youth retreats these days, and Catholic sex education, where the kids sit in circles, and talk about their feelings. They explore what Rogers honestly characterized as increasingly dangerous feelings.
TLM: And the retreat masters no longer master but rather .
TLM: You know Dr. Paul Vitz; he wrote a book, , which was an attack on the humanistic psychologists.
COULSON: Yes, a very fine book.
TLM: Vitz tells me that there's a lot of soul searching going on now in the profession of psychology; he says they're exhausted. Would you agree with that, that they are at a dead end?
COULSON: Indeed, they've had to turn to New Age psychologies. You remember Maslow coined the term "the third force" for humanistic psychology. But Maslow quickly came to see that there was something on the horizon which he called the fourth force. It has since come to be known as transpersonal psychology. It's the fastest growing field of psychology; but it is primarily New Ageism, because it doesn't want to endorse traditional religious faith. It is psychology trying to be religion, because it understands that humanistic orientation is inadequate.
TLM: The title of Vitz's book suggests that humanistic psychology sometimes acts like a religion, or even is one in some sense. Did Maslow go that far in his criticism, and in what sense do you think it's true?
COULSON: Well, Maslow wrote a book in '64, , in which he offered the Hollywood kind of thing (although he didn't refer to it that way) as a better religion. Even toward the end of his life, he wrote in his journals, "They're not religious enough for me," referring to what he called the priests and ministers. Maslow in his atheism believed that he was more religious than the people of the institutional religions. Rogers put it this way: "I'm too religious to have a religion," by which I think he meant, "I'm more religious than you are because I don't go to church, I don't feel obliged, I don't follow a creed, I make my own."
TLM: Can you unpack that? What they mean by religion?
COULSON: Their religion was sort of Tillichian: the courage to , the importance of taking risks, the importance of inventiveness. I think the fact that Maslow was a Jew enabled him to see some of of tribe. He had a people whom he knew were being hurt by this, and as an elder of the tribe he had an obligation not to allow it to continue. Rogers had no such sense. Rogerians have no tribe, except for everybody; and everybody is too large to give any sense of definition, of limit.
TLM: And from your own point of view?
COULSON: It was my Catholic faith that finally caught up with me.
TLM: Vitz has suggested that we ought to add or integrate old-fashioned values like duty and honor and responsibility into psychology. Is this practical? Or are they by nature kind of antithetical thought processes?
COULSON: Psychology today is predominantly therapeutic psychology; and in that sense they're antithetical, because in therapy, you don't ever want to tell a person how they should be, particularly in the moral dimension, or they will never reveal to you how bad things are from that perspective.
I have no doubt, because Paul is a very bright and able and moral person, that he could do what he is suggesting needs to be done, and that is to integrate traditional moral concepts with therapy. But I see therapy as being fundamentally opposed to the civilized life. It's a little bit like asking a competent pianist what he's doing with his fingers. In the course of the answer the music stops, because he what he's doing with his fingers.
And in order to analyze it, the music has to stop. If civilization is a kind of music, it stops when everybody gets therapy. Unfortunately we assume now that everybody needs to get therapy. Even Maslow said so, in a 1968 interview for . It was surprising that that late in his career he was still saying things like that, because when you look at his journals he didn't believe it. He understood what a destructive suggestion it was.
TLM: I quite see what you mean about stopping the music, but why is that not also an objection to the traditional Catholic examination of conscience, confession, and advice from a good spiritual director?
COULSON: Well, because this examination of conscience is done with a constant reference to what we know is right. It is not something yet to be invented, but something that has been known for almost 2,000 years. The examination is guided by what I call Catholic equipment. The list that I used to consult as a young Catholic in the '50s told me in advance what I should be looking for. I knew venial and mortal sins inside and out, not because I had discovered this knowledge within my own experience, but because it was provided for me by the Church, which had my best interests at heart.
COULSON: Therefore I could yield to this external knowledge. Today's young Catholics don't have the advantage of having learned how to work the equipment. They don't know how to pray the rosary. If they went to a Latin Mass they wouldn't know how to turn the pages in the missal. They don't understand that lists of mortal and venial sins are serious, and not to be made fun of.
TLM: Is there an assumption in humanistic psychology, a modernist, Teilhardish kind of assumption, that human nature has altered, and therefore old values, old models, don't apply?
COULSON: I don't think that humanistic psychology assumes any alteration of human nature, but rather John Dewey's idea that because we live in times of rapid social change, what we've always done is precisely what we should no longer do.
COULSON: Now the odd thing is, we've been living in terms of Dewey's theory for almost a hundred years now. We're living in Dewey's past, and not in our own present. That's what makes a movement like Roger McCaffrey's and Bill Marra's so progressive: it doesn't pretend that the last fifty years have worked out very well.
This article appeared in Vol. 3, No. 1, January-February 1994 issue of "The Latin Mass."