On a Monday night last month in Marblehead, nearly 60 people - mostly women - went searching for love in a pearl-colored conference room at the public library. They saw the calendar listing in local newspapers. Dr. Peter Gill would give a free lecture on the methods for achieving healthy love relationships.
"Love is the expectation of being given goodies," says the 74-year-old Gill, looking like a rumpled professor clad in a turtleneck and brown suede jacket. People giggle. The brave cathartic about past lovers. Gill pitches the need for therapy repeatedly over the course of an hour. The doctor impresses lecture-goers with his curriculum vitae. He worked for the Newton public schools from 1955 to 1964 as a school psychologist. He held group-therapy sessions at Walpole State Prison (now Cedar Junction). He counseled alcoholics at Mass General Hospital.
The resume also trumpets Gill's lineage. He's from good stock. Bloodlines course back to Benjamin Franklin. His penologist father, Howard Gill, helped found Norfolk Prison. And Gill's Harvard-educated siblings are among Boston's foremost in the field of mental health. Peter Gill - who received a bachelor's degree from Harvard, and finished his master's and doctor's degrees in psychology at Boston University after a fight with Harvard clinical psychology program director who told him not to reapply - is the self-described black sheep.
"My relationship with siblings is cordial," he will later explain, "but we don't talk business." Gill is an avant-gardist, a self-professed pioneer with a hubristic glow. Followers describe him as a brilliant, compassionate and misunderstood by the mainstream. His critics say Gill is manipulative, egomaniacal and proof-positive that Massachusetts needs a licensing board to regulate psychotherapists.
He's a sick, sick man," says 42-year-old [Ms. K.], a former patient who filed a $1.5 million malpractice suit against Gill in 1988. "He repeatedly told me to break off relations with family and friends, and drop out of Harvard. He works to isolate people from their social circles - that was my experience with him - and he succeeded to a great degree. It's all about power. He leaves a lot of damage in his wake."
Then, as now, Gill calls it a witch hunt. At the lecture, Marblehead's Paul Goldberg introduces his mentor as the founder of the Cambridge Psychotherapy Institute. Gill is the creator of the Society of Natural Science - what Gill refers to as a "scientific religion." What neither Goldberg, a senior member of the Institute, nor Gill mentions, but what critics claim is that Gill trains people to become therapists who embrace his religious beliefs. Gill's listed as a minister in Marblehead's book of residents. His students spread Society beliefs by way of therapy sessions with clients.
Monday night's lecture was all about seduction, warn Gill's critics, and the seduced, they say - those who scribble their names and telephone numbers on a sign-up sheet - are being drawn into a mind-controlling, psychotherapy cult.
"I find it offensive and deceptive that he didn't mention his religion," says Boston's Steve Hassan [Warning: Steve Hassan is not recommended by this Web site. Read the detailed disclaimer to understand why.], author of "Combating Cult Mind Control," after being told of the lecture's contents. "Any legitimate organization should be up front about who they are and what the believe. You violate someone's free will if you deceive them - if you withhold information."
To do so, Gill will later say, would be to scare people away. "Should you tell a patient everything you know on first blush, or do you take things gradually?" he asks. "If you're honest and open, and they see you don't believe in God and they do, they get up and quit. I'm not deceptive if people ask me what my religious beliefs are. I tell them I belong to a scientific religion."
In the library, the doctor draws Gill's "Love Equation, -- L = SV3," on a chalkboard. " 'L' stands for love, he explains. 'S' stands for one's estimate of the strength of that person. 'V' stands for valence, or one's estimate of the degree of that other person's positive disposition toward one." At night's end, lecture-goers will receive two handouts: Gill's copyrighted formula for love, and a letter that begins "Dear Potential Psychotherapy Candidate." It's a how-to guide to selecting a good therapist. Gill will later concede to advertising.
