PAIRS Founder Lori Heyman Gordon shares her earliest experiences with Daniel Casriel and how his road to happiness ultimately evolved into the framework for a comprehensive approach to relationship education.
by Lori Heyman Gordon
I was referred to Daniel Casriel, a psychiatrist in New York City, as someone who was doing innovative work. He had written the first book on Synanon and had cofounded Daytop Village, known as one of the nation’s most effective drug rehabilitation programs. I arranged to visit his AREBA Institute in Manhattan. People there were friendly when I arrived, warmly embracing and chatting with each other. And when I met Dan, he appeared to be a pleasant, quiet, low-key person.
Having arranged to sit in on one of his groups, I went upstairs for the session that was about to begin. About 30 people were chatting, seated in a circle. Dan came in, sat down, and said, “I’m Dan, and I’m fine.”
The next person said, “I’m Harry, and I’m fine.”
The third one said, “I’m Charles and I’m angry!” Throwing back his head, this man let out a blood-curdling shriek. And then another and another, a whole series, the likes of which I had never heard. I was certain he had gone crazy right then and there.
I sat in shock and horror. I had heard impressive things about Dan’s work, but I had never heard any specifics. This was a mind-blowing experience for me. Around the room, nobody else seemed the least upset as “Charles” raged and screamed. When he stopped, he described what he was angry about, and how he was going to make some positive changes in his life.
In turn, other people use this same incredible intense expression of feelings, screaming out whatever pain and rage and fear they felt. No one seemed put off by this and no one went crazy. Some people stood up, walked over to whomever they wanted to support, and hugged that person. This intense emotional expression and bonding were things I had never experienced. Staying to interview people afterward, I heard incredible statements about the healing that had happened for them.
I decided to learn more about this work and to bring it back to the treatment center. We had very angry kids, and what we were doing with them was largely cognitive therapy and behavior modification.
At the next session of the Virginia treatment center therapy group that the director and I co-led, an 18-year old was expressing outrage. He’d been thrown out of school for using drugs, and he hated everyone. I intuited that Casriel’s process would help him, so I attempted to offer it in the group. The director scoffed at my efforts to bring in this dramatic new technique. The group members, including the angry young man, followed suit in dismissing my efforts.
A week later, the young man committed suicide.
This had a profound impact on me. I had experienced an approach that I knew made a difference, however startling the method might be, but I could not implement it without the support of my colleagues. I also knew that I had never been a leader in the sense of pioneering and proselytizing. I had merely set out to learn what I needed to be an effective therapist. Eventually, I left that treatment center, knowing I could no longer work anywhere unless I could use all the processes that I had found effective. It was a matter of integrity.
I later went on to sponsor Dr. Casriel in conducting monthly weekend workshops through the Family Relations Institute in Northern Virginia. He continued to lead these workshops for a number of years, until his untimely death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1983. The workshops were attended by an increasingly dedicated group of area therapists and their clients, who clearly benefited greatly from this emotionally intense and expressive workshop.
During that same period, I developed and was teaching the PAIRS program. Several PAIRS participants noted flyers announcing an upcoming Casriel workshop and chose to attend. I came to realize that the heart of the Casriel weekend was to powerfully facilitate love and intimacy. The bonding and emotional expression experience in the workshop intensified and heightened the experience of the PAIRS program. Although Casriel had developed his workshop for an addictive, troubled population and had seemingly not focused on enhancing couple relationships, it was eminently clear that his process deeply and positively impacted personal relationships.
After much reflection, I refined and adapted the Casriel weekend for PAIRS as a powerful emotional and cognitive experience that produces deep insights into self and others, and intensifies the power of bonding and healing for couples. It quickly became the most uniquely, powerful transformational experience in PAIRS. Psychiatrist Normal Paul of Boston, when asked his response to this weekend workshop, said quietly, “It touches the Soul.”
Daniel Casriel viewed the basic components of personality as cognitive, behavioral, and emotional or what he described as the ABCs of personality: A for affect, B for behavior, and C for cognition. He created the structure named the Road for Happiness as it pertained to Happiness and Unhappiness or Pleasure and Pain, in which he described Bonding as a central biologically determined need, which is both emotional and physical. He viewed relationships that fill the biologically based need for emotional and physical closeness as healing and a source of health and happiness. The process he developed decontaminates fear of emotional intensity, removes obstacles to bonding, and deeply facilitates the experience of intimacy.
As I worked with this process, I discovered that the varied components of PAIRS could all fit comfortably within the structure of Casriel’s Road to Happiness, and we renamed it the Relationship Road Map. My realization of its potential first came about when I was invited by a PAIRS class member to address a luncheon meeting of his office staff. I inquired whether he wanted me to present the Casriel Road Map or the Satir Stress Styles. He wondered if perhaps I could do both. The lunch hour was short. I drew the Road Map, explained the Logic of Love and Bonding, and then realized that I could attach the Satir Stress Styles to Behaviors presented on the Pain side of the Road Map. With this realization, I discovered that I could actually use the Road Map as an integrative structure in which I could create a place for all of the concepts in PAIRS. They fit within the cognitive, behavioral, emotional structure presented. The Relationship Road Map became the major integrating vehicle that could incorporate all of the pieces of the PAIRS puzzle. It became a powerful element of logic, understanding, and transformation in PAIRS and for class members.
Excerpted from “Building Intimate Relationships: Bridging Treatment, Education, and Enrichment Through the PAIRS Program,” DeMaria, Rita and Hannah, Mo Therese, Routledge, 2013.