EAST SIDE INSTITUTE
FOR SHORT TERM PSYCHOTHERAPY
HUGH POLK, M.D.
500 GREENWICH STREET
NEW YORK, NY 10013
TEL: (212) 941-8906
June 20, 1995
FAX: (212) 941-8340
Summary of the Psychiatric Evaluation of the Family
At the request of the Family, staff members of the East Side Institute for Short Term Psychotherapy, an independent therapy, training and education center in New York City, conducted a 4-day psychiatric evaluation of children and adults living in three Family communal households in the Washington D.C. area and New Jersey. The three staff members were Hugh Polk. M.D., a psychiatrist, Director of the East Side Institute and Medical Director of the East Side Center for Social Therapy and of the Glendale Mental Health Clinic, a community mental health center in Queens, N.Y. for the past 12 years; Bette Braun, C.S.W., the Clinical Director of the East Side Center for Social Therapy and its affiliate centers around the country in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. She has had a private practice in New York City for nearly 20 years, currently seeing 125 patients per week, both adults, families and children. Barbara Silverman, C. S.W., is a staff therapist at the East Side Center, and is the mental health coordinator for Brooklyn Hospital's School-based Health Clinics, where she treats hundreds of adolescents each week in therapy groups. All of the evaluators have a long history working with adults, parents, families and children.
Since the accusations against the Family have been that it is a "cult," practicing mind control and brainwashing, and mentally, physically and sexually abusing their children, we decided to evaluate adults and children of the Family outside of their home environments, in a setting outside of their control. We created a structure for the evaluation which was designed to be challenging and demanding, and thus provide an opportunity to work with and observe the Family children and adults under stressful and difficult, though supportive, conditions. We evaluated them working and interacting with a variety of people, both adults, children and professionals they did not know. And in situations which were rather unstructured, so that their capacity to work together in creating activities would be fully tested.
The Family sent a representative grouping of adults and children--four adults, one young adult age 22, who had grown up and lived his whole life in the Family, and seven children--to New York to participate for two full days in activities at the Barbara Taylor School, the laboratory elementary school run by the East Side Institute, and at the East Side Center, our therapy center.
We arranged for the Family members to visit and spend a half-day at the Barbara Taylor School. This provided us with the opportunity to observe Family members interacting with people they did not know in an unfamiliar setting. The Barbara Taylor School presents some interesting contrasts to what the Family members are used to. Whereas their home schooling program is conducted in- house with children and adults the children know well and live with, the Barbara Taylor School student body is multiracial multicultural and composed primarily of "inner-city" children. The Family's home schooling program is @ structured and traditional in its curriculum and its teaching methods. In contrast the Barbara Taylor School is "unstructured" in that boys and girls ages 4 - 14 work together with adults--teachers, parents, and other visitors--to continuously create the learning activities. At the BTS, a Vygotskian school all the children work together in one large room, and there are no periods, separate subjects or pre-set curriculum to structure the school day. Thus, the BTS provided an environment which is qualitatively different from the kind of environment the Family children and adults are familiar with, not simply a similar environment in a different physical location.
The second part of the evaluation was conducted at the offices of the East Side Institute and the East Side Center where they spent a day and a half All of the Family members participated in a social therapy group led by Braun, Silverman and Polk. Separate social therapy groups were then held for the adults alone, led by Braun and Polk; a social therapy group for the children alone led by Silverman; a performance group for the adults and children together, led by Polk and Silverman; and individual therapy evaluations conducted by Braun, Silverman, and Polk.
The social therapeutic approach demands that the patients work together with the therapists to create the environment where they can get help with their emotional problems. As such, it is a demanding work assignment. This enabled us to evaluate how well they perform with people they don't know in new and, and therefore somewhat stressful conditions. We had the opportunity to get to know them, their emotional and mental health and their level of emotional and social development.