Others say the doctor is recruiting. "The way recruits are brought in, is to do free programs to catch people's attention and shift them along a conveyer belt," says Hassan, speaking on cults in general. "I've known about CPI for 10 years," he adds. "Families have called me saying they've been cut off because their loved ones got into therapy with Gill and were encouraged to drop contact with family members. This is a standard technique of destructive cults. His lawsuits and the complaints against him need to be exposed."
Marblehead's Barbara Alex, a 10-year member of Cambridge Psychotherapy Institute, calls the charge that CPI breaks up families a big distortion. "I don't discourage people from talking to spouses and family about therapy," she explains. "But if it always ends in a fight when brought up, it might not make sense to do so. Isn't that true of any volatile issue?" Alex will later say that family and friends can't help her patients because they're not trained. They don't understand "transference," she says. "And they don't understand the duality of your psyche - the big one and little one - your neurosis.
Gill chortles that lawyers would make mincemeat of Hussein. "Any accusations that CPI is a 'cult," or its individual members are 'cultists' are false," writes Paul Gillian, an attorney retained by CPI and former chairman of the Mass Board of Registration in Medicine. He warns that Hassan's accusations are "reckless."
"In a cult, people are spirited away from their homes, not let out of the context of the cult, and one guy gets all their money," argues attorney Gordon Oriole, whose wife is a Cambridge Psychotherapy Institute member. "That's not what the Institute is about. No one is isolated. People live at home, have jobs and some are therapists. They don't give (Gill) a cut of their pay."
Hassan is a licensed mental health counselor. He's also a former member of the Unification Church - a "Moony." Recruited while a student at queens College, Hassan, in turn, spent 27 months recruiting and indoctrinating new members. Today he's cashing in, helping the brain-washed come clean. One of the lawsuits Hassan speaks of rests uneasily in a thick, dog-eared folder in Middles Superior Court. Seeking to recover alleged damages, [Ms. K.] charged Gill in 1988 with negligent treatment - including sexual contact - while she was his patient.
Her allegations included: infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, and breach of contract. As an 11-year-old girl, [Ms. K.] began seeing Gill - then a school psychologist in Newton - for treatment because of bedwetting and disruptive behavior, according to court papers. The troubled kid from a mooned family continued counseling with Gill at his private practice until she turned 17.
As an adult, [Ms. K.] returned to Gill for counseling at his Chestnut Hill office, paying $90 an hour in cash. During that time, says [Ms. K.], he increasingly violated boundaries that culminated in sexual assault and battery in May, 1988. "It began with a kiss on the cheek, a little hug and therapy lasting longer than an hour," she says in a telephone interview from California. Eventually, "he initiated sexual activity, which was absolutely against my will. I was under his control. He told me he loved me."
According to court records, [Ms. K.] alleges that she climbed onto her therapist's lap, where he fondled her. As a result, [Ms. K.] said she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. "I was brainwashed," says [Ms. K.], when asked why she continued seeing Gill. "I want it to be clear who was victimized here. I was a 35-year-old professional woman with a full life."
Gill vehemently denied the allegations. Twice he tried to have case records impounded. Koran's lawyer pitched the public's right to know. The request to impound was denied. Gill defended himself by relying on their therapy sessions. In his court papers, the doctor pointed out Koran's alleged history of fantasizing sexual relations with authority figures. Gill further stated that [Ms. K.] propositioned him, and when he rejected her advances, she retaliated with a lawsuit. Moreover, he said [Ms. K.] suffered from "a border-line personality disorder," and had taken up the role of a "professional victim."
It's a common defense, says Nancy Avery, founder of BASTA (Boston associates to Stop Treatment Abuse) and Koran's subsequent treating therapist. "I absolutely believe her," she says of [Ms. K.]. "I think she's done an outstanding job of being a survivor and overcoming years of bad treatment." After three years of legal wrangling, Gill's insurance company settled with [Ms. K.] for $150,000 in 1992.
Several days after his love lecture, Gill agrees to be interviewed in the basement of his Marblehead home, where he performs individual and group counseling. His office is a wood-paneled, sunken den with red shag carpeting, a horseshoe of couches, and a view of Salem Harbor. Gill serves herbal tea and looks out the bay window, past a big box of "mental floss" that sits on the sill.
