Therafields: The Rise and Fall of Lea Hindley-Smith’s Psychoanalytic Commune
By Grant Goodbrand. ECW Press, 259 pp, hardcover
It’s unsettling reviewing a book with a picture of your own mother, unnamed as if only background to the greater story, within its pages. Such is my experience of Grant Goodbrand’s Therafields: The Rise and Fall of Lea Hindley-Smith’s Psychoanalytic Commune, the first published history of the experimental movement that flourished in and around Toronto in the ’60s and ’70s.
The book centres on Therafields’ charismatic and highly intuitive founder and leader, Lea Hindley-Smith, whose unaccredited private counselling successes in the late ’50s led to group therapy in the ’60s, with many participants living together in “house groups”. Catholics radicalized by Vatican II—nuns, priests, academics—joined this movement, some forming the first stream to train as therapists within the organization; Goodbrand, an atheist himself, was among those first student-clients central to the later growth of Therafields.
And grow it did, expanding to a peak of 900 members, 500 living communally in some 35 properties in Toronto’s Annex area and rural acreages near Orangeville (worth nearly $40 million in 2010 dollars), before finally falling apart “in tragedies and bitter animosity, traumatically turning friend against friend in ruptures that never healed” in the early to mid 1980s.
Goodbrand’s insider/psychotherapist perspective is both blessing and curse. It led to his last-minute access to official records (documents, photos, film, and audio) a day before their planned destruction in 2004, which, along with interviews of eight other therapists there from start to end, form the basis for his version of this complex story.
The book is strongest in documenting the organization’s therapeutic practices, a revelatory investigation of Hindley-Smith’s hidden biography, and the power struggles between competing factions and visions, divided over a growing focus on community over therapy in the ’70s.
Strangely lacking are the voices of the hundreds not part of the upper therapist hierarchy, limiting his analysis, as do some subjective interpretations he states as fact, as when he echoes Hindley-Smith’s own version of her family’s psychodynamic, uncredited and unchallenged.
Goodbrand does discuss Hindley-Smith’s destructive idée fixe that only her family and those whom she approved of would make good parents, but fails to add that this led to kids being removed from their parents’ care, often with their therapist’s support, and placed with families considered better suited to raising them. As one of those children myself, born and raised in Therafields, it seems to me a gap deserving of at least as much critical attention and space as that Goodbrand gives to its therapeutic modalities, real estate transactions, naturopathic diets, and architecture.