The third part of the evaluation consisted of an on-site visit for one full day at the Family home in Wheaton, Maryland where 35 children and 10 adults (some of whom had participated in the New York part of the evaluation described above) live, and one full day at the Family home in Silver Spring, Maryland, where approximately 20 young people (mostly 17-23 year-olds who have grown up and lived their entire lives in the Family) and 8 adults live.
All in all, we spent four full days observing the Family members engaging in a variety of activities, both therapeutic and non-therapeutic, in some unfamiliar environments, as well as their home environment, interacting with people of all ages, both known and unknown to them.
Summary and Conclusions
In all the settings where the adults and children worked together, they did so with mutual respect, caring and cooperation. They listened attentively to what each other said, and responded directly and coherently. The adults were very respectful toward the children, listened carefully to what they said, and were responsive to their replies. They were supportive of the children's cultural performances, responding enthusiastically to whatever the children were able to do. They were not critical, inpatient or judgmental There was no trace of anger or harsh disciplining of the children. In all the settings we observed them in, they consistently responded to the children in nurturing ways.
The children were clean, neatly dressed and well groomed. They were healthy, active, polite, friendly and respectful to the Family adults, to each other and to the other people they interacted with in the course of the four days of the evaluation. The children were clearly happy, well-adjusted children. They interacted freely and easily among themselves and with the people they did not know, talking easily, laughing a lot, and being open and playful.
In all cases, the children's social skills were more highly developed than the norm for children of their ages. They are highly developed in their capacity to work together. They were able to listen attentively to each other and to other people, and to respond directly, clearly and coherently. They have a high level of skill at being able to work as members of a team, cooperating with other team members. They were unusually mature in not having to "have their own way," and in being able to follow the lead of others in-group activities. They did not pout, sulk, withdraw or have temper tantrums when things did not go their way. They also showed an unusually high capacity for working with adults in a cooperative and constructive manner. They did not rebel talk back, or try to subvert the adults' instructions or leadership. They showed no fear of or excessive deference to adults--they were simply able to work effectively with them.
Emotionally, the children were open, expressive and highly developed in their capacity to be emotional. They were not repressed. They are unusually happy children, and were able to express their happiness and joy through talking, laughing, performing and appropriate physical contact with each other and with the adults of the Family. They were also able to deal in a highly developed manner with the anxiety of new situations by sharing it openly with each other and the Family adults through eye contact, laughter and talking about it. It was clear to us through observing this that there is a great deal of trust among the children and between the adults and the children.
Cognitively, the children are functioning at higher than age-appropriate levels. They are bright, curious, able to express and convey what they know, are clear thinking, articulate and have excellent verbal skills. At the Barbara Taylor school they were able to teach younger children with a high degree of skill.
The adults were clean, neatly dressed, and well groomed. They were friendly, polite, respectful open, engaging and personable. All of them had a good sense of humor, and laughed frequently. They were intelligent, very responsive and attentive in conversation, articulate and verbally expressive. They were self-confident, not overly deferential and not at all overbearing. They were not shy or withdrawn. They had highly developed social skills and were able to engage easily and in a relaxed miner in social interaction with people they knew well and with people who were new to them. They were flexible, non-dogmatic, and responsive to and interested in others, and in different points of view. They were open and talked easily about themselves, their histories and experiences, when asked. They were not self-centered or moody, and had excellent skills at listening to and responding supportively to others, be it there own children, or other adults and children.
Based on these findings, we conclude that the Family has created an exceedingly nurturing and developmental environment in their homes for the raising of children. We observed this in our two days of visiting the Family in their homes in the Washington., D.C. area, and we observed the results of this in seeing how the Family adults and children function in the world when they are outside their home environments. Each of the evaluators has a long history seeing and treating abusive families and adults, and abused children. The Family adults are not abusing adults and the Family children are not abused children. In fact, both the adults and the children are highly developed, high-functioning, happy and productive people who have created an environment which supports the development of both the adults and children.
H Polk, M.D.
Psychiatrist and Director