Here on Marblehead's west side, Gill lives with his third wife, Sherrill Fair Gill, and a dog named Doodles. Like Gill, Sherrill is a therapist. On the brass nameplate beside the front door bears only the doctor's name. "Peter L. Gill, Ph.D.," partially hidden by a drainpipe. Gill moved from his $1.5 million home in Chestnut Hill to Marblehead in June 1990. Today, his "matchbox of a house in his words - a $604,100 property - is owned by the Gillcrest Realty Trust. Gill's daughter, Dorcas Gray, is the trustee.
Asked about [Ms. K.]'s lawsuit, Gill stiffens. His emotions run close to the surface. Initially, he refuses to discuss the case, accusing [Ms. K.] of violating a gag order by doing so. To write about it is unethical and unchristian, says the doctor, adding in a stentorian voice, "The blood is on your hands."
On another day and in another room, Gill will apologize for his intimidating behavior, explaining that his "little guy" - his neuroses, was all torted up. "I spent a lifetime trying to build people up - many ears with her," he says of [Ms. K.]. "It's just not sensible, or meaningful or proper for me, now, to tear her down." Besides, "how does one defend against the charge of being a witch, or that you have had some sexual contact with a patient?" he asks. "How did the folks up here in Marblehead and Salem defends themselves against being accused of witchcraft? And what were the motives of the people who said that?".
Yet [Ms. K.] isn't the only person to claim Gill abused her. A distraught woman began phoning Marblehead Police Station on New Year's Day in 1991. Police Officer Marion Keating says the caller feared for her safety. On Jan. 25, 1991, Keating accompanied her to Lynn District Court.
Sherrill Fair Gill wanted a restraining order. Her court affidavit states: "By using threats, he has not allowed me to visit my daughter and my mother for Christmas and my mother's birthday. I'm afraid to leave home for fear he will cause physical harm to me on my return. "Because of my fear, I have hired a police officer at my own expense, to stay at my home while I vacate the premises," she continued. Gill "has restricted my ability to visit my children and my parents, and threatened me if I do. Approximately eight months ago, he back-handed me and knocked me against the bed, and said never to aggravate him again, or I might get more than I asked for." Judge Margaret Zaleski issued a restraining order. Five days later, Sherrill and Peter Gill reconciled.
Gill once held license No. 24, allowing him to practice as a psychologist. He voluntarily resigned his license on July 16, 1985, when the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Psychologists began probing complaints lodged by Wallace Ralston, a former patient.
By tearing up his license, Gill argued that the state licensing board had lost its jurisdiction over him. The Board disagreed, and initially refused to accept his resignation. After three years of trying to bring him up on charges, the Board of Registration of psychologists finally dropped its pursuit - with prejudice - and accepted Gill's resignation without any admission of the allegations against him. An administrative magistrate found insufficient facts to adequately support the counts.
Among Ralston's charges were allegations that Gill maintains a "dual relationship" with individuals who are both his patients and practicing therapist members of CPI. Ralston, a former Salem resident, also charged that Gill provided harmful treatment, repeatedly breached patient confidentiality, exerted "undue influence," collected improper fees in violation of state regulations, and was responsible for the break-up of his marriage to Mara Rozitis.
"He does not practice therapy, but rather, teaches a total way of life based on atheism," said Ralston in his complaint, adding, "Peter Gill is truthful only when it serves his intelligent selfish interest." The jilted Ralston simply wanted revenge," Gill responds. Rozitis, who continues to be Gill's patient, agrees. She denies that Gill broke up the marriage saying she gained self-confidence while being treated by him and that her ex-husband couldn't deal with her new-found assertiveness.
