Dr. John Rosen and the Direct Psychoanalytical Institute

I have written several blogs about John Rosen, detailing both his role in the psychoanalytic movement and in promoting the idea of “refrigerator mothers”. More recently, I had the good fortune of interviewing Will, who is now 70 years old, but back in the late 1960’s was a person who knew Dr. Rosen’s practice quite well and even managed several of his therapy houses (treatment centers). This blog details my interview with Will in regards to events that transpired during the downfall of Dr. Rosen from 1968-1970. Will is an assumed name as he preferred to remain anonymous for the purpose of this blog. However, Will reviewed the blog and made the necessary corrections to make it as accurate as possible according to his recollection.

In 1967 Will was a freshman at a Pennsylvania college majoring in Psychology. One morning Will read in the newspaper an ad requesting an assistant to a psychiatrist. The ad made Will curious enough to embark on a one hour ride away from Philadelphia for a job interview. Will arrived for his interview in Gardenville, PA where two houses served as treatment centers for The Direct Psychoanalytic Institute (DPI) of Dr. John Rosen. Both houses appeared austere; one had red shingles and the other green, with little or no landscaping or vegetation. There, Will met a Dr. Charles Sullivan, who was a protégé and confidant of Dr. Rosen’s. The interview went well and 2 days afterwards Will received a telephone call offering him the position. Will would work there 24/7 and received $75 per week, an amount which seemed more than enough considering he had no other expenses. The units also received a $100 food allowance per week. The job started that very same day! Will still remembers vividly that first night, hearing the screams of a female patient threatening to cut Will’s penis off. Will was so alarmed that he moved the dresser to block the door when he went to sleep.

Dr. Rosen was at the treatment centers primarily for meetings with the patient’s parents as they dropped off their loved one. The patients were invariably the rich and famous. Will was sometimes blown away by whom would come through the door. Besides the visiting Dr. Rosen and Dr. Sullivan there were usually two assistants, like himself, for each treatment center. Dr. Sullivan, for the most part, acted on behalf of Dr. Rosen. Although Sullivan represented himself as a Dr; it was later discovered that Sullivan was working on his dissertation, but had never completed his doctorate work. According to Will, Sullivan was a learned man and skilled psychotherapist, who could easily pass himself off as a doctor.

After that first year, Will decided to take 2 years off from college in order to continue, what he thought would be, a great educational opportunity. During Will’s time at the DPI there were 6 or so treatment units in Gardenville and other, close by, locations. In reality Will understood that he was acting as a caretaker, friend and companion to the patients and occasionally provided entertainment by taking them to a movie. Will stated that his services and support were primarily needed during the first couple of weeks after the patients were brought in, when according to instructions from Dr. Rosen, the undergraduate assistants were supposed to immediately dispose of all of the patient’s prescribed medications. This lack of a sensible titration (cold turkey withdrawal) prompted psychotic behaviors in the patients, from days to several weeks, in some cases. Patients underwent a radical, intense and often violent state, during their withdrawal from a combination of drugs which commonly included Valium, Lithium, Thorazine, Stelazine, etc. The sudden withdrawal from Valium, it was later discovered, risked having life threatening seizures, although no seizures were ever witnessed by Will. According to Will, suddenly cutting off their medications in that way produced a temporary “raw insanity” from the patients that inadvertently proved to be a small window to their mental problems. However, in other cases their sudden drug withdrawal prompted hallucinations and screaming for which many of them had to be restrained.

Not surprisingly, some patients would manage to run away, disappearing until days later when their parents would call Dr. Rosen saying that they had somehow returned home; often traveling long distances from the treatment center. Dr. Sullivan would have Will along with other assistants, take a hired plane and fly to the nearest airport to the patient from where they would take a limo to the patient’s home residence. There, always in the middle of the night, they would overpower the sleeping patient, place him in a straitjacket and bring him back to the institute. They did this 3 times for 3 different patients. Will said this was a very scary experience, for the patient and for them. He questioned to himself, the legality of forcibly picking up patients and crossing state lines.

Will described Dr. Rosen as a man in his 60’s who was somewhat overweight and short of stature. He was an aggressive and accusative individual who rarely had anything nurturing to say. He came off as a tyrant. If he thought he could read you, he would immediately attack your weaknesses. The fitting expression would be going after the jugular. When first meeting Will, who was thin and had shoulder length hair at the time, Rosen remarked that “they should have listened to me in New York when I told them that all men wanted to be women.” Will said that the remark was meant to disarm him, but had the effect of convincing him that Rosen had apparent hang-ups about his own physical attributes. Seemingly in-keeping with his acerbic personality Rosen enjoyed the use of verbal “shock therapy” although the technique would tend to alienate his assistants and, usually, the patients as well.

