"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.