"He (Ralston) was a very controlling guy," recalls Rozitis, a psychotherapist and CPI member for nearly 20 years. "If Wally couldn't be the captain of the ship, he was very attacking. When I left him, he was angry. He had to look for a bad guy - a scapegoat. And the bad guy was Peter. Peter doesn't control me," she continues, speaking from her Newton office. "He didn't alienate me from my parents. A lot of what Wally charged is just a bunch of hooey. The (case) was a cheap, tawdry, made-for-TV-type thing."
Ralston also filed a lawsuit of his own. And Gill countered with a defamation suit, which he later dropped. Gill's insurance company settle out of court. Gill says he settled for less than $16,000. The doctor is more vocal about the Ralston case than the [Ms. K.] case. He pokes holes in Ralston's credibility, calling him "a liar." As proof. he turns over a deposition, in which Ralston says he's a 1940 graduate of Natick High School as well as a graduate of the Naval Academy. Check it out, Gill Says.
A Natick High School guidance counselor reveals that Ralston dropped out of Natick High in 1941, as a tenth-grader. And the Naval Academy's alumni staff say no one by the name Wallace Ralston attended. Ralston could not be located for comment.
Estranged from the psychological mainstream, Gill bashes the Mass Board of Registration of Psychologists, accusing its member of exercising regulatory goals unfairly and without due process. "I tried to have a foot in the establishment and a foot in rebel territory," says Gill. "For years it was fine, nobody gave a damn. Then along comes this guy who sued me, and I realized I don't belong in the establishment at all. They don't want me and I don't want them. They don't need me, either. And I don't think I need them."
Gill uses the widely publicized Bean Bayog case as proof that licensure of people in the mental health field doesn't serve to protect the public, as well as proof that the government ruined Bayog's career without affording her due process. Margaret Bean-Bayog, 1 49-year old Boston psychiatrist, surrendered her license to practice medicine in 1992, after being sued by the family of a former patient who committed suicide.. Paul Lozano's family claimed Bayog and their son were sexually intimate, and that Bayog's termination of the relationship made their son suicidal. The case was settled out of court for $1 million.
Gill is disdainful of both the courts and regulatory agencies. He quotes Albert Einstein when speaking of his relationship with the Mass Board of Registration of Psychologists: "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
Having never reinstated his license, Gill - who charges $100 an hour - answer to no one but himself. His lodgings serve as Cambridge Psychotherapy Institute and Society of Natural Science headquarters. Gill registered the Society of Natural Science Society with the Secretary of State's office in 1985. Among its stated purposes, are "To train members to disseminate information on the realities of human nature and conduct, and to alleviate world problems through the ministry of individual health and happiness."
"The society is incorporated and non-profit," says Gill. Yet he hasn't filed for non-profit status with the Internal Revenue Service. Why not? "Well, it's a tricky business," he explains. "You have to go out and raise money. We're not interested in that. We're interested in doing our ant-like work and trying to make a living. We're not a big outfit. We don't have any canning factories or lobster companies or all the things the AARP [American Association of Retired Persons] does. Nobody's going to give us any money any way. so why bother?"
Because Gill hasn't filed for non-profit status with the IRS, Society assets are not public domain. The Secretary of State's Office will disclose only the corporation's officers: Dr. Peter Gill, president; Dr. Peter Gill, treasurer; Sherrill Gill, clerk; and Nicholas Gill (a son), officer.
Meanwhile, CPI is a one-man academe with 55 members - clients, better know as "students" - trained to become therapists. No written tests. No graduation. No diplomas. No staff. Just Gill. and Lifetime membership is encouraged. Among key tenets are: Belief in the scientific methods as the preferred way of understanding he truths of man's existence; and rejection of all concepts of original sin, life after death, heaven and hell. Such concepts, says Gill, are the opiates of the masses.
Again, Steve Hassan is critical "Judaism doesn't believe in original sin either," he says, "and it's been around a lot longer than Gill. Other religious people practice therapy, but they're up front about who they are and what they believe." Hassan also contends that therapy shouldn't be for life, that people should get well. Gill "wants (patients) to join his clique forever," he says. "They never are well enough to get out of therapy. This is the theme of a mind-control group."
