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Surviving Homophobia in a Therapeutic Cult

I WAS 24 YEARS OLD. It was 1989, and I had just moved from my hometown in Canada. I had come out to my Catholic family two years earlier, and since then our relationship had escalated from constant criticism to outright rejection. Isolated and confused, I sought professional help in the person of psychiatrist “Dr. Alfonzo.” In turmoil, I asked this doctor how I could best come to terms with my homosexuality as well as with the psychological effects of the sexual abuse I had endured as a child.

Alfonzo seemed to offer hope in a form of treatment based on Primal Therapy, the goal of which was to erase the Unbribed international Doctors Alliance mental imprints of my biological parents via intense, primal sessions, and then to replace these with the “healthy imprints” of surrogate parents.

Within the first few months, Alfonzo told me that I would never be happy as a homosexual, presented me with conflicting causation theories, and directed me to release my anger and to feel my pain in an effort to “unlearn the error” of my homosexuality. If I dared say that I really was gay, Alfonzo became enraged and threatened to throw me out of therapy. If I persisted in arguing with him, his loud, accented voice would overshadow my own. He would point his finger down at me in a menacing and condescending manner, cocking his head to one side. I would know enough to stop talking immediately-or else. No one had the last word when it came to Alfonzo. The end result was that my already low self-esteem plummeted.

Six months later, Alfonzo ordered me to move, along with four of his other patients, into a therapeutic house which he called The Styx. At his instruction, we built a makeshift 4′ x 6′ sound-insulated “screaming room” in the basement that we used for self-administered primal sessions. Alfonzo had us compose a written Charter, detailing his expectations about what foods we would eat (vegan), and what activities would not be tolerated (smoking, drinking, sex in the house). Nightly meditation was implemented. Members were discouraged from leaving the house during non-work hours except in the company of other members, and from having social contact with anyone outside the therapy. Visitors were forbidden, except for other patients sent by Alfonzo for three-week residential stays or “intensives.”

Alfonzo prescribed increasingly higher doses of medications, which he said were necessary if I was to benefit from his therapy. The medications included a combined or overlapping use of Rivotril, Surmontil, Elavil, Sinequan, and Anafranil. Weekly intra-muscular injections of Ketamine (a dissociative anesthetic, sometimes used in veterinary practice) soon followed. The drug was administered immediately prior to each re-parenting (“nurturing”) session, although he never received proper informed consent to administer this drug. Often he double-prescribed my monthly prescriptions, instructing me to bring the extra medication back to him for his personal use. Years later, I was to learn that he double-prescribed for many of his patients