While half of the “assistant psychotherapists” at the Gardenville centers were women, many were former patients, some still receiving treatment, and who were retained in service by Dr. Rosen. Will had spoken to several of them during conversations as they transitioned from patients to gainful employees, elsewhere. Invariably the former female patients told similar stories about their therapy. They said that there were instances when during their “treatment” Rosen would direct them to remove all of their clothes and lay on the floor of his office in order “to strip away their inhibitions and receive his therapy.” Will kept these stories under his vest for almost 50 years. Given Dr. Rosen’s limited physical attributes and character flaws, Will had to wonder whether the nude therapy was an attempt at overcoming the doctor’s own sexual fixations, or was Rosen just a “dirty old man”?

During treatment, Rosen and Sullivan would speak in the most rudimentary Freudian terms, especially when addressing the patients who often seemed oblivious of them. Rosen and Sullivan were also fond of play acting which Rosen called “acting in”, where they might address Freudianesque fixations like the “castration complex” by bringing patients to the office and having them pull down their drawers. Rosen would then pull a real looking sword and place the patients through a castration scenario. Will seldom witnessed positive results after this embarrassing and intimidating fiasco. Effective psychoanalysis needed positive transference between physician and patient, and unfortunately the only transference of any kind was between the patient and Will, as, at the end of the day, he was the only one there. Dr. Rosen, in turn, seemed to create barriers rather than positive transference. He seemed to bully his way into the thinking processes of patients, while proffering confusing insults and frightening tactics.

The last “treatment center” that remained, south of Gardenville, after 1970, was overseen by Will. The relatives of the patients were paying thousands of dollars per week while the Direct Psychoanalytic Institute’s care deteriorated, ultimately becoming nonexistent. Will had witnessed patients quickly returned to their guardians when payments would be withheld. Will had a growing empathy for the problems of Dr. Rosen’s patients, many of them seemingly medication related. He claims that many of the patients, once not extremely medicated, would return to a fragile state of normalcy. Their problems fixated on common issues in their growing up and their parenting, or lack thereof.

Dr. Rosen disappeared from sight around late 1969. Will, with the aid of another assistant psychotherapist, was in charge of the last few patients. In the end Rosen’s Direct Psychoanalytic Institute was a collapsed organization. Will had to drive the last three patients to their homes in Florida, Philadelphia and New York and explain to the parents that there was no longer any treatment.

Will continued his education, eventually specializing in addiction therapy, and ultimately that was the field he entered as a profession. He hoped that at some point that he would get credit for the work he had already done for Rosen, but records of the Direct Psychoanalytic Institute could not be found. Will recently retired, ended his career as an addictions counselor. In concluding the interview Will said, “At the end Dr. Rosen seemed to be a miserable man. An unhappy man who enjoyed making people squirm. His best outcomes, in those last days, were all but achieved unknowingly.”

Previous blogs on Dr. John Rosen:

1) The Dark Side of Psychoanalysis: 1. John Nathaniel Rosen and the Refrigerator Mothers http://bit.ly/1cNOxOs

2) The Dark Side of Psychoanalysis: 2. John Nathaniel Rosen: Therapy or Outright Patient Abuse? http://bit.ly/1U6IA3b

3) The Dark Side of Psychoanalysis: 3. John Nathaniel Rosen: Fraud http://bit.ly/1i2fDV4

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6 responses to “Dr. John Rosen and the Direct Psychoanalytical Institute

  1. I read the above article and am a little puzzled. I was at the institute I believe in 1971 and actually had sessions with Charles Sullivan and for a brief period stayed in a house. If you would get in touch I would appreciate it. I have some information you might find interesting and I also have some questions.

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  2. I came across your essays today just by chance. I had in the past googled John Rosen but never found your blog. I worked for Rosen in the late 60s for six months: 3 in PA and 3 in Boca. I probably knew Will. I lived in a house in Pipersville PA. I’m not sure where Gardenville might be. I lived with Barbara Ferry Hooker whose story isn’t well reflected in the blog. I lived with her and our patient both in PA and Boca. During my time there I was not aware of any abuse at all. I knew Julia and witnessed several public demonstrations with her at the Clinic in Doylestown. I was not trained in any way for this work and I found the job, just like Will, in the Philadelphia newspaper. I rarely saw Rosen, but Charlie Sullivan was a daily visitor to our house. In reading all of your report, I was very saddened to read about the abuse and Rosen’s downfall. My patient also had a brother in the Rosen compound. I met their parents at dinner one night in Ft. Lauderdale. I’ve often wondered how it ended for some of the people, including Charlie Sullivan.

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    • Thank you for your comments. Through the blogs, I was able to exchange communication with “Will” and a couple of the patients. Unfortunately, for the majority I was not able to discover what happened to them. It was a sad state of affairs, especially how everything ended. On the bright side, it encouraged some of the people that took care of the patients (Will and yourself) to work on behalf of others with mental problems. Glad to make your acquaintance.

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    • Charles Sullivan the last I knew lives in San Francisco. He has a profile at the Institute for Historical Study: http://www.instituteforhistoricalstudy.org/who-we-are/member-profiles-and-news/ I also was at the clinic for several months although John Rosen was in Florida for the winter. He took patients with him. Charles Sullivan was at the clinic. For me my stay a disaster. Charles Sullivan proved himself reckless and irresponsible.

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