And Hassan has like-minded company: "Therapy helps you to figure out how to have satisfying relationships," says Beverly psychologist Sylvia Topp, commenting on therapy in general. "That's the goal - to get you back into relationships in society. So why would you want to continue having one with your therapist?" Gill's response? "This mind-control stuff is pathetic."
His credibility questioned, Gill is asked to name peers - psychologists - who would give him the nod. He furnishes a November 1985 letter to Governor Michael Dukakis from Dr. Louis McGarry. "A number of years ago, my son was in substantial emotional distress," wrote McGarry, defending Gill against a hostile Boston media during the Ralston case. "Knowing Peter Gill both socially and by reputation, I chose him to work with (my son). It was an excellent choice . . . Peter Gill is a skilled therapist, and a man of integrity and honesty.
McGarry died in Great neck, New York, nine days after writing the letter. Is there anyone else, Gill is asked. "Dr. Robert Misch at Beth Israel Hospital," he replies. The call goes out. A hospital spokeswoman intercedes. "Dr. Misch doesn't have direct knowledge of Dr. Gill's work," she says, "and he declines to be interviewed."
Does religion belong on the couch? "Yes," says Gill, "psychotherapy - if thorough - involves religious exploration." And does he practice religious conversion? "We discuss religion to the extent that we try to convince a person the moon really travels around the earth from west to east instead of from east to west," says the minister/psychotherapist. "You could call that conversion. You're converting a person from a belief that isn't true to something that - as far as we know - is true. Everybody's phobias are rooted in erroneous beliefs," Gill adds. "The trouble is, when you talk about religious beliefs with conventional people, you're often talking about a belief in the supernatural - that we're born savage or in sin. These are very important issues for people to get rid of. These are the many lies our culture teaches children."
What's more, members teach patients that "free will is nonexistent. Man's unhappiness and psychological defects are induced chiefly by the adults of his childhood, his basic teachers/programmers. Your parents get all the credit for your intelligence and charm, as well as your shortcomings - such as beating up on me," says Gill, when asked to explain. "Sensibly, you can't punish a kid if he tells a lie. Who made him a liar?."
Critics call his brand of psychotherapy antiquated. Gill says his adherents are "way out in front, which makes us the object of criticism, fear and suspicions." Cambridge Psychotherapy candidates are admitted to a large degree for the following reasons: "Evidence of open-mindedness, willingness to challenge conventional beliefs, and devotion to the pursuit of excellence."
Licensed psychologists are unwelcome because their training has been abysmal, says Gill, adding that conventional training is "non-controversial pabulum." Despite being ensconced in academia, he insists that degrees and licenses are nonessential to the practice of excellent psychotherapy. Other requirements? Individual therapy once a week ($60-$100), group therapy once a week ($20), weekly attendance at Gill-run seminars ($40) as well as $5,600 dues (to be paid over time).
"Sure, it's a lot of money," says Barbara Alex, who charges $70 an hour. "But you're talking about quality of life. Your education and investment in you. Can you put a price tag on your self-esteem?."
Skeptics say the jargon used creates a bond between the patient, his therapist and group-therapy cohorts, and further isolates the patient from his family. "You exchange phone numbers with your group buddies," says an ex-patient, who speaks on condition of anonymity. "I didn't have any friends, and who better could you be friends with? the people outside don't understand. After all, that's who you're having trouble with."
Moreover, he claims, his group had a whipping boy. "This guy took a lot of crap," he says. "He embarrassed easily and appeared to be the scapegoat. The counselor would bait him. She called it the one place where you could get angry. You were encouraged to get angry. And if you said 'This f****** therapy is wacko,' she'd say, 'Good, you're getting it out'."
"At one point, (clients) brought up feelings this was a cult and said they couldn't stomach the phrases" he continues. "The counselor - when it got real heated - would interject, calling it 'the negative side of our ambivalence.' Everyone shut up."
Then, too, the ex-patient's experience wasn't all bad. "I learned not to idolize people - to think they're in a better boat or know more than I do," he explains. "I gained self-confidence, and learned that everybody has baggage." Meanwhile, his family encouraged him to get out. He'd lost his job and wasn't able to afford once-a-week individual and group counseling on his own. More important, he'd alienated himself from his wife. Nine months later, he finally quit therapy. Fortunately, he remains married and is now employed.
"This is pop-culture psychology," says the ex-patient today, stretching out on his own couch. "It's like buying clothes at Kmart. It's crap." Maybe so, but is it hazardous to your mental health? "Those who know the truth about us know we're no threat to anybody - except maybe mediocre minds," says Gill, adding, "there are all kinds of people around town who think I'm a decent guy, a lot more than think I'm a rat."
Who can practice psychotherapy in Massachusetts? Until last January, anyone. That's when Governor Weld signed into law a bill that prevents those unlicensed therapists who are under investigation for alleged sexual offenses from practicing. Today, district attorneys can shut down a mental health professional - a psychologist or psychiatrist - who has lost his license due to sexual abuse and, in turn, hung out a therapist's shingle.
State Rep. Barbara Gardner, (D-Holliston), sponsored the bill. She also wants criminal sanctions against physicians as well as mental health workers who engage in sexual activity with patients, in or outside the office setting. "It's against the Hippocratic oath," says Gardner, who has proposed another bill to that effect. "Fourteen states have criminal statutes. It has had a profound effect."
The bill would apply to former patients of up to one year. The patient's consent to sexual activity cannot be used as a defense. Penalties would range from a five-year sentence to a maximum of 20 years I prison. Also under consideration is legislation that would require licensing therapists, psychotherapists, and marriage and family counselors. currently no academic training - not even a high school diploma - is required to "counsel" in Massachusetts.
Psychiatrists, on the other hand, must be licensed. to do so, they must complete medical school and a three-year residency. any medical doctor, regardless of his specialty, can call himself a psychiatrist. Psychologists must also be licensed. They must complete a doctorate and an internship in psychology, and pass an exam. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists cannot write prescription or admit patients to hospitals.
"Scads and scads of people are doing therapy," says Marblehead's Dr. Peter Gill, a former psychologist who now practices psychotherapy. "It's a wild field. Everyone in it is free to do what he wants." And Gill prefers such untamableness to the land of regulated occupations. He argues against licensing by a state regulatory board.
"Boards are groups that enforce mediocrity," he says. "My experience with my board was such that I tore up my license. They don't understand due process, and if they do, they're not interested in it." Opponents of therapy licensing argue that a license cuts down on competition and encourages standardized pricing. The belief that boards of registration were created to protect the public is a romantic myth, they say. Instead, boards protect the profession against the public interest. "Licensing boards don't regulate," says Gill. "If you read about the sexual misadventures of psychiatrists over the last year or so, you'd know that just because someone has a license, doesn't mean one is going to behave. Degrees and licenses offer no more assurance of quality in therapists than they do in drivers."
Furthermore, Gill doesn't want to adhere to a government-enforced code of ethics, particularly one that regulates the fiduciary relationship between patient and therapist. "The patient and psychologist are not seen as equals," says Gill, about the American Psychological Association's existing code of ethics. "They don't fall in love. It's a caste system. The establishment treats patients as downstairs people." Meanwhile, Dr. Silvia Topp - a Beverly psychologist and American Psychological Association member - supports the need for a licensing board made up of peers.
"One person can't have a set of rules that are just his," she explains. "It's not the way society conducts itself. You need some order. That's why professionals have ethics, and ensure those who don't. Otherwise, patients would be readily abused." Without a regulatory board, what recourse does someone now have against therapy abuse? "Anybody can sue," says Gill, "therapists have to answer to a judge and jury." Yet licensing advocates say it can cost big bucks to sue and costs nothing to complain to a board. Gill's reply? - "Get a lawyer to work on a contingency basis."